This year, the Bishop's Committee for Christian Home & Family will celebrate 75 years of helping parents raise Christian children. The program, which has evolved over the past three quarters of a decade, assists parents in the religious and moral training of their pre-school children by offering free educational materials to baptized children.
The program began under the guidance of Buffalo's seventh bishop, the Most Reverend John Duffy. Back then, committee members, known as visitors, would knock on the doors of members of their parish who had children preparing for baptism. Each family would receive a pamphlet instructing them on how to raise their children in a Christian home. The visitors would return every six months, until the child turned 5 years old, with a new pamphlet to guide the child for the next half year.
"It was house to house. What was nice, you learned to get to know the people. You made new friends. You met the children. You saw how they grew up. It was a lifetime of experience almost doing this," said Fran Kozminski, newly named co-coordinator for the committee. She would give the pamphlets to any mother she met, whether she belonged to her church or not. "I think every child that's baptized should receive something," she said.
Times have changed over the years. Mothers more often than not work during the day. Children are raised with the help of grandparents and extended family. Now, rather than members of the church going into the community, members of the community receive one booklet to carry from crib to kindergarten when they come into the church for baptism.
"When there is a baptism, on that day, I get a booklet, I get a medal, and I help set up for the baptisms," explains Sue Jasinski, co-coordinator, who gives the booklets out at St. John Paul II Parish in Lake View. "When the family is there, I take the booklet and I say, 'I'm Sue Jasinski from the Bishop's Committee and on behalf of Bishop Malone and our parish, we have this booklet as a tool to help raise your child in a Christian home."
The booklet, entitled "Thoughts for Christian Parents," serves as a calendar of sorts, offers age-appropriate advice for parents on raising their children in a home of faith. For example, when a child is six months old, parents should begin setting a good example because the child will learn by imitation. This is a good time to introduce the baby to Jesus and Mary through pictures and statues.
Each entry has a Scripture verse and an activity, such as teaching the baby the Sign of the Cross. The guide offers suggestions every six months until the child turns 5, which is a good time to allow the child to participate in the liturgical year by helping set up a Nativity Crèche during Advent.
The children also receive medals with a picture of the Blessed Mother and Christ Child, which was blessed by the bishop as a gift from him.
The program members, still called visitors, gather twice a year. Every fall they enjoy a catered luncheon with the bishop and a guest speaker. In the spring they take part in a day of reflection. These gatherings are open to all people.
Kozminski joined the Bishop's Committee 50 years ago. She had just moved into a new neighborhood while expecting her second baby when one of the visitors came to her door. At the same time, Kozminski wanted to get involved in her new parish, St. Barnabas. She joined the Bishop's Committee at the next meeting.
"All the years I've belonged I've always enjoyed it," she said. "That's why I never left. There's always something to do. It's changed a lot from the personal contact to what we do with the baptisms in the church now."
She can remember back in her early days when 400 people would come to the Hotel Statler in downtown Buffalo for the luncheon. A full meal cost $6.50. Now the meetings attract parish contacts and former members.
"You see these people once or twice a year, and you're all so glad to see each other. It is a nice homecoming for everybody," Kozminski said.
"There is a nice community spirit with the added dimension of prayer," added Nancy Scherr, director of the diocesan Family Life Office, which oversees the Bishop's Committee. "We share the Eucharist together. You renew those relationships a couple times a year."
Kozminiski has worked her way up through the ranks, first as a visitor, then became a secretary, then chairwoman, and has recently been named co-coordinator. With each position she learns something new.
"I love my job," she said. "It's a spiritual job that only you feel you want to do and keep going and going and going." She said she feels like the Energizer Bunny, and will continue going until she can't. "I'll keep going. I feel good about it. I really do. I will never let go."
Jasinski's mother-in-law introduced her to the committee 15 years ago, when she attended St. Vincent de Paul Parish in North Evans. Now that her two mentors, her mother-in-law and Father William Tuyn, passed on, she stays involved.
"I feel I am carrying on the tradition even though they're gone," she said.
All charitable donations given to the Bishop's Committee are presented to the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center in Buffalo.
For more information call the Office of Family Life at 716-847-2210.