This week, Alice Bordelon, who is director of religious education at her parish in St. Marys, takes Leaven readers inside her ministry.
Q. What is your title and where do you minister?
A. I am director of religious education and the safe environment coordinator for Immaculate Conception Church in St. Marys.
Q. Please describe your ministry/what you do.
A. My ministry is to design, direct and coordinate a religious education program that strengthens children and youth from kindergarten through high school. I focus on their safe environment and create a place that feels like another home for them. As a member of a rural parish, I find myself, like others, wearing many hats. Sometimes, I am the Flock-note (texting) lady or the website lady, and other times, I am the phone lady. Regardless of title or role, I always want to find ways to draw the hearts of our parishioners closer to our faith and to the Lord’s most sacred heart.
Q. How would you describe how that fits into the larger mission of the Catholic Church?
A. Strong connections to one’s home parish strengthen the church universally. I sincerely believe that the most important part in my ministry is to create opportunities for others to form a spiritual muscle-memory on our own church grounds, especially before the Blessed Sacrament in our own tabernacle.
When speaking to others who have gone on retreats, conferences or events to other locations, I find that they’ve created a strong spiritual muscle-memory that can’t escape their minds and hearts. They usually want to return to that location to recapture that closeness to Christ.
Parishes should strive to create similar spiritual experiences. If they offer their own retreats, invite speakers and host Eucharist-centered events, their parishioners will want to “recapture” that beautiful spiritual muscle-memory in their own home parish.
When planning events, I ask myself, “Will this help them remember our tabernacle when they feel close to Christ? Can this foster a physical memory of how our kneelers feel when they are in perfect joy before Our Lord? Will they think of our altar when they smell the sweet fragrance of incense elsewhere? Do they feel at home?”
Q. Is this what you set out to do in life?
A. I thought I would become a nun and own an orphanage. I have a heart for children who feel alone. I never dreamed that I’d get to run a “school” where the only subject is God and show them that they are never alone.
Q. What road led you to this ministry?
A. Since high school, I always volunteered at my parish as a babysitter or taught preschool or vacation Bible school. Joyfully, I was able to teach religious education while married and raising a family of eight children. I home-schooled them and was free to share Jesus anytime I wanted.
When my children were in high school, I returned to work. I only wanted to work where God was the focus. So, I worked for a nonprofit thrift store called God’s Storehouse, where they serve and support many programs that focus on second chances, emergency relief and community care. We served people from all walks of life that felt lost or were in need. We gave them more than material goods — we shared God’s love and offered to be his hands. However, when I was asked to serve our parish as the DRE, I knew I was needed more at “home.”
Q. Did you collect some skills from other jobs along the way that have proved surprisingly applicable? If so, explain.
A. Funny enough, the most important thing I learned along the way in my 31 years of mothering was this: Break bread with those you serve. There is something magnificent that happens around the “table of plenty.” We, who eat, are all sinners and are called to share in his bounty. If you want to make progress in helping others grow closer to Christ and in showing them his way, do it over soup.
Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about your job?
A. The depths of our Catholic traditions are infinite. They always contain more purpose and more intention than you expect. It’s an adventure to delve into them.
Q. Who does your ministry primarily serve?
My ministry is exciting because it serves children, youth and adults who want to learn more about their faith.
Q. What do you wish everybody knew about your ministry?
A. I sincerely wish that every parishioner knew that what we give to our children and youth in their faith formation will directly impact the involvement, membership and leadership of the future parish and finance councils, Altar Society and Knights of Columbus memberships, and, more importantly, the interest in religious vocations. Money and encouragement help, but stepping into roles of teaching, being aides and overall volunteering in religious education programs is the wisest investment a man or woman can make into the future of their parish.
Q. Why does the world need more of what you do, especially now?
A. With regard to children and youth, it is not a matter of them finding answers to their questions or finding arms into which they will fall when they feel lost and alone — it is, simply, into whose arms they will fall and how their worries or questions are answered and furnished. Catholic adults who physically sit with them before the Blessed Sacrament, mentors who pray for others and leaders who unceasingly serve them — that is what we need in multitude.
Q. What have you learned about people in this job?
A. The toughest lesson I’ve learned about this job is that there’s always a new wave of children or families who are struggling, even after you’ve experienced a beautiful year of growth and peace. It is only through God that we have work to do. All work without him seems awfully lonely.
Q. What have you learned about yourself?
A. I’ve learned that in a secular sense, I’m terribly broken. Spiritually, though, I know that I am walking toward my healer and that Jesus Christ is my only friend on this journey.
Q. How has it changed the way you view your identity as a Catholic?
A. I have always said that my children were vehicles of grace for me. My entire identity revolves around God’s mercies and his graces.
Alice Bordelon is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in St. Marys, a wife, a mother of eight and grandmother of five.