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Sister Rose Bernadette Hoeffner, OP, Prepares Students for First Communion – Via Zoom
children in white shirts sit in rows of desks facing a wall with a large TV monitor on which can be seen Sister Rose Bernadette

February 12, 2024, Altamonte Springs, Florida – Later this spring, when 46 second-grade students receive their First Holy Communion at St. Mary Magdalen Church, they and their parents may be very grateful to the Sister who prepared them for this special event – Sister Rose Bernadette Hoeffner, OP.

Preparing children for First Communion is common in parishes and schools nationwide, but Sister Rose Bernadette’s situation is unique. She teaches the children every Tuesday morning from her room at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan, via Zoom.

This is Sister Rose Bernadette’s third year teaching the First Communion class at St. Mary Magdalen through Zoom. While she was ministering at St. Jude Maronite Church in Orlando, Florida, one of the teachers she knew at St. Mary Magdalen asked her to teach the First Communion class via Zoom.

“The kids are so good,” Sister Rose Bernadette said. “I just love them because they’re so innocent. They take everything in. They don’t question anything unless it’s something they don’t understand.”

An older white woman with short white hair and wearing glasses and a light blue short-sleeved shirt smiles at the camera
Sister Rose Bernadette Hoeffner, OP 

Sister Rose Bernadette teaches the children from 10:15 a.m. to 10:55 a.m. every Tuesday, working with the children from two second-grade classes. “It takes a lot of planning,” she said. She prepares each lesson and submits it to the principal the Friday before the class. Usually, she said, she focuses on one of the saints connected to the Eucharist, on the commandments, and on confession. 

But she’s also flexible in her teaching. She recalled a student who asked, “If God made the world, who made God?” Sister Rose Bernadette answered, “God always was and always will be.” The following week, she focused on creation – and a picture of the hand of God and the hand of humanity. “I colored it, and the teacher made copies, and the children colored it later,” she said. “They really enjoyed it.”

Sister Rose Bernadette sees a special importance in preparing children for the sacraments. “The sacraments give us grace, and I want them to get the grace,” she said. In some cases, she said, children don’t return to religious education or Mass once they receive first Communion – sometimes not until it’s time to prepare for Confirmation. “The kids are missing out on so much.”

Sister Rose Bernadette feels at ease teaching through Zoom and by the greetings she gets from the children when they connect. While teaching religion at St. Jude Maronite Church, however, she once took the opportunity to visit the children and teach them in person. “The kids were so happy,” she said. “I was almost like a star because they got to see me.”

The fact that she teaches virtually poses a challenge for Sister Rose Bernadette. “The hardest part is when you have 46 kids in class, you can’t call them by name” because there are so many students, and she teaches them once a week. Still, she receives notes and cards from students she recently taught and from students she taught years ago.

The oldest of 12 children and a native of Florida, Sister Rose Bernadette was taught by the Adrian Dominican Sisters at St. Anastasia School in Fort Pierce, Florida. She knew her vocation by seventh grade, she said, and entered the Congregation almost 69 years ago, right out of high school at the age of 18.

When she entered, Mother Gerald Barry promised to send her back to Florida on mission. After a year and a half of teaching in Farmington, Michigan, she was sent to Melbourne, Florida, and has served in Florida ever since. 

For the most part, she has taught younger children. “When I entered, I didn’t know what class I liked [to teach],” she said. “In my first assignment, I taught little ones. They must have considered that I was a good primary teacher.” From that point on, Sister Rose Bernadette taught first- and second-grade children. “They can learn a lot from an adult at that age and follow through on that,” Sister Rose Bernadette said. “By the time they’re in fourth or fifth grade, they’re already influenced by other things.”

Sister Rose Bernadette cherishes her time on Zoom with the second graders at St. Mary Madalen – and the many students who have kept in touch with her over the years. But she is not finished as a teacher yet, she said. She hopes to return to Florida and resume teaching young children both in the classroom and by Zoom.

“I get several notes all the time from the kids, so I know that they appreciate what I’m doing,” Sister Rose Bernadette said. “That’s what makes me love teaching. God has still given me the strength to do it. I’ll know when God is telling me that’s enough, and it’s not enough yet.”

Children sit at desks facing a large TV monitor on the wall on which Sister Rose Bernadette can be seen

The combined class of 46 second-grade students at St. Mary Magdalen School listen via Zoom to one of Sister Rose Bernadette’s classes, preparing them for First Holy Communion. Photo Courtesy of St. Mary Magdalen School, Altamonte Springs, Florida.
 

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