Francesca Thomas has spent 20 years working with children as a volunteer catechist at St. Theresa Parish. Teaching kids about God has also deepened her own faith, she said. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Francesca Thomas has spent 20 years working with children as a volunteer catechist at St. Theresa Parish. Teaching kids about God has also deepened her own faith, she said. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

In recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, every month The Catholic Sun will feature a “Missionary of Mercy” who ­exemplifies one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.

Practical ways to instruct the ignorant
  • Volunteer as a catechist in your parish’s RE program
  • Get involved with the RCIA for adults or children
  • Give subscriptions to Catholic publications to those struggling with their faith
  • Share Catholic articles to your social media accounts
  • Keep a supply of Catholic tracts to distribute
  • Promote Catholic radio

By Joyce Coronel
The Catholic Sun

Francesca Thomas has been working with little kids since she first graduated from college.

“I went to church pretty faithfully, but I don’t think my faith was particularly deep at that time. I sort of went, doing what you’re supposed to do, but I really was captivated by this whole putting-your-faith-into-action thing,” Thomas said.

She spent one year in the Mercy Corps, run by the Sisters of Mercy, where she lived in a trailer teaching special-needs preschoolers on the Navajo Indian reservation in Window Rock, Arizona. “It was amazing — awesome,” Thomas said.

Later, as a young mom, she began accompanying her 3-year-old son during the children’s liturgy at St. Theresa Parish. “The readings and lesson were geared for making the message something that was understandable for little kids,” Thomas said. After a year, she took a leap of faith and got involved as a volunteer.

“My kids propelled me into every activity I’ve done with being a catechist,” Thomas said. When they began taking religious education classes, Thomas said she wanted to be part of their formation in the faith.

Now, 20 years after becoming a catechist, it has suddenly dawned on her why she’s always felt so drawn to working with children.

She describes her upbringing as one of privilege in a solidly middle class family. “I had a roof over my head, I had food on the table, but I had a mom who struggled with addiction and her illness made her not able to be there for me,” Thomas said as she brushed away tears. “So in some way, I think I really know the power of a caring adult and the lack thereof. You don’t know what is going on in a kid’s life, even if you think you know,” Thomas said.

“If I can just be the physical presence of love and caring and mercy in a little person’s life — even if a little person in that moment doesn’t understand what that is … that is a gift that I really hope I can bring to this world.”

Being a catechist, Thomas said, has helped her grow in faith.

“I don’t think I had a greater gift to my spiritual life and to my growth as a Catholic than my experience as a catechist,” Thomas said. “You have to explain to somebody very small what it is you believe and why you believe that and why it makes a difference. … You are forced to deal with the unabridged humanity that comes with a small person. I love that.”

Teaching children about God has also imparted to her the reality of God’s unconditional love.

“It’s a gift to be a catechist, to have that constant reminder, that constant affirmation of faith: He loves you just the way you are,” Thomas said. And while the lessons of faith help to mold and form children’s hearts, they also touch the lives of grown-ups in the parish. Thomas recalled one adult convert who approached her after a recent children’s liturgy.

“As a convert, a lot of it goes over my head, but when I sit in liturgy with children in Mass, I really get it,” the man told her.

“I think that sometimes we underestimate the power of what the catechist is doing working through the child. It gets to the parent,” Thomas said.

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