General Introduction to the Religious Education Program

Background
The Catechism program was set up in the English-speaking community at St. Thomas Parish in the 1990's. Most of our students come from international families. However, recently, the number of children whose parents are both Czech has been on the rise. The number of students participating in the program annually has been between 50 and 60 in the past several years.

Students
Our students attend various different international and Czech schools throughout Prague. Given this fact, the program tries to tailor the religious education calendar so that it corresponds to the holiday calendars of those schools from which the majority of our students attend.

The St. Thomas Religious Education school year starts in mid-September and runs until the end of May each year.

Classes
We offer classes for children starting from the age of 4 up until Confirmation age. We break up the students into 7 different groups:

- Kindergarten ( Ages 4-5)
- Pre-Communion Class (Ages 6-7) (first year of preparation for the First Holy Communion)
- First Communion Class (Ages 7-8 or second grade)
- Post Communion Classes 1, 2 & 3 (up to around Age 12) (3 separate groups)
- Confirmation Class (typically around 13)

(The age is determined as of September of the given school year).

Teachers
Our teachers are recruited from both the parents of the students as well as some devoted parishioners. A number of our RE teachers are also teachers by profession. Most stay on the staff for several years. The teachers, as well as the coordinator and assistant coordinator, work free of charge in their spare time. Many have previous experience with teaching catechism. New teachers are coupled with experienced teachers. Typically, each of the 7 classes has one teacher and one assistant or two co-teachers. Our pastor, Father William Faix, takes an active part in all the children's catechesis and gives special attention to students preparing to receive one of the holy sacraments.

Sunday Classes
Religious Education Classes are 1 hour and held on Sunday mornings from 9.45 to 10.45 a.m. at St. Thomas Church. Our students are expected and encouraged to attend the 11 a.m. English Mass that follows regularly as an integral part of the program. Our classrooms are located within the premises of the Augustinian monastery adjoining the church which were completely renovated some 5 years ago.

Curriculum
Since 2007, we have been using the Faith First series of books. The cost of textbooks, teaching materials, refreshments, stationery and other supplies is covered by fees payable at the beginning of the year.

Given the transient character of the community, the parish council has approved some changes to the syllabus which will be gradually introduced into the program starting from the 2012- 2013 year. The purpose of these alterations is to build on the solid foundation that we have built while restructuring the syllabus of the program somewhat, in order to ensure a solid common level of knowledge among the children who come from different backgrounds and spend different periods of time in the Czech Republic, from native Czechs to children of parents coming from non-English speaking countries, and from permanent residents to those coming and staying just for a year or two. Those interested are welcome to speak with Mary Beth Hlavsa, the RE program coordinator.

Classes include special projects such as collection of gifts for needy children, etc. Also, during class, students learn about and prepare for important Church events, periods of the liturgical year and celebrate special feasts, e.g. All Saints, St. Nicholas, Advent, Christmas, Three Kings, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Some of these celebrations take the form of a Children's Mass which is held once a month throughout the school year. In a Children's Mass our students read the word, present the petitions, lead an offertory song, bring up the gifts, etc. Regular Children's Masses are put on by each class group (above) in turn, enhancing the Mass experience for the children and making it more personal for them.

Sacraments
Every spring, typically in May, the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation are conferred on eligible students. First Communicants also receive the sacrament of First Reconciliation in March of the same year. Preparation for both the First Holy Communion and Confirmation takes the form of a 2-year program. The sacrament is conferred after the completion of the second year. Exceptions may be granted if a student provides a confirmation of previous preparation in another parish.

Communication
Information on the organization of classes is communicated at the beginning of each school year to the parents via a parent's letter and Religious Education calendar. Up-to-date information about the program is posted regularly on the English-speaking community’s notice board in the cloister garden. Key events and communications are published in the weekly parish bulletin that is handed out on Sundays. The program coordinator, assistant coordinator and the teachers are in frequent contact with the parents via e-mail. A new section about the program on the parish website www.augustiniani.cz has been launched, too.

For more information on the program, please contact Mary Beth Hlavsa, Religious Education Program Coordinator, tel.: 724 485 930, e-mail: marybethwebster@hotmail.com or marybeth@prague-stay.com