By Bill Miller and Jessica Easthope
OZONE PARK — While greeting public school students Sunday, Sept. 18, at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Parish in Ozone Park, Bishop Robert Brennan appreciated that some of them might not yet know him.
In a teaching moment, he introduced himself by referring to the prayer intentions said during the Mass saying “the part when we pray for Francis our pope, and Robert our bishop.”
Waving to the assembly, he added, “I’m Robert, our bishop.” Parents and teachers laughed along with Father Thomas Ahern, OLPH’s pastor, and Fran DeLuca, the academy’s principal.
The 50 or so students, kindergarten through high school, came to the OLPH Catholic Academy gym to register for the faith formation Sunday school classes of the new school year.
Bishop Brennan had just celebrated the 10:30 a.m. Mass at OLPH in observance of Catechetical Sunday. He gave blessings to the students and their teachers.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catechesis is a distinct and special ministry in the Church. They added that Catechetical Sunday is “a day to highlight this ministry and invite the entire church community to think about our responsibility to share our faith with others.”
Bishop Brennan moved among the students, greeting and chatting with them.
But one boy still didn’t know what to make of the man who leaned on his wooden crosier (staff) while stopping at each table to greet students. Jay Ventura, 8, was off to the side, alone until Bishop Brennan sat down for a brief one-on-one visit.
After a chat, the Bishop gave Jay a fist bump and said, “Good, nice to meet you, Jay. See you again, all right?”
Later, Jay said he still didn’t understand who the bishop was or why he was there. Not to worry, said Linda Maldonado, assistant director of faith formation at the parish.
“Jay is going to find out who the bishop is,” she assured with a chuckle. “He’s going to find out because our teachers are very good with that. They’re going to make sure that he gets the proper education.”
Dr. Jonathan Mangar, who has many responsibilities at OLPH, said this is the first normal start to the catechetical school year since the pandemic.
He is a faith formation catechist for the sacrament of confirmation and the school board chair for OLPH Catholic Academy.
Also, Dr. Mangar is an alum of the academy, and he teaches foreign languages at Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, Queens.
He said the academy and the religious education office have common goals for serving students — usually about 100-150 in faith formation, plus 350 in the academy and another 60 in universal Pre-K.
Simply put, “We give them a foundation for a life based on Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother,” Dr. Mangar said.
In a statement, USCCB members noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear that “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life . . . her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis.”
Bishop Brennan expressed pride for religious education offices throughout the diocese.
“First of all,” he said, “I want to thank and encourage the catechist volunteers who come to pass on the gift of faith. Secondly, I want to thank and encourage parents.
“Catechetical Sunday is great just to encourage parents because it takes extra effort, planning, and some sacrifice to be able to make sure your children are getting this religious formation. We want to supplement what they’re doing.”
Bishop Brennan said that he hopes to visit religious formation programs across the diocese in the coming months.