Mahomet catechist connects with students, staff, parents

MAHOMET — Roger Phelps doesn’t count the hours he puts in as director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lake Parish anymore.

“Whenever ministry needs to happen, then I’m here,” he said simply as he waited for religious education classes to start last Sunday morning. “One day it’s two or three hours and the next day it’s 12.”

The U.S. bishops set aside the third Sunday of September as Catechetical Sunday to recognize people like Phelps and the 34 catechists and youth ministers at Our Lady of the Lake who help 365 young people deepen their relationship with Christ each week.

While Catechetical Sunday was observed around the Diocese of Peoria and the United States on Sept. 20, the Mahomet faith community honored its catechists a week earlier to coincide with the first day of religious education classes for the new school year. Nevertheless, they spent the day witnessing this year’s theme: “Catechesis and the Proclamation of the Word.”

Classes start after the 8:30 a.m. Mass and continue until 10:45 a.m. for students in pre-school through the eighth grade. Those in high school meet on Wednesday nights for a combined program of religious formation and youth ministry, according to Phelps.

“It takes teamwork,” he said, noting that the parents are also an integral part of making the Good News real at Our Lady of the Lake.

“My role is being of service to the parish and a support for the catechists,” Phelps told The Catholic Post. “As a catechist, I recognize that catechists need someone to help them. The more I meet their needs, the better success they will have with their classes.”

Phelps started teaching religious education at Our Lady of the Lake in 1982, shortly after the parish was established by Bishop Edward W. O’Rourke. He has been involved in preparing high school students for confirmation since 1984 and developed the youth ministry program, which now includes groups for students in high school, junior high school and grade school, in 1995.

Certified as a catechist by the Diocese of Peoria, Phelps was named director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lake in 1998. He especially likes the interaction with the junior high and high school students.

“Being a catechist requires a me-you relationship,” Phelps said. “A catechist who is successful will have that personal relationship with their students. (The students) will listen more, behave better and be open to receiving the Gospel.”

That’s what really matters, he said.

“If I can get the students to have a better relationship with Christ . . . that’s my goal,” Phelps said.

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