Catholic Herald staff
Accepting the position of religious education coordinator was “a leap of faith” for Rachel McGurran, a one-time kindergarten catechist who fell in love with her students’ wholehearted faith.
“The children were so pure and innocent, and most of all, so excited about Jesus,” said McGurran, a wife, mother and parishioner at St. Anne, Somerset. “They were a constant reminder of what Matthew 18:3 says when referring to having faith like a child: ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
Winner of the 2014 Father Harold Dodge Award, McGurran was honored for her zeal, commitment to catechetical ministry and teaching skills Oct. 24 at the diocesan Fall Conference.
McGurran traces her faith back to her childhood in North St. Paul. One of six children born to devout Catholic parents, she attended Catholic school in grades 1-8. Her mom stayed home, and at the time, McGurran never fully appreciated the sacrifices required to privately educate six children on one income. She does now.
Parents of four boys – Riley, 12; Will, 9; Alex, 7; and Matthew, 4 – McGurran and her husband, Sean, are sending their sons to St. Anne Catholic School.
“Now I fully understand the sacrifices my parents had to make for our education, as we are experiencing it firsthand with our boys,” she said. “However, we wouldn’t have it any other way and are very happy to make the necessary sacrifices.”
McGurran has been the religious education coordinator at St. Anne and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Farmington, for five years. After teaching one year of kindergarten catechism, “I was very eager to teach the kindergarteners again the following year,” she recalls. “However, this coordinator position opened up.”
Sara Measner, youth minister and religious education coordinator for grades 6-10, asked McGurran if she was interested in leading the K-5 program.
“After much prayer and discernment, I took the leap of faith, believing that God would supplement where needed,” she added. “And he has indeed.”
Her goals for the program are to teach children how much God loves them; to emphasize their importance in God’s family and the parish family; and to assure them God is “the one true constant in their lives.” She also wants them to understand the Mass, the importance of prayer and the Catholic faith.
McGurran also hopes families will “feel welcomed, loved, and inspired to grow in their faith.” Parents are all at different places in their spiritual lives, she said, and that’s OK. All they need is faith the size of a mustard seed – “with that, we can nurture it and help it grow.”
“When parents are nurturing their own faith, they are much more able to share that precious gift with their children,” she added, “and it makes our parish family that much stronger.”
Seventy children attend the K-5 program; the curriculum is based on the Alive in Christ series from Our Sunday Visitor and Call to Celebrate, an at-home preparation for the sacraments of reconciliation and first Eucharist. Lessons are a blend of class time and large group activities; in December, students will be preparing for the Christmas program. There’s also an All Saints Day party in November and a mini-retreat before Easter.
In addition to her role in faith formation, McGurran also tries to support the wider parish community. For the first time this year, she joined a group of 10 Somerset and Farmington teens at Extreme Faith Camp.
“What a beautiful experience,” she said. “It was a wonderful week where the youth could leave their busy lives behind and really focus on building their relationship with Christ … I believe most, if not all, of them were changed because of this camp.”
High school leaders provided powerful witness for middle school students, McGurran added, and adoration was a favorite for teens. She hopes the parishes will remain involved with camp for as long as students are interested in attending.
When McGurran learned she’d been selected to receive the Father Harold Dodge award, “I was absolutely shocked and humbled,” she said.
In McGurran’s mind, the award belongs to many people – her parents, her husband, Measner, pastoral staff and catechists – all of whom have facilitated, in one way or another, the program’s success.
“This award truly represents the effort it takes by many to help bring the faith to our future generations,” McGurran said.