January 30, 2021

Come, Follow Me… to South Dakota!

By Sister Madeleine Marie, S.s.E.W.

(Feeding treats to the Lammers’ horses in South Dakota)

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the diocese of Sioux Falls, SD, to speak to the catechists of St. George parish in Hartford about Come, Follow Me As a native St. Louisan, I am always happy to be back in the Midwest! This trip was full of surprises at every turn. As my first flight to Dallas was about to land, I got word that my second flight to Sioux Falls was cancelled due to an impending blizzard. The gate agent rerouted all the Sioux Falls passengers to Omaha, saying that the flights there were “wide open” and not yet cancelled. I beat the blizzard by about four hours, so I stayed overnight in Omaha. The next afternoon, Leona and Richard Kavan, our longtime friends and volunteers, generously drove me to Sioux City, IA, where Shane Van Diest, the St. George DRE picked me up.

 

(Leona and Richard Kavan enjoying our mild winter weather on one of their past trips to Casa Maria)

I was blown away by the kindness of St. George’s parishioners. Fr. Paul King arranged for me to stay with the Lammers family at their acreage in Hartford. Barry Lammers’ family has been involved in rodeos for quite a while, and he taught me the basics of roping (see video!) while I was up there. Patty and Barry showed me around the city of Sioux Falls, and we hiked around the Falls.

(At Sioux Falls with Patty Lammers)

I also spent time with Todd and Julie Ernster and the family of Rechelle Dissing. I am especially grateful to Rechelle’s mom, Mrs. Burggraff, who made her famous chicken necks for dinner. I was hesitant to eat them when I heard her say, “chicken necks,” but they were really good!

(A South Dakota sunrise at 7:36 in the morning—quite a bit later than in Alabama!)

St. George employs a monthly family catechesis model and has integrated Come, Follow Me into the monthly meetings for the K-6th grade students. Joining us via zoom from England, Sr. Hyacinthe Defos du Rau, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph and translator of Come, Follow Me, explained the background and pedagogy of the program and led a sample session for the catechists. After she spoke, I related some of the stories from my teaching of Come, Follow Me and gave some advice for how to prepare the sessions based on my experience. 

(The Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph in Lymington, England. Sr. Hyacinthe is in the back row on the far right. She has been a great source of encouragement and support as I have implemented Come, Follow Me.)

On the following day, I went to St. Lambert’s parish in Sioux Falls where I taught a lesson of Come, Follow Me to a small group of students. They were a very receptive bunch, eager to listen, answer, and pray. I am grateful to their DRE, Ellen Bauman, for this opportunity, as well as to Fr. Robert Wullweber, the associate pastor, who joined us for the class and lunch. 
I first learned about Come, Follow Me through an article in The Sower (now The Catechetical Review). This article, The Child’s Potential for Contact with God, was a translation of a 1959 conference given by Bl. Marie Eugene of the Child Jesus, the founder of the secular institute Notre Dame de Vie. He pointed out how a baptized child who has not yet reached the age of reason has none of the obstacles to prevent him from communicating with God in prayer. Bl. Marie Eugene continued by explaining how serious education in prayer is important for these little ones: “It is important to make the most of this age, of the child’s innocence and purity of heart, to create in him spiritual reflexes that will carry him to God later on, as if they were second nature. Thus will the movement of grace and divine life be inscribed along with his natural reflexes in order to enrich his soul already with supernatural life.” This was something that I had never considered, but it made perfect sense given what we believe about the sacrament of Baptism and its transforming effects on the soul!

(Photo of Bl. Marie Eugene of the Child Jesus from: https://www.notredamedevie.org/fr-marie-eugene/his-life/photo-gallery/)

The end of the Bl. Marie Eugene article mentioned Come, Follow Me, a catechetical program developed by members of Notre Dame de Vie. This program, tied to the Church’s liturgical year, offers an opportunity to encounter the person of Jesus through contact with the Word of God, the Scriptures. The lessons are structured according to the maturity of the children and consist of a prayerful reading of a passage and employs carefully selected questions. 
 
For the next several years, Come, Follow Me kept popping up to me in different places. There were several more articles in The Catechetical Review highlighting various aspects of the program. Later, I attended a diocesan in-service day where Dr. James Pauley of Franciscan University spoke about how a diocese in France was radically transformed by switching to Come, Follow Me. The more I learned about it, the more I was convinced that this fit in with our community’s charism of “teaching spiritual things spiritually” (1 Cor 2:13). This was confirmed when I visited the Nashville Dominicans’ motherhouse in April of 2018, and one of our foundress Mother Mary Gabriel’s friends, Sr. Luke, came up to me and told me, “You should do Come, Follow Me! It’s a program that Mother Mary Gabriel would have loved when she was teaching.” I answered, “Sr. Luke, you are the voice of the Holy Spirit right now because I was just thinking of asking if we could look more into this program!” Shortly afterwards, we began teaching a small class of 4-8 year olds, and our sisters introduced it to the younger students at St. James School in Gadsden. Last year, we also taught the K-2 students at St. Barnabas, an inner city Catholic school in Birmingham.

(One of our Come, Follow Me sessions at Casa Maria)

The program makes use of silhouettes to assist the children in interiorizing and responding to the passages. When I went through the lessons on Moses with my St. Barnabas students, the silhouette illustrated Moses’ posture of prostration before God. The next lesson was the call of Samuel, and we discussed how we can dispose ourselves to hear God speaking to us. The children immediately connected the idea of silencing our bodies with the silhouette of Moses, and one of them asked, “Can we pray like Moses?” The children, who all had problems focusing, spent about 5 minutes in silent prayer. The next week when I came, one of the boys asked, “Can we pray like that again?” They ended up asking their regular teacher if they could spend 5 minutes in silent prayer everyday!

(Making use of the silhouettes in a Come, Follow Me lesson that I incorporated into a retreat day for children in Tuscaloosa)

The beauty of Come, Follow Me is precisely this formation in prayer. Each session ends with a time of group prayer, and the children are free to stay as long as they wish. They are encouraged in the first year as 5 and 6 year olds to stay in prayer long enough so that God can speak to them and transform their hearts. The natural fruit of this time is that the children often decide to set up places of prayer in their own homes. We gave the children who came to the Come, Follow Me class at Casa Maria small San Damiano crosses for their prayer spaces. One of the little boys made himself a prayer room in a large box. A set of twins set up a chapel behind their dad’s chair, where they once prayed a whole rosary (One of them said, “Except that we couldn’t remember the Hail Mary so we just kept praying the Angel of God prayer”). Another little boy said that he was going to wear his cross around his neck so that he could take his prayer space with him wherever he was and make time to pray.

(Children praying in the chapel after one of our Come, Follow Me lessons at Casa Maria)

If you are interested in learning more about this program, please feel free to contact me through our website I am happy to help in any way that I can.