Religion Bee puts six regional finalists to the test

Barb Arland-Fye
Students from St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt and Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City compete in the diocesan-wide Religion Bee March 8 in DeWitt. Five of the six move on to state competition in Cedar Rapids and the sixth will be an alternate.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Some of the questions seemed easy but others caused pensive looks to form on the faces of six middle school contestants competing to advance to the first statewide Religion Bee of Iowa’s four Catholic dioceses. They quickly responded “Luke” to the question, “Who wrote the Book of Acts?” But they were stumped by the question, “What is the primary principle of Catholic Social Teaching?” (Life and dignity of the human person.) The latter principle is one the students may not have been exposed to yet in their religious education, the Religion Bee’s organizer said.

The six students — three each from St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt and Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City — used whiteboards to write answers to group questions and steeled themselves for individual quizzing. They sat in chairs lining the exposed brick exterior of the church, looking out toward an audience of parents and educators. Members of Knights of Columbus Council 959 sat off to the side, questioning, assessing and tallying the results of 10 rounds of questions. The categories covered saints, prayers, holy places and objects, the Old Testament, New Testament, Popes, Liturgy and Sacraments, Catholic Social Teaching, Mystery and History, and “Darn Impressive Stuff.”

Statewide organizer Zach Zeckser selects the categories. “It’s organic,” Zeckser, chief administrator and middle school principal of LaSalle Catholic in Cedar Rapids, says wryly. “The goal is to celebrate the knowledge of our faith that students in our Catholic schools are developing.”


He introduced the Religion Bee in the Archdiocese of Dubuque six years ago, borrowing the idea (and some of the questions, with permission) from the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, where he previously worked. He invited the other three dioceses — Davenport, Des Moines and Sioux City — to join in the fun this year. Five finalists and one alternate from each diocese will participate in the statewide Religion Bee on April 26 at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids. Zeckser says there isn’t a national competition, “yet.”

“All of the schools in our diocese had an invitation to participate,” said St. Joseph Principal Sharon Roling, who appreciated the opportunity for students to engage in a faith-based competition. Regina also accepted the invitation. Both schools honed students’ oral quiz skills with faith-based materials.

Students who advanced from the preliminary competition at their schools participated in the diocesan competition at St. Joseph in DeWitt. Regina Junior High religion teacher Laurie Boland accompanied her students to DeWitt. “Angela Olson, head of school brought (the invitation) to our campus minister. They thought it would be a great thing to participate in and here we are,” Boland said during a pizza lunch just before the competition began.

Three finalists from each school participated in the diocesan Religion Bee. Two other students from each school served as alternates, sitting in the front row with the audience. Roling gave the contestants a pep talk during the brief intermission of the competition that ran a little more than an hour. Scores were tallied quickly after the 10th round and five of the six students now move on to state competition while the sixth student will serve as an alternate.

As they arranged themselves for a group photo afterwards, Roling praised the students for their courage to sit in front of an audience while processing answers in their heads as quickly as possible. “That’s a gift of the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Trinity Tague, a seventh-grader at St. Joseph who qualified for state competition, said, “I believe it’s a very important way to express your beliefs in the Church.” Nadine Holden, a seventh-grader at Regina who will serve as an alternate in state competition, said, “It’s kind of hard when you get a question wrong. You feel like you let yourself down, but you have to be ready to get yourself back up to answer the (next) question.”

“Most of the questions were hard for me, especially since I’m not Catholic,” said Eric Fletcher, a Regina eighth-grader who also qualified for state competition. But he competed at each level because “I want my profession to be something Christian related.” Seventh-grader Sofia Contreras, another Regina finalist, said she appreciated participating in the Religion Bee because “I like to continue learning about my faith.”

“It was an exciting experience to learn about religious beliefs. I learned a lot of new things,” said seventh-grader Porter Vopatek, a finalist from St. Joseph. 

The Religion Bee is one of many ways that educators can answer the question, “How do I help students integrate the message of Jesus with an openness to the Holy Spirit?” says Lynne Devaney, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Davenport.

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