by Kara Hansen
OLATHE — If years of service are any measure of how dedicated Jim Augustyn is to teaching religious education, this Prince of Peace parishioner is off the chart.
Now entering his 23rd year of teaching, Augustyn was presented with the Catechist of the Year award at the Kansas Association of Religious Educators (KARE) conference, held July 24-26 in Salina.
Mark Schuetz , director of religious education at Prince of Peace, nominated Augustyn for the honor.
“I call Jim the gentle giant,” said Schuetz, who heads up the Children’s Church/Elementary programs. “He is 6 feet 4 inches tall and towers over his first-grade students, but is one of the nicest people that you will ever meet. He is such an excellent teacher, and he works so well with the children.”
Augustyn, a father of five, taught sixth-grade religious education for one year and has taught first grade ever since. What he enjoys most about his work as a catechist is stepping away from his busy work as an operations manager to help younger children understand God’s love for them.
“[This work] makes me feel like I am really doing something good — good for the children and good for me as a Catholic Christian,” said Augustyn. “It literally forces you to practice what you preach and apply your faith to every part of your life.”
Schuetz said Augustyn keeps his classes active and learning through different methods, often taking them to the church itself to learn up close and personal about their faith traditions.
“He has his students act out Bible stories during class so that they feel that they are part of the story,” said Schuetz. “During Advent, he has his classes reenact the nativity story, and he always makes sure that every girl has an opportunity to be Mary.”
Schuetz said Augustyn stays up-to-date on all the latest information for catechists, attending all in-services and many of the workshops provided by the archdiocese.
“I am blessed to work with many talented and dedicated catechists, but Jim stands out with his dedication and the compassion that he shows to his students,” said Schuetz.
As for Augustyn, he is honored by the award, but not taking it too seriously. “Honestly, I didn’t want to make a big deal about it because there are so many other wonderful people taking time to help in the faith formation of our children,” he said.
Denise Godinez, presented with the outstanding Director of Religious Education award by KARE, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I was very surprised at first,” said Godinez. “There are so many parishes in our archdiocese with staff that are terrific at teaching the faith.”
Though Godinez has been involved with religious education as a catechist and junior high coordinator for the past 20 years, she has been the director of religious education at Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Overland Park for only the past four.
“Denise really goes above and beyond in anything she has to do,” said Rosanna Alvarez, a parishioner and catechist at Queen of the Holy Rosary who works with Godinez. “She is very dedicated to what she does, and all of us catechists respect Denise for the job she does.”
Godinez said she could not do her work without the faithful support of her pastor, the parishioners, parents and students involved with religious education at Queen of the Holy Rosary.
“I’m very grateful to our families and children,” she said. “If they didn’t have the desire and commitment to provide a faith foundation, we would not have a program.”
Godinez said the children receiving religious education at Queen of the Holy Rosary come from 12 different schools. that diversity of background and experience could create challenges for many religious education programs.
But not at Queen, said Godinez.
“The kids really team up well together,” she said. “We want them to have a Catholic education, but we also want them to come away with a strong Catholic moral character as well, by participating together.”
Alvarez said Godinez does more than her part to make sure that goal is met.
“Denise is very involved with the students and really gets to know the parents. She does so much to help us catechists do a better job teaching,” said Alvarez. “Many times Denise is here early and stays late working, and we really appreciate all she does for us and the kids.”