The parking lot of St. Luke’s Catholic Church floods with old trucks as 1,700 – yes, 1,700 – fifth to 10th-grade students arrive to their Sunday catechism class at St. Luke’s, located on MacArthur Blvd. in Irving.
A one-and-a-half hour catechism lesson covering the Creed, the Gospels and the Sacraments, precedes the Mass in an overflowing church populated by immigrant Hispanic families.
Afterwards, squeezing by a venerable-looking old lady and mischievous-looking young boy, I manage to catch the parish catechism coordinator and former University of Dallas professor, Thérèse Frank, and her husband, on a day when she typically dedicates 12 hours to serving this community.
The three of us sit down in her office along with UD alumnus Peter Kane, one of 11 University of Dallas volunteer catechists at the parish, a number that Mrs. Frank hopes will increase.
I am immediately captivated by the lively personality of this former UD professor who has devoted decades to leading the parish’s faith formation.
“The majority of the parents don’t speak English,” she says, her eyes narrowing with compassionate concern.
Her husband, UD philosophy professor Dr. William Frank, interjects emphatically, “They are learning in one language and living in another. A large majority of the parents are uncatechized.”
“Often unevangelized,” Mrs. Frank adds.
Dr. Frank then frames the difficulty that the parents’ lack of formation poses. “Where do you turn for formation when the parents don’t have this?” he asks.
When asked how UD students can help, Mrs. Frank becomes very serious.
“They have received a very rich inheritance, a very precious kind of wealth, spiritual wealth – it’s phenomenal,” she says about UD students. “What a joy to find out you’ve received this spiritual blessing. That personal witness – no money can pay for that.”
Contrasting what UD students have received with the St. Luke’s catechism students, Dr. Frank says, “I call them spiritual orphans.”
“They have a birthright of beauty,” Mrs. Frank interjects, alluding to Church Father Saint Athanasius’ words. “We need them to come into their inheritance.”
Kane’s neat stubble twitches into an easy smile as he says about the students, “They may not be looking for knowledge – they’re looking for strength. They’re certainly looking for virtue. They want a leader; they want to see what you can give them.”
Mrs. Frank agrees.
“Peter is right,” she says. “We cannot lose this generation; they are very important.”
Dr. Frank adds, “This is the ground of the pro-life movement.”
On the lasting benefits of volunteering as a catechist, Mrs. Frank pierces me with eyes reminiscent of another Thérèse: “Learning to pass [formation] on in a setting that is almost missionary – it’s hard, it’s humbling.”
And she concludes, “You will learn – if you persevere – how to pass the faith on, and that will be handy no matter what you end up [doing in the future].”