An Opportunity to Encounter Jesus in the Classroom

Religious Educators Prepare for Catechetical Day

By John Carkeet, Special to the Florida Catholic

After 18 months of prayer, patience and preparation, hundreds of religious educators across the Diocese of Venice are poised to participate in its Catechetical Day Conference Sept. 25, 2021, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers.

Hosted by the Diocese of Venice Department of Education, the Conference will feature nine workshops and four keynote addresses led by renowned national speakers presenting a variety of topics rooted in the theme, “Encountering Christ in the Classroom.”

“Catechetical Day is an opportunity for religious educators to learn how to increase their skills in sharing the Word of God with their students in the classroom,” said Anne Chrzan, Diocesan Director of Religious Education. “We broadly define the ‘classroom’ to include homes, parks, playgrounds, churches, and other public gatherings to show that catechists can teach and inspire students to love Jesus, emulate his teachings and embrace their Catholic faith in all dimensions of their lives.

This Conference will allow catechists to come together in smaller groups and learn new material in English or Spanish. Religious education publishers will also showcase innovative resources to help catechists enhance their students’ learning environment.

The day begins with Jesus at the forefront as Bishop Frank J. Dewane will celebrate the liturgy at St. Cecilia Catholic Church. Attendees will then take a short walk or ride to neighboring Bishop Verot Catholic High School, where they will attend workshops, explore the exhibits, and partake in fellowship over a catered luncheon.

Catechetical Day presents the perfect opportunity to help the catechists within the Diocese of Venice learn new and exciting ways to engage young people with a curriculum centered on the teachings of the Catholic Church. By the end of the Conference, Catechists will be better equipped to share how they encountered Jesus in their lives and help students recognize where He is and can be in their lives.

Jared Dees, creator of the website, The Religion Teacher, which offers a treasure trove of practical resources and effective teaching strategies to religious educators, serves as the Conference’s keynote speaker. Dees, who is also the author of Encountering Jesus in the Classroom, will walk participants through the five-step method of Lectio Divina, one of the earliest forms of prayer.

Ricardo Grzona and Dr. Amy Roberts will also lead engaging presentations entitled, “How to Share Your Faith with Children and Parents.” Grzona, founder of Fundación Ramón Pané, a nonprofit organization dedicated to evangelization and spiritual formation, will present the topic in Spanish. Roberts, a classroom methodology professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, will address the audience in English.

With approximately 1,100 catechists serving more than 7,500 children and teens across the Diocese of Venice, the Department of Education designed Catechetical Day to educate catechists and give them the tools and resources for parishioners to grow in the Catholic faith. Chrzan expects record breaking attendance for a Conference that gathers catechists who serve the Church in sharing the Word of God among young people from all walks of life.

Register for Catechetical Day at or contact Anne Chrzan at



Catechists gather for Certification at locations throughout the Diocese

Nearly 100 catechists met over the weekend of June 12 and 13, 2021 at one of 10 Parishes to complete a “Scripture” workshop. These catechists completed the basic certification program from the Franciscan at Home online program.

Anne Chrzan, Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education, along with the directors of religious education from eight Parishes, created the four-session summer series. Based upon the concept developed by the online courses of Franciscan at Home, three classes on the topic of Scripture were held during a single day for the catechists and teachers.

The remaining sessions will be held on Saturdays and Sundays in June and July.  During each session, the catechists and teachers watch the videos and discuss the questions in small groups instead of watching the videos online at their home. The option of completing the classes online is still available.

Chrzan said the feedback from the first session was very positive.

“Many catechists and teachers enjoyed being with others in person to discuss the material and share their faith with people who are serving in the same ministry at the parish or school,” she said. “They also enjoyed the flexibility of completing three classes in one day.”

The three sessions remaining are “Sacraments,” which is being offered the weekend of June 26 and 27; “Morality and Doctrine,” on July 10 and 11; and “Methodology” on July 24 and 25.

The Parishes hosting this program are St.  Ann and St. John the Evangelist in Naples; Resurrection and St. Cecilia in Fort Myers; St. Katharine Drexel in Cape Coral; Sacred Heart in Punta Gorda; St. Thomas More and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Sarasota; as well as St. Joseph and Sacred Heart in Bradenton (in Spanish).

For more information or to sign up for future classes, please contact Anne Chrzan at 941-484-9543 or

Catechists commissioned to share Faith

Catechists throughout the country were united and recognized on Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, for the important role they play in the mission of the Catholic Church.

These catechists impart the Faith on people of all ages, whether it is in Parish religious education programs or in Catholic schools. The fact is all faithful Catholics are called to be catechists, Father Ricky Varner, Administrator of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, stressed this point during Mass.

Father Varner, like priests across the Diocese and country, commissioned those who are designated as Parish religious education teachers with a special blessing. In addition, recognizing the role of the entire Catholic community, in particular families, in handing on the Faith and being a witness to the Gospel, Father Varner imparted an additional blessing on everyone present.

“Part of our call is to serve as magnifying the message of the Gospel,” Father Varner said. “Live in a way that we know God is always present but not always apparent.”

The commissioning and blessing ceremony were powerful for Kristin Puzder, a catechist at St. Katharine Drexel for many years who teaches first grade and helps with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. She started teaching religious education classes to young children when her son was in first grade.

The focus in teaching the first graders is to show that God is good, the Creator, and He loves everyone. She also helps her students learn the basic prayers and to find wonder in God’s creation while she tries to be an example for them in her own life.

“I feel blessed to be able to do what I do because I get more out of it than the children,” Puzder explained. “It is a privilege to teach children about God and the Faith.”

The theme for Catechetical Sunday is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” The theme focuses on the primary substance of catechesis, which is an invitation to a whole new life given by Christ Himself. It emphasizes that living Faith necessitates movement, inspiring all those who hear the Word to share it as witnesses of the true and living God.

Rose Talbot-Babey, St. Katharine Drexel Director of Religious Education, said the blessing of the catechists and all the faithful took place at two Masses to accommodate the need for social distancing.

Religious education programs across the Diocese are either already running or starting by mid-October for the faithful of all ages. Some classes are working on requirements necessary to receive the various Sacraments, while others are continuing their religious education, which never formally concludes.

Because of the pandemic, there are limited class sizes where in-person instruction is taking place. To accommodate families who prefer distance learning, that option is also available. In such cases, relevant materials are sent home and the classes meet virtually.

Talbot-Babey said everything is being done to ensure each family and student is comfortable in the process while at the same time being confident that all religious education requirements are met.