Teresa Shore stood outside the classroom of her son’s faith formation class peering in as he eagerly found a seat. As she scanned the room, the catechist was not yet present. Her friend, Susan Leatherman, who had a son in the same class, also stood waiting. Too much time passed. The teens grew restless and confused. No one was coming to teach their children. The two friends exchanged glances, expressing the same idea to each other without words. Smiling in agreement, they decided to teach the class together.
“That fall day 20 years ago, I began my journey as a catechist,” said Teresa, a parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church in Longview.
Teresa was a stay-at-home mom with four children when she said, “Yes” to the ministry of religious education. Stephen, her husband of 37 years, encouraged her even when they had very young children. Having his support has been immensely valuable, and has allowed her to continue to participate in this ministry for so many years. It also made a difference in her family dynamics.
“My role as a catechist has borne fruit in my marriage because through leading discussions with the youth, I have learned so much more about my faith and how God instructs on developing and maintaining good relationships,” Teresa said. There are topics that are specific to teens that can be difficult to discuss, and, due to her experience as a catechist, Teresa has become a better listener and more confident when discussing these issues with her own children. Throughout these discussions, there are many opportunities to present God’s perspective on the culture, relationships, and difficult decisions.
Originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Teresa grew up in a large family of six brothers and sisters where the Catholic faith was woven into the fabric of the household.
“Every evening, my parents gathered us together to pray the rosary. My parents, who practiced the Catholic faith with joy, are my role models because they are the ones who showed us how to pray, how to be faithful to God, and how to follow him through sacrifice, love, and service.”
Teresa moved when she was 18 years old to East Texas so she could dance with the Kilgore College Rangerettes. After two years, she transferred to Stephen F. Austin State University to complete her degree in English, with a secondary education certification in English and history.
Teresa is currently an English instructor at Kilgore College; there, she encounters people from many different religious backgrounds and life experiences and is often asked to answer any questions they have about the Catholic faith.
What she’s learned
“I have come to more fully understand that faith formation is a lifelong journey and not episodic,” Teresa said, reflecting on her experience. “Some of the most memorable moments in the classroom happen when a teen seeks answers to a teaching of the Church he or she is struggling to understand.”
“Their trust humbles me; I appreciate their honesty. It is OK to ask questions. They deserve answers and reasons behind the teachings of the Catholic faith in a clear and understandable way,” Teresa said.
“When I first set out as a catechist, high school level resources were scarce. Once Theology of the Body for Teens was released, we purchased it. The students related to the videos and accompanying workbooks, which present sexuality, identity, dating, marriage, respect in relationships, dignity, and friendship in a way that made sense to them,” Teresa said.
Since then, many other great resources covering the various issues teens face were produced and released. Teresa supplements her classes with series such as YDisciple on FORMED, Father Mike Schmitz YouTube videos, and Mark Hart’s Great Adventure Bible Timeline for teens.
She enjoys working with young adults because they are at the precipice of thinking critically about their faith and actively pursuing how to apply it to their lives. Her ultimate hope is to form disciples who will follow and know Jesus on a personal level, embrace the beautiful truths of the Catholic Church, and continue to practice the faith throughout their lives.
She is always sure to emphasize the importance of personal prayer in the lives of the teens. “Developing a consistent relationship with God is based on honest prayer and being in communion with God on a daily basis in times of suffering or joy,” Teresa said. “This means that we must get to know who Jesus is through reading and discussing sacred Scripture and discover all the ways the Lord shows us to love God and others.”
She frequently shares with the teens that to follow Christ, they cannot be passive about their faith. “If they want to grow closer to God and discover their vocation in life,” she explains, “each student must actively seek his will every day in prayer, especially when there are so many distractions that demand to keep them from hearing God’s voice.”
Finding support and preventing burn out
When Teresa experiences fatigue, she seeks trusted people in her life to provide spiritual and practical guidance, which includes drawing inspiration from her patron saints.
“St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Little Way inspires me because I draw from how she allowed God’s love to work through her, no matter how big or small the actions were, as a model for the youth program,” Teresa explained. “I am also inspired by Pope St. John Paul II. He was devoted in a special way to young people and spoke directly to them with encouragement and offered them hope and guidance.”
Teresa has attended several catechist conferences offered at the St. Philip Institute in Tyler, too.
“These in-person meetings have offered great catechetical information for me to use and most importantly, have provided support,” Teresa said. “I have also been blessed to be under the leadership of encouraging priests like Father Gavin Vaverek, Father Mark Kusmirek, and currently, Father Daniel Dower.”
God constantly provides adult Catholic role models to help Teresa. These men and women, who are practicing and professing their faith at home and work, have volunteered their time to share Catholicism with the teens.
“They have many different professions, but they share the same affection for the Church and desire to mentor young Catholics. As youth leaders, we want to support teenagers as they navigate the formative years of high school,” Teresa said.
A great piece of advice Teresa received is the reminder that the fruits of sharing the faith may not be immediately evident. The seeds of faith she is planting now may sometimes only grow into maturity later in a young person’s life.
“We are on the narrow road of faith together, accompanying the students as mentors and guides along the path,” she added.
Teresa also relies heavily on daily prayer to avoid burnout, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.
“Many times, when I am feeling frustrated, God will guide me in prayer or use other people to enlighten and revitalize me. Even though I have been a catechist for many years, I am still learning. I commit to one year at a time and reassess after each year by asking God if this is where he wants me. So far, God has asked me to say “Yes” 20 times,” Teresa said smiling.
“One of the most challenging parts of being a catechist for me are the doubts I encounter about my abilities to be an effective teacher. I strive to make our meetings interesting and engaging,” Teresa said.
She provides opportunities for serious discussions and shapes the classroom into a place where community and fellowship grow.
“Today, the youth have many other commitments, so I value their attendance and participation. When I experience these doubts in my ability to reach my students, I cling to God in prayer. I remind myself that it is God’s program, and he will provide guidance; this has strengthened my trust in God’s faithfulness.”
A need for endurance
Without a doubt, her own faith has grown and become stronger because she said yes to being a catechist.
“My life has been blessed by getting to know so many faithful young people who have a strong desire to know more about their faith and how to live as disciples in their relationships and in their activities,” Teresa said. “The fruits of our endurance as catechists are the joy and peace of God’s love alone, and he will reveal himself to us and abide in us.”
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)
“Scripture reveals how we can grow and deepen our relationship with Jesus,” Teresa continued. “Relationships are not one-sided, so we need to understand how to know, love, and serve God. If we love him, we will keep his commandments. When we experience suffering in our lives, we can place our trust and hope in God who will provide strength and grace.”
As a new semester dawns, Teresa reflects on the fruits of her endurance. Her classroom is ready and her heart is full. This work fills her with the joy and peace of his love. She hopes he will use her to reveal his love to her students, and he will abide in them.