After 30 years, catechist steps aside

For Mary Jane Baehman, stepping aside does not mean giving up the classroom

WEYAUWEGA  — Mary Jane Baehman feels called to do all that she does.

“I’m involved in a lot of stuff. I love it,” she said. “I enjoy doing it.”

A member of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Baehman serves her faith community in a variety of ways. She is the secretary of the parish pastoral council, in charge of the eucharistic ministers and is a member of the church’s Environment Committee. For more than 30 years, she has taught faith formation at the parish.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Mary Jane Baehman (Angie Landsverk)

“I taught second grade, freshmen and fifth grade,” Baehman said. “Each one was a wonderful experience in itself. Second grade was first Communion. Freshmen year was morality and fifth grade was the seven sacraments.”

For Baehman, who grew up in Weyauwega, it is a way for her to share her faith with children. SS. Peter and Paul was her home parish even before it was actually a parish. For years, it was a mission church. In 1955, Fr. Walter Tuschel became its first resident pastor.

Baehman remembers going to the “old little church” and how people stood outside on the concrete when the church was full in the summer. While those standing outside were not always able to see or hear what was taking place inside the church, they knelt and stood with everyone, she said.

Baehman said her family never missed going to Mass. “It used to be that parents brought their kids to church on Sunday,” she said. Today, during faith formation classes, Baehman tells her students to encourage their parents to take them to church.

After decades of teaching religious education, Baehman is in a new role this year. She is a substitute teacher. There are several reasons why she decided to step down from teaching each week. She had a knee replacement this past summer, and that slowed her down a bit.

Baehman also said the students may need someone who is more up to speed with the latest technology, so it may be incorporated into their lessons. She explained it was two years ago when she began to realize this.

She was teaching  fourth grade and it was time for the students to learn the Ten Commandments. Baehman decided to show them “The Ten Commandments” movie, in which Charlton Heston portrays Moses.

“These kids had not seen the 1950s version of ‘The Ten Commandments,’” she said. “It took three weeks to see the whole thing. Last year, when I had them as fifth graders, they were still talking about scenes.”

While those teaching faith formation have to follow the structure of the book, Baehman said, that in the modern world of technology, “they have to have someone who is with that era.”

This does not mean her days of teaching faith formation are done. Baehman said she will continue to be a substitute teacher as needed.  Baehman likes to keep the lessons fresh by bringing guest speakers into the class.

“Last year, we started the year off with miracles,” she said. Two members of the parish gave witness to what had happened to them, Baehman said. Both had heart attacks and were not expected to live, she said.

She also watched the movie “Heaven is for Real” with the class. “It’s just for kids to know that Jesus is alive today and working with us, in us,” Baehman said.

Each child is on a different path to his or her faith, said Baehman. She and her husband, Jim, have been married for 50 years and have five children and 13 grandchildren. “Just being with the kids, it is such a joy,” she said.

“With teaching, I always felt I get more out of it than the kids. The lesson you teach is eye-opening or reminds you of things you haven’t used for a while. The kids just open your eyes every day,” she said.

From time to time, Baehman sees some of her former students in the community. “To me, the greatest compliment is when someone I had in the past remembers me and has a smile or a ‘hello,’ especially if I see them in church,” she said.

Now Baehman is taking on yet another role in her parish.

This year, she will be in charge of the church’s Christmas program, which will include preschoolers through fifth graders. She will do so with the help of her granddaughter, Twyla Alix, who is a sophomore at Weyauwega-Fremont High School.

“I still love music, and I love to see the joy of children,” said Baehman.

Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Mary Jane Baehman

Parish: SS. Peter and Paul, Weyauwega

Age: 70

Favorite saint: Blessed Mother

Words to live by: “He makes all things beautiful in his time.”