The Covid-19 pandemic caused many interruptions in the past year and a half, yet the parishioners, staff, and volunteers of St. Mary Mokena seemed to find a workaround and come through in almost every instance.
Without a doubt, one of the most impacted programs was religious education (RE). “This past academic year, the field of education faced unprecedented challenges,” said Chris Aust, director of religious education at St. Mary Mokena. “These challenges forced educational leaders and teachers to think ‘outside of the box’ as they worked to be patient and flexible with the ever-changing situation surrounding COVID-19.”
Thinking outside the box was something that Jane Wisniewski and her second grade R.E. class became quite effective at. In fact, the pandemic-induced restrictions became an opportunity to be innovative, particularly around a beloved class tradition she has been doing for several years.
“I always promise the students a performance if we finish our textbook before the end of the year,” said Wisniewski, known simply as “Mrs. Jane” by her students. “This year, we couldn’t do a performance in front of a large audience due to Covid restrictions, so we decided to film it.”
Wisniewski and her class chose to perform “The Lord’s Army,” song and routine. “I remember hearing this song when I was a kid, so I thought it would be fun, and the children were all very excited to learn it,” said Wisniewski. “I heard that one little girl was singing it in the shower at home, while one of the boys started teaching his family the lyrics at dinner!”
After roughly two weeks of learning the words in the lyrics (like ‘infantry’) and practicing the routine, it was showtime. Instead of performing in front of an audience of parents and family, the children performed the song in front of a smaller audience of a few staff members, a video camera, and Father Mark Bernhard.
“Father Mark was a large component of my class this year,” said Wisniewski. “The kids loved him. When I said they couldn’t invite their parents due to Covid restrictions, they were excited to have him attend instead.”
As a gesture of gratitude after the performance, the students presented their reduced audience with special “Lord’s Army” dog tags. Everyone was very impressed with how well the students prepared and performed the routine.
“I am so proud of Mrs. Wisniewski and her students for all their hard work in preparing for the performance and throughout the entire year,” said Director Aust. “All of our religious education students and catechists did such great work despite COVID. With our Lord working through them, it was these incredible and faithful volunteers and students that gave me the strength to press forward through this tough year.”
Please watch the video of the performance embedded above and show your support for the students in the comments.
Here’s what a couple of R.E. parents said about Mrs. Jane’s class this year:
“Mrs. Jane had a profound impact on Maddy’s faith journey. For the first time she was excited to go to RE. She would always come home telling me what she learned and asking more questions. Mrs Jane was able to teach her things in a way that kids understand. Maddy has truly deepened her relationship with Jesus and her understanding of the Catholic faith. She has a way of making her feel less nervous about her big moments -first Reconciliation and first Communion. I am thankful for the amazing communication [from] Mrs. Jane. She was organized, helpful, and ready to answer questions as well as provide support and encouragement. she has shown she not only cares about her students but their entire family. I look forward to when my youngest daughter goes into second grade and can have Mrs. Jane as well.”
-Katie, R.E. parent
“My daughter grew in her faith thanks to Mrs. Jane, Mrs. Dilger and other RE instructors. They took the time to help her when she needed some extra assistance, which made all the difference! She looks forward to Wednesday nights.”
-Gina, R.E. parent
“Mrs. Jane absolutely found her calling as a catechist! She’s a wonderful example of someone who has a strong faith and is able to engage young children, allowing them to have a much better understanding of their religion at a very young age. She was able to instill in our daughter an ever lasting love for God, our religion, and church. She’s truly one of a kind, and we were blessed to have her as Elin’s teacher during the holy sacrament of Eucharist. My daughter looked very forward to religious education every week and came home excited, enthusiastic, and energized!! We cannot thank her enough for going above and beyond.”
-Laura, R.E. parent
“Both Kaylee and Ryan said you [Mrs. Jane Wisniewski] were their favorite RE teacher!! They enjoyed your enthusiasm and passion for teaching the catholic faith. They enjoyed the stories that you would tell and how those stories taught them to be a better person and to entrust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They were happy that you saw something special about them to play an important role for God on that blessed day.”
-Heather, R.E. parent
“Thank you Mrs. Jane for being in Matthew’s life at the beginning of his religious learning. He made his first communion as your student, and you made it perfect. We go to mass and communion every Sunday and you are a big part of that. Thank you.”
-Mike, R.E. parent