Monticello catechist shares Christ as she keeps learning, too

MONTICELLO — Gathered around the baptismal font at St. Philomena’s Church, 18 little faces looked up at Angi Jones as they pondered the question: “Do you remember your baptism?”

Not one of the first-graders could say they did, since they had been baptized as infants.

“I do,” their teacher said. “I was baptized when I was 20.”

Not only did the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults bring her into the Catholic Church at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign in 1994, but it also drew her into ministry as a catechist. Jones is now in her fifth year at St. Philomena’s and served at St. Malachy’s in Rantoul and St. Matthew’s in Champaign before that.

“When you go through the RCIA at St. John’s and the Koinonia retreat, you feel the love of Christ and the presence of Christ in a really intense way,” Jones told The Catholic Post. “I wanted to share that with the kids.”
This year she is sharing the love of Christ with 20 first-graders in all, “the biggest class I’ve ever had,” she said, noting that she has a co-teacher, Andi Schlabach.

“The first year we divided the class into two small classes. Now we keep it in one room and divided the chaos,” she said with a laugh.

On a recent Wednesday night, Jones used the children’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy to get them interested in learning more about what they see on Sundays with a child-sized Mass kit. After learning about the altar, chalice, paten, purificators, cruets and sanctuary lamps, they took a field trip into the church to be quizzed by Jones.

Back in the classroom, she worked with small groups and the Mass kit to give them another chance to learn about these important items that are used in worship.

“In order to get closer to God and Jesus you have to know what’s going on at Mass,” Jones explained. “In second grade there’s so much they have to cover. If the kids come in knowing what a chalice is, what a purificator is, what a paten is, they’re better off.”

The children aren’t the only ones who want to know more.

Marc Cardaronella, director of religious education at Holy Cross Church in Champaign and regional director of religious education for the Champaign and Danville vicariates of the Diocese of Peoria, said Jones attends all of his inservices and “is always wanting to learn more.”

“I just like learning things,” she said. “With religious education I’m always looking for that one big idea I can use.”

Last year, for example, she learned about how to make a Mary Box, which includes a statue of Mary, rosaries and cards that explain how to pray the rosary. It goes home with a different student each week. This year she’s adding a Vocation Box, with the prayer written by the parish’s vocation committee, a picture of seminarians, and information about priestly and religious vocations.

“What impresses me about Angi is her dedication,” said Anna Robinson, director of religious education at St. Philomena’s. “She has kept up to date with the new curriculums and introduced us to a new Vacation Bible School, ‘Kids for Jesus,’ four or five years ago.

“She homeschools so she investigates how best to get some of these curriculums and tools to the children,” Robinson said, adding that she “practices what she preaches. You can tell in the way she talks to her own children about faith that they live it at home.”

It’s her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in special education, both from the University of Illinois, that gave Jones the confidence to teach.

Not only does she homeschool her daughters — MaryRose, 8; Rita, 7; and twins Cecilia and Anastasia, 5 — but she is trained in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which takes a Montessori approach to religious formation.
“It is hands-on for them and promotes a relationship with Christ,” Jones said, noting that as part of her atrium or learning center at home she also has a Mass set.

“I love having an atrium as part of our everyday experience,” she told The Post.

While not everyone will take this approach, Jones emphasized that the best religious education starts at home.

“Once they’re with me, we really do focus on developing a relationship with Christ,” she said. “If they don’t have a relationship, all the nuts and bolts won’t make any sense.”

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