By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Rose Caritas, Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Strafford, isn’t the sort of person who would go out of her way to seek honors.
She, along with Linda Stewart of St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish, Yardley, received the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for more than 20 years of service as DREs, presented on Jan. 25 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul by Cardinal Justin Rigali during the Mass of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Three hundred catechists and DREs, the unsung heroes of their various parishes, were honored at the Mass.
Sister Rose is originally from Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Port Richmond, the younger of the two children of Helen and Thomas Batcho. After Nativity, she went on to Little Flower High School, and after that, in1963, she entered the Immaculate Heart Sisters.
Certainly she was young, but “my parents encouraged me to do whatever I was called to do,” she remembered.
As an I.H.M. sister in the 1960s, she could fully expect to be a classroom teacher and that’s exactly what she did for the first half of her ministry, starting in 1966 with first grade at Assumption B.V.M. School West Grove, and continuing on in various parishes in the city, the suburbs and New Jersey.
Then, 22 years ago, her community asked if she would consider doing religious education work in a parish and she said yes.
Since then Sister Rose has been a DRE at SS. Simon and Jude, West Chester; Our Lady of Fatima, Bensalem; and for these past two years at Our Lady of the Assumption.
As a grade school teacher, Sister Rose interacted with the children of a specific grade and their parents. Being a DRE is quite different than teaching in a parish school, she said, because it is working with people at all levels, primary grades, teens and adults.
“I do have a lot of involvement with children. It’s a different kind of opportunity to interact with them in their lives every day,” she said.
Our Lady of the Assumption is unique, in that while it no longer has an elementary school, it does have a pre-school and kindergarten where Sister Rose teaches religion, among her other duties.
“One of the blessings of the pre-school is the opportunity to connect with young parents. Children bring us closer to God,” Sister Rose said.
Another major part of her outreach is working with the eight volunteer religious education teachers of the parish, and she marvels at the dedication they bring to the task.
Their work, which is primarily with children in sacramental programs, can have far-reaching impact. “You see breakthroughs,” Sister Rose said. “Teachers touch children in ways they will never know. Sacramental programs with children reconnect families with prayer and worship. Sometimes people become more involved with the parish. Maybe through the teachers or through a corporate effort, they see the blessings of belonging to the Church.”
It’s not only the teachers, but the parents, who need to be affirmed. “This is mostly after school and they make sacrifices too,” she said.
Back when Sister Rose entered the religious education field, it was outreach performed mostly by women religious; now it is mostly lay people. “The work of God goes on in different ways,” she said. “I’m just in awe of all of the wonderful people who touch your life in this ministry.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.