Long-Time Catechist Continues On
God Calls … Bernadette Spurr
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
November 10, 2022
GALENA—“It’s been quite a journey, quite a pilgrimage, and it could be challenging at times. But that’s my life. All those dear children … ”
Bernadette Spurr, 76, has no intention of retiring from her service as a catechist at St. Mary Parish in Galena, also serving at St. Michael Parish there. She’s been working with Catholic religious education students for 50 years.
In 1972, her husband, Neil, was discharged from the Navy in the spring. “They were calling for catechists,” she says. “I thought I could do it, and said I’d try it.” 
“Dear Mary, you’re my mother. Please take my hand and never let it go today. Show me where to go and who to see and what to say, and never let go of my hand today because I love you and I always will.”
—Bernadette Spurr’s
“little prayer to Mary” 
That fall, she and Neil taught high school students together. Her husband “has a great love of God, too,” she says. “We’re very blessed we go to church together and have the same feeling about God.”
However, after a year or two, Neil got too busy with his work to continue teaching, she says, “but he always backed me up, and was there for me and helped me.” She continued in the ministry, including these past couple of years as assistant to Deacon Jay Achino in his role as parish director of religious education.
“What’s great about her, she still wants to keep learning,” Deacon Jay says. “She really pours her heart and soul into it. She does a great job.”
He notes her trips to Freeport for catechism classes, saying she’s the first one to sign up whenever they are offered. 
“She’s really a dedicated individual,” he says. “She loves working with the children. She kind of glows.”
Over the years, Bernadette taught different grades, wherever she was needed. One class still stands out for her: a group of third graders who, after their first Communion, “had such a hunger to learn about God.”
“They were an amazing class,” she says, describing lessons that ran long because all the boys “wanted their turn to read out of the Bible (and) it was so interesting for (the entire class) to learn the rosary.” 
Now those particular children are in their 40s. “Some are parents (and) all were so thankful for the class I taught,” she says. “I always prayed the children could understand what I was talking about.”
As noted by Deacon Jay, Bernadette has taken good advantage of all the catechist classes and workshops offered by the diocese. “I still take a lot of classes,” she says. “You always learn something in those classes, and I think it is important to keep up with the changes.”
She also has used what she saw and learned on a pilgrimage that she took with Neil and their daughter to the Holy Land some years ago. 
“We did the Stations (of the Cross), and I could explain to children more about the (particular) stations because I was there,” she says. “At Mt. Sinai, we climbed to watch the sunrise over Jerusalem. It all became so real to the children. I guess God wanted me to experience that and put that into my teaching as a catechist. To actually see where Jesus was born … they were so amazed. I guess the Holy Spirit really guided me with my teaching.”
As a little child, Bernadette was mentored in her faith by her grandmother. They prayed the rosary together every night, she recalls, adding that when she stayed with her grandmother, “I’d wake up at 4 a.m., and she’d be sitting and saying her prayers with a flashlight so she wouldn’t wake me up. She sure is in heaven.”
Bernadette’s 50 years of service have not been without challenges. In August 2011, she suffered a heart attack. 
“But I was so blessed,” she says. “I was so lucky I woke up (and) am still living today, because God had work for me to do … I think I just kept going … I was pretty sick for the first three years because they couldn’t get the medications straightened out.”
A doctor noticed her heart was in a spasm, she says, and he “blew a lot of nitro in it, and I’ve been fine ever since. I can do everything I want to do. Every day’s a gift.”
Whether she is teaching her own class, substituting for another teacher, preparing books with Deacon Jay, or praying with and listening to a student sent to the office for misbehavior, Bernadette has, and continues to, contribute significantly to the growth in faith of young Catholics.
“You’re never alone — God is always there,” she says. “We always have our guardian angel by our side. Every day, I always talk to him and God and Mary …
“You think about it, this life is so short,” she adds. “This isn’t our forever home. (But) God is always there.”
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