Mary Britanak Ruppenthal receives a congratulatory hug.
Mary Britanak Ruppenthal receives a congratulatory hug.
When it comes to forming people in the Catholic faith, Mary Britanak Ruppenthal believes that catechists and their students must journey together.

“[Catechists] cannot meet people where they are unless we are willing to walk with them,” she said. “We need to proclaim the Gospel through our actions, how we witness the Great Commandment” – to love God and love your neighbor.

Britanak Ruppenthal shared insights about her more than 40-year involvement serving in various forms of catechesis upon learning that she had been named recipient of the 2022 Rosemarie “Chick” McGinty Award for Excellence in Catechetical Ministry. Her experience has included serving as the coordinator of faith formation in St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, since June 2002, and prior to that, she served in St. Catharine of Siena Parish, Seaside Park.

Photo Gallery: Catechetical Sunday Mass in St. Barnabas Church, Bayville

“I love what we, as catechists, do,” she said of how they “immerse” themselves in Scripture, Tradition and community.

Britanak Ruppenthal was presented with the award by Denise Contino, diocesan director of the Department of Catechesis during the 10 a.m. Mass celebrated Sept. 18 in St. Barnabas Church. The presentation of the award coincided with the parish’s observance of Catechetical Sunday, during which Father Carlos Florez, pastor, bestowed a blessing on the parish catechists.

“Mary exhibits service in everything she does, ministry is a way of life for her,” said Contino. She knows ministry well … the Light of Christ shines bright with Mary.”

Thinking back to how she became involved in catechetical ministry, Britanak Ruppenthal said, “I am one of those people who need their gifts called out.” She recalled that she was a new bride at 22 years old when the priest from St. Catharine of Siena Parish, who prepared her and her future husband, Dave, for marriage “told me I would be a good catechist.”

“I didn’t believe him, but I wanted to help, so I signed on,” she said. For the first two years she was the volunteer coordinator of the parish’s 65-student religious education program, but over the next 23 years she witnessed the program’s blossoming to 365 students.

While at St. Barnabas Parish her role has expanded from overseeing the religious education program for first through sixth grades, to include Confirmation preparation; the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults; Baptism preparation; children’s catechesis for grades one through eight, and sacramental preparation for children and adults. She also trains extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and the comfort ministers who assist in planning funeral liturgies.

For children, Britanak Ruppenthal noted there are two different opportunities for catechesis offered for the approximately 900-1,100 students in grades one through eight. The “classroom program,” she explained, meets twice monthly for 90 minutes while “Whole Family Catechesis” meets for two hours monthly. “We eat and pray together, then the children receive classroom catechesis while we have adult faith formation for the guardians that are with them,” she said.

Britanak Ruppenthal extended appreciation to the program’s 50 volunteers, catechists and aides, saying, “We are proud that many of our volunteers remain with us for years.” 

Regarding the Chick McGinty Award, Britanak Ruppenthal was “surprised” to be this year’s recipient.

“I look at my peers in ministry, and I feel that they are excellent leaders so I would not be the first in mind,” she said, adding that she was “a bit taken back” at how emotional she became when Contino handed her the award.

“Part of it was due to the wonderful affirmation of our terrific parish family, but also because of Chick,” she said. Mrs. McGinty, who is now deceased, was the first lay woman to serve in a diocesan position as director of the Office of Religious Education.

“Over the years she mentored me, supported me and befriended me,” Britanak Ruppenthal said of Mrs. McGinty. Britanak Ruppenthal was also in the very first Catechetical Leadership training in 1991 that Mrs. McGinty developed and taught.

“Chick was everything I aspire to be as a catechetical leader,” Britanak Ruppenthal said, “and she did it all with a twinkle in her eyes.”