A Partner Feature: Connected Online, United in Spirit

Our Lady of the South Bronx, lovingly drawn by Seton Teaching Fellow Ms. Fallon after she returned home to Alabama in mid-March

This article is authored by the directors of El Camino, a partner program of Brilla. El Camino is an optional Catholic afterschool  program open to all Brilla scholars. El Camino supports Brilla’s efforts to provide families with an academically strong and holistically nourishing education, while additionally offering vibrant formation in the Catholic faith.  Brilla has partnered with El Camino since its founding in 2013.

With churches and our program unable to operate in person, we look to the early Christians for inspiration. There are obvious differences between 2020 and the first centuries after Christ, but nonetheless the early Christians teach us a relevant lesson: the love of Christ knows no bounds. When the early Christians were forbidden to gather in churches, families gathered as the domestic church, reading Scriptures and praying in their homes. They wrote letters encouraging each other to trust in God. They sought creative ways to deepen their faith and spread the message of Christ amid many difficulties.

When Brilla’s buildings closed on March 13, we too had to seek creative ways to carry out our mission.  The mission of El Camino is to help children, their families, and their teachers to know, love, and serve Christ and His Church; develop the habits, dispositions, and beliefs that are indispensable to human flourishing and happiness; and live as disciples in this world and saints in the next. The partnership between Brilla and El Camino comes to life through Seton Teaching Fellows, mission-driven college graduates who dedicate a year of service to working at Brilla during the day and teaching catechism after school at El Camino. In normal circumstances, those Brilla scholars who enroll in El Camino (referred to as disciples) get homework help, participate in sports or some other character-enriching activity, and receive religious instruction. Unable to meet in person, our program would have to look different, but our mission remained the same.

Seton Teaching Fellow Ms. Morales leads the rosary on Facebook Live with her parents joining in.
Seton Teaching Fellow Ms. Kibrick sends an encouraging message to one of her disciples

Working closely with Brilla and using the early Christians as inspiration, we discussed how best to attend to the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of our disciples during this time. While the early Christians used letters to encourage one another, we use FaceTime and phone calls. Seton Teaching Fellows call disciples each week to check in on them personally and spiritually. To help families learn about the faith and pray at home like the early Christians did, we send disciples recorded catechism lessons and invite them to formation talks and rosaries on Facebook Live. We aim to strengthen families (also know as the domestic church) by hosting monthly family faith formation nights online.

Like the early Christians, we too long for the day when we can gather in person. Sixty-nine disciples were preparing to receive Baptism or First Communion this Spring, but, with churches closed, they will have to wait for the Fall. We see first hand how many other hardships our families are facing during this time. We pray for them every day and take consolation in the words of St. Paul, an early Christian who wrote to a group of believers who were feeling discouraged and isolated. His words remind us that, even though we are apart, we remain united because we form a part of God’s family, so “when one member suffers every member suffers. And when one member is honored, every member rejoices” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Last year’s disciples who were baptized pose for a photo with Fr. Pablo González, the pastor of St. Rita’s Church in the South Bronx.

About the authors: Sarah Meagher is the Director of El Camino at the Brilla College Prep Elementary and Middle School campuses. She joined the Brilla and El Camino team in 2014 as a founding member of Seton Teaching Fellows. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her growing family. Maria Valencia is the Director of El Camino at the Brilla Veritas Elementary campus. Prior to managing El Camino at Brilla Veritas in 2018, Maria worked at a Head Start in Manhattan. A mother of six, Maria enjoys spending time with her family and volunteering at her parish.

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