Aquinas College hosts conference for children’s catechesis program

The Center for Evangelization and Catechesis at Aquinas College will host a bilingual training conference for the children’s catechetical program Come, Follow Me. 

The training takes place 6-9 p.m. Friday, March 20, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at St. Cecilia Academy. 

“We just wanted to be able to provide something that we thought could serve the parishes and schools around here and also the Church as a whole,” said Jason Gale, director of the Catechist Formation Program at Aquinas. 

It is open to directors of religious education, priests, deacons, teachers or anyone who has an interest in the program. 

Come, Follow Me, translated to Ven, Sígueme in Spanish, is primarily used for ages 7 to 11 but can also be used for younger children. It is not to be confused with a similarly named program used by the Mormon community. 

During a 30-minute to hour-long session, students are asked contemplative questions about the sacraments and about lessons from scripture. Portable, cardstock display sets called silhouettes are used as focal points. 

Sister Mary Johanna Mellody, O.P., an event organizer, calls the program lectio divina for kids. 

“It’s an encounter with God in faith and prayer,” she said. “It’s not just a lesson.”

The session begins with prayer and a brief discussion with the children about what they learned at the prior meeting. After introducing the new lesson, children are allowed time of silent prayer to internalize the material. On occasion a practical activity, like writing a prayer intention, closes the lesson. 

These activities take place in two different spaces known as the Place of Fraternal Life and the Space of Meeting with God.

The Place of Fraternal Life is a space for fellowship and interaction. The Space of Meeting with God is where the children complete the lesson and pray. At the end of the lesson children have the freedom to stay or return to the Place of Fraternal Life. 

Sister Maria Teresita, O.P., considers the two different settings as “one of the most beautiful elements of the program.”

“We are called to communion, so it recognizes that aspect of our person in that we also have a great need for personal interaction and relationship with God,” she said. 

Sister Maria Teresita has taught the program for several years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Nashville and teaches Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at Overbrook School. 

She went through full training at the John Bosco Conference in 2015. 

“I think what lends the message so well is the combination of the rootedness in scripture and the tangible materials that are able to draw the child into prayer,” said Sister Maria Teresita. “I was captivated by the richness and depth of the program.”

Sister Mary Johanna also attended the conference and came to a few of the Come, Follow Me sessions. 

“I would watch the way they were so attracted to the lesson,” she said about the children. “I could see their hearts and souls easily drawn into the lesson and the truth of the faith.” 

This was the first time the program had been taught in the United States. It was taught by members of its founding organization Notre Dame de Vie Institute in France and Sister Hyacinthe Defos du Rau, O.P., of the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph of Lymington, England. 

Sister Hyacinthe will come from England to lead the upcoming Aquinas workshop. 

The workshop schedule will alternate between model lessons and ways to structure the lessons. Mass will also be celebrated on Saturday morning by Father John Sims Baker, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro.

The registration cost is $50 and includes Saturday’s meals and printed materials. Limited housing is available at Siena Hall on the campus of Aquinas College at $100 per night. 

The program originated in France and has been approved as a children’s catechesis method by the French Episcopal Commission for Catechesis and the Catechumenate. It has also received the imprimatur declaration for catechetical use. Additionally, its creators, parish priest Father Benoit Caulle, and school teacher, Anne-Marie Le Bourhis, are members of the International Catechetical Commission. 

Sister Marie Isabelle Marxuach, O.P., teaches Spanish at St. Henry. She is French and taught the program for seven years in its country of origin. She knew Sister Hyacinthe before they entered the convent. Sister Hyacinthe was also Gale’s thesis advisor during his time at Maryvale Institute. 

“It works in different settings and also independently of where the children are in their faith,” Sister Marie Isabelle said. 

The program was recently translated to Spanish by a priest in Spain and Sister Mary Johanna called it “a good fit for Hispanic communities.” 

The deadline for online registration is March 16, but after that interested persons can call Gale at 615-297-7545. To learn more or to register, visit www.aquinascollege.edu/calendar-event/come-follow-me-catechetical-conference/.