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Sister Bernadette D’Rozario

Nun has the recipe to spice up catechism

Julian S. Das, Kolkata

November 11 2010

Catechism classes need not be boring, says Sister Bernadette D'Rozario, who has spent more than 50 years teaching basics of Catholic faith to children. What’s more they can have lasting impact on a person's moral and social life, especially if they start with the very young.

The 72-year-old Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary nun coordinated the Catechetical Commission of Calcutta and shares with her views on the changing face of catechism teaching in parishes and Catholic schools. How do you feel about spending 50 years promoting catechism classes?

SISTER BERNADETTE D'ROZARIO: I feel satisfied. There is an urge to do more. I was invited to join the archdiocese's Catechetical Commission when I had retired from active work. I still have the energy to do more to make catechism teaching meaningful to children.

How did you get interested in teaching catechism?

Ours was a family of teachers and when we were small, our mother would make us sit around and tell us Bible stories. We went to the church together and had our assigned places. At school, friends would often ask me questions about catechism. When I began to teach catechism, I came across children from broken families, to whom I could give Christ and the matters of faith. I like being with children.

What are the changes that happened in catechism teaching over the decades?

In terms of content, it is much-structured now, with so many books on catechism. When I began there were neither text books for catechism nor prescribed methods. I taught whatever I found useful and meaningful to children. Now, we have textbooks for teachers and students and the lessons have been prepared in the books. However, as content and methodology improved, teaching of catechism in parishes and schools declined.

A teacher should read the textbook before coming to the class. But sadly they do not use the textbook for teachers and use only the book for students. Often, they do not understand what they teach. They do not have time to prepare their lessons.

In olden times, we used to have catechism classes five times a week in school. Today, they have been reduced to three and in some schools only two classes a week.

Why did they cut catechism classes in Catholic schools?

With so many subjects to teach, schools are pressed for time. They have to find time also for extra-curricular activities. The catechism class is the first casualty. We have not given priority to catechism classes in our schools. In many schools, sadly catechism is not an important subject. School principals are often preoccupied with too many things, and find it hard to accommodate catechism classes.

How do parents respond to catechism classes?

Unfortunately most Catholic parents now do not want their children to attend catechism classes. They say they have no time. No wonder then that many parents do not go even to Sunday Mass. Parents want their children to be preoccupied with so many things, but not catechism.

Have you noticed any difference between those attending catechism regularly and others?

You see the effect when these children grow older. I have seen students helping poor children. Some children tell me after many years that they still remember my stories. I remember a girl telling me that she brought the parish priest to administer the sacrament of the sick for her dying mother. There was another girl who learned to forgive her father, who had deserted her, after the death of her mother. I received a card on the Teacher's Day some years ago with the words, "To my dear Catechism Teacher." That was the most beautiful card I had ever received.

How can the Church make its catechism classes interesting?

Use modern means of communication. They are hardly used in these classes. This is because people are not interested in using them. This means teachers have to be prepared to make use of the media. Most teachers now spend time in singing and telling stories. Only a few teachers know how to use the media for effective communication.

Are you sure modern multi-media can change catechism classes?

The scenario can change drastically if we use PowerPoint presentations, video and other modern methods. This will make the children interested. Then they would listen. Now, they find it hard to listen to our talks. If Adults like PowerPoint presentations in seminars, how much more would children who are brought up on television and computers. I try to motivate young teachers, through inviting them to attend seminars and workshops on how and what to teach!

What is your wish list for catechism teaching in the next few years?

First, we should train enough lay teachers with proper motivation, Second, every Catholic school should have proper textbooks and syllabus for catechism. The schools should complete the syllabus during the academic year. Third, motivate parents to send their children for classes regularly. Four, teachers attend regular training programs, organized by the Catechetical Commission once in a few months.

Related report
'The local Church has grown through catechists'