As the Saint Damien Parish religious education program begins with all-remote learning this fall, parent volunteers Lorie and Brad Rice are optimistic.
“We have a beautiful, new curriculum,” Lorie explained. “Every grade will be learning the same thing at the same time, just at different age levels, so it should really bring families together.”
As the parents of eleven-year-old Anna and nine-year-old Rocco, the Rices gained insight into remote learning when the Ocean City public schools went to all on-line instruction in response to the coronavirus pandemic last March. “It was hard to learn on the screen,” acknowledged Rocco, and his parents agreed. But the Rice family made sure to share small, daily spiritual reflections and read living-faith children’s books to keep each other going. “We found these things really valuable,” Lorie said. “They reminded us to have faith in this hard time.” At Lorie’s suggestion, these same techniques are being incorporated into religious education this year. “The program is beginning simply and will encourage family discussions as everyone gets acclimated to remote learning,” said Lorie, who will be teaching the second half of third grade. Brad is also a volunteer in the program and stands ready to resume his role as a hall monitor when in-person instruction is back in place.
Brad Rice was born and raised in Atco and is a third-generation graduate of Camden Catholic High School. As a frequent vacationer to Ocean City in childhood, he migrated here permanently and has been selling real estate for more than 16 years. Lorie was born in Winslow Township and attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Hammonton until the fifth grade, when her family resettled in the Ocean City area. A graduate of Ocean City High School, she was a teacher of art in Atlantic City for twelve years. She left teaching when the children were small and gradually started helping her husband in his real estate office. She discovered she enjoyed helping people buy and sell homes, and so she became a licensed real estate broker too. They now work as a team. Both Anna and Rocco are students at Ocean City Intermediate School.
Lorie remembers well when she was contacted by Sister Joelle Thren, director of religious education, about the possibility of teaching in the program. “She told me the Holy Spirit had whispered in her ear that she should ask me to teach,” she smiled. Busy with young children, a job, and a recent move, Lorie acknowledged that she was reluctant at first. “But Brad really encouraged me to do it,” she said. Now the whole family appreciates how the program connects them to the church community and to other families. “Sister Joelle is a relentless leader,” Brad said. “She organizes and organizes and just keeps going. I don’t know what we would do without her.” Anna and Rocco have been students in the program since kindergarten and have taken their first communions and first penances. According to Anna, the program helps her and her brother develop their relationship with God. “We have learned to pray when we have a problem,” she said.
The Catholic faith runs deep in the Rice family. According to Brad, religious education and regular attendance at Mass “afford you a greater strength in this world and a greater resiliency.” His parents and grandparents taught him “to have a deep faith that things will work out and God will take care of you if you put Him first.” When Lorie was asked how difficult it is to raise children in the Catholic faith with so much secular pressure all around, she offered a gentle correction: “It is easier to raise kids with faith,” she said. “How else do you cope with things that are unexplainable to you? Why is this situation occurring? Why is this person in our lives? Because God is teaching us a lesson. What does God want us to learn?”