by Mariann Hughes
One hundred years. A full century.
That’s how much time four women, combined, have given in holy service to parishes of the diocese as directors of religious education.
The decision to retire in July was a bittersweet one for these women who’ve given so much to the Church. “I’d been praying to discern when to hand over the baton to someone of the younger generation,” explained Jan Balota of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Palm Coast. “It’s been an adventure to be in ministry. It’s very humbling to serve people.”
And speaking of the younger generation, it’s not uncommon for kids taught by the women to return years later but this time as parents themselves! “During First Communion this year, I sat there looking at parents across the way that used to be ‘my children’,” laughed Carole Fuchs, who was working with kids at the Naval Base in the 1980s when she was asked to help with teaching at St. John Parish, Atlantic Beach.
Being called by God to open up the beautiful spiritual world of the sacraments to children is what makes the job so special, says Sharon Tomore from Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Jacksonville. “I love it when children come back for their second and third Holy Communion. We prepare them for the first, but I like it when they know that it’s a lifetime sacrament and they continue to come back.”
A love for teaching the faith started for Aixa Feliciano from Blessed Trinity Parish, Jacksonville, when she herself was very little. She became fascinated by catechesis when religious sisters would walk over from the church across the street to fetch the students from her elementary school for CCD. “In middle school, I used to help the sisters, then when I was a senior in high school they actually had me start helping with the little ones,” she reminisced. “Then when I was in college they gave me a class to teach!”
The women all expressed a deep gratefulness to their parish families and pastors for the support and love they have received. Thank you, Jan, Carole, Sharon and Aixa for all of your dedication to our community. You will be greatly missed and you are all in our hearts and prayers as you close one chapter and begin the next!