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The Church as a Textbook

By Teresa Reuter

The Church as a Textbook

St. Augustine Parish Religious Education

If one were to wander into St. Augustine Catholic Church between Sunday Masses, they may begin to wonder if it’s a church or a classroom. The parish has created an engaging religious education course that brings children and their families into a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith. A team of volunteers, many of whom are professional educators, recognize the church building—with its stained-glass windows, statues and symbols—as a worthy textbook for teaching the Catholic faith.

The students learn much about the church, beginning with the design of St. Augustine as the shape of a cross. They discuss the tabernacle, the altar and the sanctuary lamp—those items they may notice at Mass but not appreciate their significance. When would one find the sanctuary lamp dim and the altar bare? And in learning these things, they come to understand the importance of reverence in the church.

As the children stand before the icon of the Blessed Mother, they learn the symbolism of the art. Why is it that the Virgin Mary holds Jesus at her left side, rather than her right? Why is the Virgin Mary dressed in red and Jesus in blue? What is the significance of the gold background?

While the children have their lesson, parents gather to discuss the same topics and socialize. This parallel lesson provides a catalyst for families to discuss in the home what is learned in class.

When the children stand before the large window that depicts the life of St. Augustine, they learn that a small child was used by God to teach a great saint a valuable lesson. Just opposite, they stand before the window of St. Augustine’s devoted mother, St. Monica. They learn the important lessons and events in her life as they relate to her son. The young scholars retain much of what they learn—one young student reminded her fellow students, “St. Augustine’s mom followed him everywhere he went!”

In addition to learning the symbols revealed in the church, the children learn prayers and devotions of our Catholic faith. They recite familiar prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and Glory Be, as well as less familiar prayers such as the Guardian Angel Prayer, the Fatima Prayer and the Memorare. The children walk the Via Dolorosa in the church and pray the Seven Sorrows of Mary outside in the grounds. They make rosaries and pray the rosary.

The religious education lessons allow children and families to discover the hidden treasures within the walls of the church—and, in this, the treasures of our faith. They come to know that our faith is all around us.


Main Photo Caption: St. Augustine religious education students learn about the faith by learning about the architecture and art of the Church.