Catholic Herald staff
Editor’s note: This is the second in series of four articles featuring those who were honored at the diocesan Fall Conference.
Jackie Aune was clutching a piece of paper when she accepted the 2014 Fr. Harold Dodge Award Oct. 24 at the diocesan Fall Conference in Rice Lake.
The award recognizes those who “exemplify zeal, have exceptional skills as religious educators and are committed to parish ministry of catechesis.”
Although Aune stepped up to the microphone long enough to dedicate the award to her mother, she never did read the quote from Mother Teresa that explains why Aune has devoted six years of her life to catechesis:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
Aune is the coordinator of religious education at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Hammond. Her mother, Gladys Bonte, was a teacher for 50 years – first in a one-room schoolhouse, and then in a public school system.
“She had just a simple philosophy, just to love each student where they’re at, and to love each parent where they’re at,” Aune explained.
It’s been Aune’s philosophy as well. There are always challenging days for educators, she said, but Mother Teresa’s wisdom keeps her focused.
“I think it’s a positive message because, again, we all have those days, and it’s a good reminder for each of us that it’s really between you and God in the end,” she said.
Aune was having a trying day six years ago when she learned that the religious education coordinator position was open. It was January; she’d taken her mother to visit the cemetery and gotten her vehicle stuck in the snow. Panic set in – Aune was worried she’d hit a gravestone – and after thrashing around a bit, she got out and parked in the church lot. She and husband Bob were parishioners, and she met a staff member who encouraged her to talk with Fr. Bill Murphy about the job. She did, and they agreed she’d lead the program on a trial basis.
She’s been there ever since.
“I just feel very blessed to have this job, because it’s a job that I just love,” added Aune.
In six years, her goals for the program haven’t changed.
“My goal is still to provide an opportunity, a positive opportunity, for children and parents to grow in their faith,” she said. “I really believe that I try to meet the students and the parents where they’re at.”
Often, Aune tries to present information to the parents, because she believes they are their children’s primary catechists. The mother of four adult children, she also wants to make religious education fun for kids, “a positive, joy-filled experience.”
Supporting faith formation teachers is another focal point for Aune, who goes on retreats and completes any programming required of catechists. Currently, they are learning through the diocese’s Forming Effective Disciples program.
“I try really hard to let them know how much they’re appreciated – their time, all of their gifts … and also provide an opportunity for blessing and let them know they have our support,” she explained. “It’s also a spiritual journey for them.”
A few years ago, Aune went thrift-saling for coffee mugs. She bought about 50 cups and took them to the catechists’ orientation. She talked about filling one’s spiritual cup, and asked them to pray for everyone who’d ever held the cup, and anyone who would in the future.
Aune told them the contents of their spiritual cup would never stay the same. By the end of the program, the level could be higher or lower – but she hoped their cup would be overflowing, and they would pass that on to their students.
Orientation also includes a blessing. One year, Fr. Jerry Harris, current pastor of the parish, blessed a table full of blankets, and catechists were wrapped in blessings.
“We love our catechists, and we take good care of them,” she added. “We wouldn’t have a program without them.”
St. Mary’s religious education program had 250 students when Aune joined the staff. Now, there are 280 children, despite that Hammond’s population is fewer than 2,000 people.
“When you look at all the parishes, we are the fourth largest with the number of children enrolled in faith formation,” she said. “We’re really blessed to have the number of kids that we have.”
She credits Fr. Harris and religious education teachers with maintaining a strong program.
Aune said she was surprised – and humbled – to receive the award.
“I really just want to be this humble servant,” she added. “That was really hard for me to be up in front of everyone. Not that I’m shy; I just want to be behind the scenes and do the work.”