Minnesota moms create chastity program for pre-teens

Two moms, who are also sisters, wanted a better program to help their children understand human sexuality and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

So, they created one. It’s called PUREly YOU, and it recently received the imprimatur from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The packet of DVDs and printed booklets is designed to be simple, clear and user-friendly.

Parents can use it on their own with their children, or do it with the help of Catholic schools that choose to use it in their religion classes, with parents going over the material at home with their kids.

Primary educators

Sisters Sue Lewis of Epiphany Parish in Coon Rapids, Minn. and Gretchen Thibault of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Anthony, Minn. started working on the program several years ago after feeling like a better offering was needed for their own children.

“It actually started when my oldest daughter (Dana, now 24) was approaching fifth grade,” said Lewis, 44, who lives in Andover, Minn. and has six children with her husband, Tom. “There just wasn’t a lot out there. But it made me uncomfortable that the schools seemed to be doing what parents, in an ideal world, should be able to do. I think that’s where it began. But, we never thought of creating a new program at that time.”

It was then that she realized that it really is the parents who are supposed to be teaching their children about sensitive topics like sexuality and they shouldn’t just hand over that task to the school.

Rather, the ideal is to have a program used both by the parents and the school together, with the parents taking on primary responsibility for this part of their children’s education.

With this realization, the two moms started moving forward with their goal of creating a program that would talk about puberty and the physical changes children experience during adolescence, but in the context of church teachings about chastity and God’s overall plan for creation.

A major component is the concept of love — love of self, love of others and God’s love for all people.

The program is geared toward fifth-graders, but can be used for older children as well. They like to call it Theology of the Body for preteens, based on Pope John Paul II’s teaching on human sexuality.

The six basic lessons, each of which takes only 10 minutes, are on DVD and in printed booklets, taking the children through fundamental church teachings, which are gleaned from several documents, including the U.S. bishops’ “Catechetical Formation in Chaste Living,” released in 2008. Not only do children get the information they need, but parents can receive instruction that they themselves may be lacking.

“You can’t teach what you don’t know,” said Thibault, 43, who lives in Shoreview, Minn. with her husband, Dan, and has eight children. “How many of these parents just don’t know the basic teachings of the church, be it contraception, chastity or celibacy and the difference between the (latter) two?”

Broader use

The first school to start using the program was St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, Minn. Four years ago, teachers began incorporating the materials Lewis and Thibault were developing. Now, they are using the finished product. St. John the Baptist School in New Brighton, Minn. recently signed on and Lewis’ parish, Epiphany, is soon going to have an informational night for parents about the program.

In addition to schools, individual parents also are buying in. The program offers them scripts for how to describe sensitive things like specific physical changes that take place during puberty, and even offers DVDs about those topics that parents can watch with their children. There is a DVD for boys and one for girls.

“When my daughter was 11, I knew it was time to start talking about sexuality,” said Leslie Andry of St. Charles in Bayport, Minn. “I did some searching, but was unhappy with the resources out there … Then Sue told me about PUREly YOU, I jumped on it. And it’s perfect — just what I was looking for. The information is presented in a joyful way, yet modern.”

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Posted with permission from The Catholic Spirit, newspaper for the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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