The following story appeared in the September 8 Idaho Catholic Register.
The Ulery family, from left to right, Hannah, Matt, Nolan, and Melea. Below, Matt and Melea (Photos by Heather M. Webster Photography, www.hmwebsterphoto.com)
By Emily Woodham
“The thing that makes catechetics different from other areas of education is that you’re teaching a relationship with a Person,” said Melea Ulery, the new director of the Office of Religious Education and Catechetical Leadership for the Diocese of Boise. Ulery began her role as director in August.
“The way you teach people to love Jesus is different than how you teach people to do math. It’s intrinsically different.”
That means making sure religious educators are equipped for success. Ulery wants to build relationships with catechists so she can serve them better. “I want to do everything I can to help them have the tools they need so they can minister to the people in their parishes in every capacity. I want to know their strengths and where they need help. I’m looking forward to working together.”
Ulery said she wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. A cradle Catholic, Ulery lived in Kansas, Missouri and Texas while growing up.
“I’ve been to lots of churches and experienced lots of different people that make the Church so beautiful and vibrant,” she said. “I think it really just gave me a worldview and the resources to have a depth to my faith that has been helpful in my life.”
Growing up in the Church, she can sympathize when kids feel like church is boring. But she can also tell kids with sincerity that going to Mass is important, that Jesus is truly present and wants to speak to their hearts.
Her mother taught music at her parish school and inspired Ulery to pursue education. “I loved organizing things, helping with school supplies and helping people.”
While in high school, her family lived in Houston, Texas. It was there, in a vibrant parish, that she owned her faith. “We had a great youth minister and a great pastor who were whole-heartedly invested in the youth,” she said. “As my own faith became more important to me, I thought, ‘Why would I ever want to teach anything else?’” From then on, she knew she was called to teach religion.
Ulery graduated from Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio with bachelors degrees in Theology, Catechetics and Communications. She was involved in campus ministry and taught theology at a Catholic high school in Calif. for 10 years. When not teaching, she led retreats and gave presentations nationwide for Steubenville Youth Conferences.
She moved to Idaho in 2014 with her husband and two children, and took a position with a Catholic curriculum company. She also assisted the Office of Religious Education and Catechetical Leadership by training catechists for Jackie Hopper, the former director.
She and her family are members of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian, and her children have attended St. Ignatius Catholic School since it opened in 2017. Ulery served on the school board of St. Ignatius last year.
Ulery noted parishioners and catechists need to live out a genuine faith for a parish to have a fruitful religious education program. “We are not just transmitting information. We need to model our faith. We need to be loving and giving. We need to let Christ be incarnate in us — seeing Christ in others, seeing Christ in ourselves, and then sharing Christ with others. It’s a beautiful synthesis.”
Catechesis, explained Ulery, forms minds and hearts so that people can encounter Christ in the Sacraments and in the people around them. “As catechists, we get to share that living joy and accompany others as we seek heaven together. My goal is to go to heaven and to help as many people get there with me as I can. There is nothing better.”
“Our faith is not easy, but even through difficulties or spiritual deserts, there can be life. In those times that can be like winter, we know that spring is coming. Every Good Friday has an Easter Sunday; it’s the beautiful paradox of the Cross,” she said.
Ulery explained that making faith a priority is important for all members of a parish and is essential for evangelization. If Catholics live their faith in joy, it attracts others to want to be a part of the Church, even if someone is not in formal ministry, and this is crucial for bringing people into the Church through the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA).
She concluded, “When all of us live out our faith in our modern, busy lives, people see that. It’s intriguing for others. Whether it’s for kids in the classroom or adults in OCIA, it’s that authentic witness of a Christ-filled, sacrament-filled life that people want.”
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