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Teaching Faith to a New Generation

06-20-2011
FaithFormation3Web

Sophomore Sarah Bertero, junior Lacey Fraser, and junior Yasmeen Chao, (left to right) are among a dozen USF students who teach Children's Faith Formation classes at St. Ignatius Church.

Teaching third graders about the Bible and why loving their neighbor is important doesn’t always come easy. As Teresa Carino, a University of San Francisco sophomore recently learned, you never know when one of them will interject something about “zombies” into the conversation.

How zombies entered the picture, she still doesn’t know. “I was trying to teach them the power that just a smile has on people, on homeless people in particular,” Carino said.

It was a lesson like many, highlighting how to treat others, especially those viewed as “outcasts,” said Carino, a theology and religious studies major and one of about a dozen USF students currently teaching Children’s Faith Formation (CFF) classes at St. Ignatius Church each Sunday. One minute Carino was teaching, the next, there was a zombie in the room. Of course, every third grader worth their salt has an opinion about zombies. Before she knew it, members of the class were trying to top each other.

“My co-teacher and I just made a joke out of it and tried to related it back to our topic,” Carino said. “We take from what the kids give us. We’ve found that if we try to force them to ‘read the story, read the story’ they become resistant.”

She enjoys her third graders’ sometimes-humorous responses, Carino said. If one of them is starting from zombies, so be it. It’s part of the connection she feels toward them as developing young Catholics. “I get to teach these kids about our faith and watch them as they grow with the lessons,” Carino said.

USF students from a variety of backgrounds and majors teach CFF classes at St. Ignatius, from preschool to post confirmation (8th grade). USF students, each of them involved through University Ministry, have been teaching CFF classes at St. Ignatius since at least 1997, according to Dan Faloon, who has served as the director of religious education at St. Ignatius Church since 1998.

“USF students introduce the children to basic Catholic beliefs, prayers, practices, the Bible, and how we live out our faith,” Faloon said. As teachers of almost half the CFF classes at St. Ignatius, USFers also share their own faith and how they live it with their students, as well as help the children reflect on their life experience as related to faith formation.

Teaching is a valuable experience, both in that it gives back to younger Catholics and its ability to challenge USF students to grow in their own faith, Faloon said.

That’s the case with Carino, who initially signed up on a whim. “Two of my close friends and I were at Sunday Mass at St. Ignatius and during the announcements they said that there was a need for CFF teachers,” said Carino, who grew up helping her mother arrange flowers for her old parish and was active in her high school campus ministry. “We all looked at each other with that ‘why not’ look on our faces. It was a great idea!”

“Teaching refuels the lessons, the ceremonies, and the prayers for me,” Carino said. “It reminds me of the meaning behind the words.” And, in the case of zombies, it also teachers her patience, Carino laughed.

Julia Dowd, acting director of University Ministry, said teaching CFF is a great way for Catholic students at USF to understand the important role they play in the life of their local Catholic church and that the future of the church depends on their participation. “We want our Catholic students to recognize that they have a right and responsibility to be full, active, and engaged members of the Catholic church,” Dowd said.

If that’s the goal, then it seems to be working. One-and-a-half years into her CFF teaching stint, Carino still enjoys the work, the connections she’s made, and the local Catholic community.

Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu