Echoing the Mystery: Practical Applications

The article below is an excerpt taken from Mind and Heart, a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

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Dr. Therese Recinella, Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX, shares how her diocese is implementing Echoing the Mystery across their parishes, training the catechists in utilizing the text to enhance their current religious education curriculums and programs. Her diocese uses Echoing the Mystery across the board, for youth and adults.

Sister John Dominic: 

I’m very happy to have with me Dr. Therese Recinella. Is that Italian?

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

Yes, it is. 

Sister John Dominic: 

Could you tell us about your education and your catechesis work? 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

My bachelor degree is from Central Michigan University in secondary education. I was a public-school teacher for several years, and then I left to earn a master’s degree in theology with a specialization of catechetics, which how I came to meet Barbara Morgan. After I earned my masters, I worked at the Archdiocese of Washington for 13 years as a parish director at two parishes. One was a 4,000 family parish fully bilingual. I did a Spanish language immersion so that I could serve all the people at the parish. I had a program with over 60 countries represented. That was my first time out as a director of religious education, hitting the ground running. My second parish was 3,300 families. At both parishes, I directed infant baptism prep, religious education, sacramental preparation, RCIA adult formation and all that that entails. I also taught the catechist formation courses for the Archdiocese of Washington throughout my tenure there including different workshops for parents or other parishes and so forth. During that time, I also was accepted to the Doctor of Ministry program at Catholic University of America, so my Doctor of Ministry is from Catholic University of America. 

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Sister John Dominic:

What was your emphasis in your dissertation? 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

It was Lectio Divina. When I first started working for Barbara Morgan, what struck me was both prayer and Scripture. How do we bring Scripture into a Catholic person’s life so that they can pray with Scripture? How do we connect in the spirituality of the catechist? I was struck by that. We had to do an exit project for our master’s program and the specialization in catechetics, and I focused on the spirituality of the catechist. I knew I always wanted to do something with Scripture and catechist formation. When I went into the program at CUA, I decided to stay with that. Over the years through my work and experience in catechist formation, I decided to develop a project using Lectio Divina. I selected sixth grade Scripture passages and used the Lectio Divina as its outline and the Verbum Domini 5-step process by Pope Benedict XVI. The last one is action, living it out. Oftentimes, we’ll see Lectio Divina, but it’s only the first four, so I said, “Why not use what is from the document from the Synod on Scripture,” and that is living out what we pray. 

Sister John Dominic: 

For Dominicans, one of our mottos is to contemplate and to give others the fruits of our contemplation, so we spend this time in prayer, and then there’s action. I was thrilled when I saw where he had added that fifth part to Lectio Divinabecause you can be praying and have those as part of your prayer experience, but it’s going out and bringing that to others that’s the fruit, so when I read that, I thought, “This is so Dominican.” For me, that was my steppingstone in trying to do work with Lectio and trying to understand that process and guiding young people. There was always this last part of how you apply this to daily life. That must have been enriching for you after studying catechesis and having that catechetical background and then immersing yourself into this Scripture and Lectio. When you do that, the doctrines come alive because Scripture drives Doctrine. What was that like for you? 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

I use Lectio Divina even in the way I set up sessions, and people saw it, so my project is also catechetical. The two are together. It was Barbara Morgan who encouraged me to get a doctorate, and I dedicated my dissertation to her because years ago when I was a seventh-grade middle school teacher, I never envisioned that when I left that career to go to Franciscan what direction my life would take. She encouraged several her students to consider getting doctorates. I went for the doctorate in Ministry because it was a practical project implemented in the field, and catechesis is a practical application of theology, so it fits well with my education background. For a doctorate, we must measure the people that participated in the questionnaire. There was a follow-up questionnaire, and it focused on their prayer life and praying with Scripture. Did it make a change in their life? Yes, it did. That was the other part of it to see how people grew. The catechists had to be Parish catechists. That was the criteria. Did this help them understand the role of Scripture in catechesis, the role of Scripture in their prayer life, and the importance of praying with Scripture in their life, and I would say yes it did. I was pleased that it had that response. I use Lectio Divina and that five-step process in my meetings with parish catechetical leaders. That’s a process that I teach them, and I use it when I have trainings and so forth. I use the project that I wrote. I use the Sessions as a part of our catechist formation in our diocese. 

Sister John Dominic

That’s what’s so important about the role of the catechist that even that training you’re giving them is wonderful because when you’re praying Scripture, you’re studying it because it’s forming your mind and changing your heart, but that’s going to help them be more effective witnesses. Given that background, you’re now in a diocese that probably seems small compared to where you were. If you take that on this journey, how are you taking Echoing the Mysteryalong? Obviously, it sounds as though at these different moments in your life, Barbara was a mentor leading you, so now you’re taking this work and moving it forward in your own diocese, what is your vision for that? 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

For the Diocese of Corpus Christi, I’m the Director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and my responsibilities are all parish catechist formation: religious education for children, youth, and adults; Sacrament preparation; infant baptism preparation; RCIA; adult confirmation preparation. We also have a director for youth, a director for laity and family life, and a director for multi-cultural and social concerns, so my primary focus at this time is the formation of catechists, support for RCIA and the catechumenal ministries. Currently, we’re looking at curriculum and updating our religion curriculum as a diocese. Working together with Catholic schools, it is a major project. How do I see Echoing the Mystery? I actually invited my counterpart from Fort Worth to come to Corpus Christi and assist me with a training. When Echoing the Mystery was published the year before, I was at the Saint John Bosco conference, and I snatched up my copy and bought one for my office and resource room. I thought, “This is everything that Barbara Morgan gave us in our program all in one book. How do I make this accessible to our catechists?” My approach to an excellent resource like this is that we need to train people to use it, so I promote the five-step ecclesial method with my trainees and our catechist formation program, and I think Echoing the Mystery fits well with it. I purchased 200 e-books, and we had a training. If people aren’t familiar with where Corpus Christi is, it’s on the Gulf Coast, so our competition is the beach because it’s hundreds of miles of beach. We had this training in the summer, so we’re competing with the Great Outdoors, but we maxed out our space. We video recorded it because one of the things I’m doing is we have an LMS that we use for our offices, and when I have a significant training, I ask Marlon de la Torre if he is okay with recording it, so it’s a resource now for our catechetical leaders, our catechists, and our pastors. We took all the handouts and the lesson plans, which are also translated into Spanish, and we uploaded all that, so now people can go back and use it. It was well received. I had asked some of the parishes that participated to let me know how it’s going as far as whether are people who attended the training are using it? It helped them unpack how to use it in a practical way. One of our pastors said, “I don’t need any other resources.” He bought one for every catechist. He uses it for RCIA, and I know someone that works on his RCIA team, and she told me she’s using it for her RCIA lessons, and she also teaches high school confirmation at another parish and she is also using it for those lessons. Another catechetical leader shared that she’s using it as ongoing training for her catechists. So many of them responded that it is helping them. It’s helping our catechists. We talked about teaching Doctrine and being able to unpack it, and I think many of our catechists have been looking for a tool that can help them do that, and I think that Echoing the Mystery is helping them unpack Doctrine and zero in on the essentials to teach or how to explain this Doctrine. Some of the catechists that teach the teens said that the common errors are helping them have conversations with the young people.

Sister John Dominic:

When you did the training, did you did you walk them through the keys and explain that and how they are used and give different suggestions? 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

The first evening, we unpacked the book. We did walk through the keys. We looked at the plan of God in Ephesians, the Church, the first evening. We did it as a Friday evening training, so Friday evening we are unpacking the book. How is it laid out? What are the keys? What is the chart? On the second day, we focused on Christ-centered catechesis, charismatic catechesis, how the catechism is structured, and a wealth of resources that Marlon de la Torre and I had from Barbara Morgan. We brought that all together. Then we did some in the ecclesial method. I had asked Marlon de la Torre to walk through the ecclesial method and also the catechumenal model. So that was pretty much what we did on the second day. We ended with the practicalities of the actual lesson planning. 

Sister John Dominic:

Often, when people saw the book, they’d be a little overwhelmed by the size of it. What you’re describing to me is like what I’ve done when I talk to DREs or Catholic School teachers or other people about the resources. You’re walking through the keys, showing them not to be intimidated by it. Every Doctrine is the same template. We’re giving you a roadmap to make this accessible, and when you get into it and start reading it prayerfully, it’s successful. It’s intuitive, and it’s not as overwhelming as you felt the first time you saw it. That’s been my experience, and I’m hearing you say that’s how it’s been that the ones who have been through the training can say, “I can use this.” 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

Exactly. I think having the training was something that opened Echoing the Mystery up for people so that they can use it as a tool to support their programs. In our diocese, I provided two complimentary copies for every parish. Those who attended the training only paid for their meals. They received the book for free, plus they received a book for the pastor and a book for their catechetical leader if that person couldn’t attend. I was also asked when will this be available in Spanish.

Sister John Dominic: 

The beautiful thing about this is that this works with any Diocesan standards, any religious education, whatever series you use to help the catechists understand that doctrine better and to be more comfortable and more marinated in the doctrine. What’s the Scripture? What’s the word of God? It becomes so much a part of who you are that it makes you a more effective catechist. 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

One of the things that I did was explain to people that this is not a new program. It’s a resource to help you in developing your lessons and to teach the doctrines you’re being asked to teach. When people understood that, then it’s much more helpful. You can use it with any program, which is what I like about it because it doesn’t replace anyone’s programs. It is simply an excellent resource to enhance their catechesis program.

Sister John Dominic:

As we draw this to a close, can you share how you became Barbara’s graduate assistant? 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

I always have big plans, but then I must get out of the way and let God’s plans work. I had been a public-school teacher, and I decided to leave my teaching career. I wanted to do more faith-oriented work. I went to Franciscan University. I enrolled in their Master of Theology program. I had volunteered in parishes, but I didn’t know what it meant to work in the Church. I had these big plans that I was a teacher, so I was going to be a substitute teacher and work while I was in graduate school. I did all the hoops to be a substitute teacher in the state of Ohio, and I arranged to have my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and one Wednesday evening, so I could be a substitute teacher available Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. My first semester, I was called twice. Maybe Steubenville wasn’t big enough or they didn’t need more substitute teachers. I don’t know what happened there. That was it, so I thought, “That’s not working.” I decided to apply for an on-campus job in the student work opportunity program. Come that January, I scheduled my courses, and one was Scripture: The Heart of Catechesis with Barbara Morgan. The first order of business was to start my new job in the library. I reported to the Saint John Paul the II library, and I was immediately trained on how to bind books. That was my new on-campus job, and within an hour, the supervisor came in and said, “Your work opportunity papers are not in order, and we can’t let you work here.” Basically, I was hired and fired in the same day, so there went my plan. I went to the noon Mass, and I prayed, “Lord. That’s it. I’m not looking anymore for a job. If You want me to work while I’m at Franciscan, You find me the job because I’m not looking anymore.” I went afterwards to drop her class. I had to make an appointment. She just had to sign off on it. She asked me why I was dropping her class, and I said I had no background in theology. I hadn’t gone to Catholic school. I went to a state university for undergrad. I had no theology courses. I had to take the equivalent of a minor in theology bachelor degree when I went to Franciscan before I started my graduate courses, so I told her “I don’t think I’m ready. I think I need to finish my prerequisites.’ She looked at me and said, “You know you’re not ready?” I said, “I know I’m not ready.” She said, “I need a graduate assistant starting in June. Would you like to work for me? Pray about it.” That’s how I came to work for Barbara Morgan. I went to drop her class, and she offered me the job, so I was her graduate assistant and her personal assistant that kept all her appointments, and there’s many stories about that. Everybody that went to Franciscan has many stories about appointments and the graduate assistant that kept the appointment book. I was that person for two years, and it was a joy. I learned so much from her. She opened up Doctrine for me. All my schooling was in the 1970s. I had strong foundations in my home, but I definitely had gaps of my understanding of faith, and I received so much in understanding praying with the catechism, reading the catechism, taking that to prayer and discerning how to teach on a specific Doctrine and then to decide what it is that you’re going to teach. Like if you’re going to teach RCIA, knowing who these people are in RCIA so that when you’re teaching on the Church or God the Father, you can understand the people. As you’re praying, you’re also praying about how to unpack that Doctrine for the people that are before you today.

Sister John Dominic: 

That’s so important because you want to make sure that they’re receiving and hearing it. Barbara loved people that were humble. She always talked about making sure you were humble when you went out, and I think that’s a beautiful quality that you have that the Lord’s able to use you in all these different ways that you’re doing beautiful work for the Church. It is that level of humility where you know I can do this, but Lord, I need You to help me here. Thank you for that and thank you for saying ‘yes’ to being her graduate assistant because you had that personal experience that, as those of us who are trying to figure out how to make Echoing accessible, you’ve done that in the training as you’re incorporating it into your diocese and helping DREs and catechists do that. That’s truly a gift, and it’s going to help us continue this legacy and help Echoing the Mystery come alive. I want to thank you again for your time being with. 

Dr. Therese Recinella: 

Thank you so much for inviting me here. It’s been a joy, and I appreciate all your work and the Dominican sisters here and the gift that you helped produce with Barbara Morgan to give us this wonderful, beautiful work to serve our Church. 

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