Appreciation dinner highlights diocese’s religious education leaders

by Marty Sabota

North Texas Catholic

November 10, 2017

Deacon Michael Hoang of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Fort Worth attended the Nov. 3 vespers and appreciation dinner for catechists at St. Patrick Cathedral. (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

FORT WORTH — Almost 200 combined years of service. Thousands upon thousands of hours of religious education.

That’s how much time four women and one man combined have given in holy service to parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth as directors of religious education (DRE).

The five: Sister Ginny Vissing of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, Charles Gappa, Adela Hernandez, Margarita Luna, and Barbara Rohmer.

Bishop Michael Olson, joined by diocesan officials, thanked the retirees at a ceremony Nov. 3 at St. Patrick Cathedral that also honored the 104 directors and coordinators of religious formation and education programs throughout the diocese.

The bishop, who led attendees in vespers to open the night, said he wanted “to say thank you and to encourage you in this very important ministry.”

He spoke of how they were reaching more than just the students.

“When we catechize young adults we also catechize their families,” he said.

Bishop Olson drew a laugh from the crowd when he spoke of the need for honesty and humility, especially when teaching children, “because they will always ask the hard questions.”

Marlon De La Torre, department director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Fort Worth, is fond of explaining why catechesis matters.

“As catechists, our mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God to everyone and initiate a relationship with Christ,” De La Torre said. “Central to this mission is the role of discipleship and its purpose within our catechetical ministry.”

De La Torre explained that the role and definition of a DRE, who is also known as a catechist, is to be fully responsible for a parish’s overall religious education programs, including RCIA, adult faith formation, and youth and sacramental preparation.

“The Catechism owes its viability to Christ Himself,” De La Torre said. “The Catechism matters because it is a direct expression of Christ’s love for us expressed through a symphony of doctrinal grace.”

Although the five have officially retired over the past few months, they will still be active in their parish life and in other ways throughout the diocese. They are:

Charles Gappa
(NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

Charles Gappa

St. Bartholomew Parish, Fort Worth; DRE 40 years

Born in 1947 in Elysburg, Pa., Gappa graduated in 1969 from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, with a degree in sociology. From 1965 to 1968, he attended the seminary at Resurrection College in Kitchener in Ontario.

He moved back to Elysburg in 1969 and began working with Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa. A favorite accomplishment was helping found a Big Brother program for Catholic Charities.

Gappa joined the Army in 1970 and was stationed at an Air Force Base in Carmel, Calif.

After one year, he was sent to Fort Hood where he got involved in social work. He also turned his focus on himself.

“I was always interested in Catholicism and the road to spirituality,” Gappa said.

After his military stint, he found work as a social worker at John Peter Smith Hospital where he assisted the mentally challenged.

Gappa received a master’s degree in religious education in 1975 from Texas Christian University.

He served as DRE at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth from 1976 to 1978. In 1979, he moved to St. Bartholomew Parish where he retired as DRE in September.

Over the years, he also has worked as a real estate broker.

He and wife Ann have two children, David Gappa, the father of four, and Elizabeth Deboo, the mother of two.

Asked what he brought to his 40 years of service as a director of religious education, Gappa said, “A loving heart.”


Adela Hernandez.
(NTC photo/Ben Torres)

Adela Hernandez

St. George Parish, Fort Worth; DRE 23 years

Hernandez was born in 1951 in Stamford, near Abilene, one of 14 children.

Her faith has always been important, she said.

“This is what I believe,” Hernandez said. “This is who I am.”

The family moved to Fort Worth when she was a youngster and she attended area schools, including Tarrant County Community College, now Tarrant County College.

Her career was in office administration but she always volunteered at St. George.

“St. George was just like family,” Hernandez said. “I always felt comfortable and very warm there.”

Hernandez said coming from a family where only Spanish was spoken at home, she was able to assist the few Hispanic families at St. George in those early days and use her skills for outreach to other Hispanic Catholics in the area.

“I understand these children who don’t speak English,” she said. “These children want to read the Bible and say their prayers in English. I lived through that.”

She was a stay-at-home mom to her and husband Alex’s two children, Daniel Hernandez and Adela Sweet, but always was involved in her parish.

In March 1994, Hernandez accepted the full time DRE position.

“I love working with the families,” said the grandmother of two. “People think you are just working with children but you are also helping the parents.”


Margarita Luna
(NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

Margarita Luna

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Wichita Falls; DRE 38 years

Born in 1937 in Rosebud, Luna and her family moved to Wichita Falls when she was two years old. She attended public schools and graduated in 1957.

A parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Wichita Falls, she began in 1957 helping in various ministries as a volunteer.

“From there on I began teaching religious education,” Luna said.

She married Andres Luna in 1958 and they had five children: Andrew Luna, Adela Luna Martin, Anna Maria Luna Baker, Ida Rebecca Luna Roy, and Angela Cristina Luna Simpson. Her husband, a deacon who she said was one of a kind, died in 2001. She has 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Luna was always active in the Church but took the title of DRE in 1979.

It was a ministry she and her husband did together, but when he died she continued, saying, “The best way to honor his memory is doing what we did together.”

She did, however, make good on her vow to retire at age 80.

Luna has loved serving 18 parishes, many of them rural and Hispanic in the Northwest Deanery. The rural parishes needed her help, she said, because they were hampered with less money and small paid staffs.

“The rural areas have made me what I am today,” Luna said.

She said those she interacts with say her gifts are being intelligent, loyal, capable, and dedicated.

“I know how to listen to people and what their needs are,” Luna said.


Barbara Rohmer
(NTC photo/Ben Torres)

Barbara Rohmer

Sacred Heart Parish, Muenster; DRE 31 years

Born in 1949 in Gainesville, Rohmer was raised on a dairy farm.

Growing up Catholic, Rohmer said that she loved everything about her faith — two aunts were nuns and an uncle was a priest.

“I liked going to Mass and I liked reading about saints,” Rohmer said.

Initially she aspired to be a missionary, but health issues prevented her from pursuing that dream. She then chose religious life.

Rohmer graduated from Texas Woman’s University in Denton in 1972.

She served with the Sisters of Divine Providence from 1972 to 1980 and was with Our Lady of the Lake convent. She received her master’s degree in theology at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio in 1982.

Rohmer spent many years in service to the Church, including campus ministry in Denton from 1983 to 1986 and as a DRE at St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth from 1982 to 1983.

She began serving at Sacred Heart in 1986, retiring this summer after 31 years.

Although retired, she and husband Don will still be active in their parish, both singing and he playing the guitar in the music ministry.

Her special gift, Rohmer said, is that she came from a German background, which served her well in Muenster, a primarily German Catholic community.

“I could relate to them having a similar background,” said Rohmer, whose maiden name is Fuhrmann. “I enjoyed working with adults as well as the children.”


Sister Ginny Vissing, SSMN
(NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

Sister Ginny Vissing, SSMN


Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Wichita Falls; DRE 37 years

Born in 1943 in Houston, Sister Ginny moved with her family to Dallas when she was a youngster. She attended St. Cecilia School and Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Dallas.

After graduating in 1961, she entered the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.

Sister Ginny attended the University of Dallas in Irving where she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and later a master’s degree in theology with a specialization in religious education at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Her career began in 1966 at Our Lady of Victory School in Fort Worth where she served for two years. She then served from 1968 to 1980 at Notre Dame School in Wichita Falls.

“In 1980, I felt called to parish ministry,” Sister Ginny said. “God was calling. It was a leap of faith that I have never ever regretted.”

She said it has been a wonderful blessing to serve as a DRE over the years and she has been following “the joys and sorrows and successes of the students and their families.”

Sister Ginny decided to retire as a parish DRE in June because it was time.

“It has brought me into a new realm of letting go of all that went into 51 years of involvement in the lives of children and adults; the daily responsibilities in planning and organizing programs for the sake of forming others as caring disciples of Jesus,” she said.

Added Sister Ginny: “It’s a very wonderful gift given to me. I have been so blessed. God is good.”

FORT WORTH — Almost 200 combined years of service. Thousands upon thousands of hours of religious education. That’s how much time four women and one man combined have given in holy service to parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth as directors of religious education.

Published (until 11/10/2032)