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By Trisha Hannon Smith
Third-grade students at Saint Benedict Cathedral school in Evansville are channeling their inner heroes while learning to make good choices.
Working alongside their teachers and Master Gardener community volunteers, the students are caring for two garden towers to plant organic foods and herbs in order to enrich student knowledge of healthy lifestyle choices.
St. Benedict School is in its third year of the HEROES initiative program, which stands for Healthy, Energy, Ready, Outstanding, Enthusiastic Schools. The HEROES Initiative is a three-year, school-based health grant provided by Welborn Baptist Foundation. Annunciation Parish’s Christ the King campus and St. John the Baptist School in Newburgh are also local grant recipients from the Catholic education community of the Diocese of Evansville .
Laura Mesker, Senior Health and Nutrition Coordinator at Welborn Baptist Foundation and community, partners with the students and staff to provide community support. She sees value in the projects incorporated by the current participating schools.
“All schools have excellent policies and practices in place that offer a healthy environment for learning in the Catholic faith,” Mesker said. She hopes to see more schools in the Catholic Diocese of Evansville apply for the next round of grants.
The three-year funded initiative focuses on integrating health and wellness into the whole-child development. Schools have incorporated salad bars, exercise equipment and gardens, among many other creative ideas, to enrich student knowledge of healthy lifestyle choices. The program provides technical and financial assistance to schools. More than $250,000 in grants were awarded for the 2016-17 school year to local schools.
The request for proposal process for the 2017-18 school year opens Jan. 6, 2017. For more information and the proposal link, please visit www.heroesinitiative.org.
Photo caption: Landyn Hancock, left, and Owen Bader, third graders from Donna Woehler's class at St. Benedict School in Evansville, tend to the garden towers located in the hallway outside of their classroom. The Message photo by Trisha Hannon Smith.
By Tim Lilley
During Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at St. Benedict Cathedral on Dec. 8, Bishop Charles C. Thompson noted that the story of Archangel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary – announcing that she would conceive and bear a son, and name him Jesus – includes a message that remains valid today.
“God’s plan for Mary revealed His plan for each one of us as children of God,” Bishop Thompson said in his homily. “And like Mary, we have to strive to listen; we have to strive to have the courage and the humility to recognize that we are humble servants, humble witnesses and humble instruments of the Lord.”
The bishop concelebrated Mass with Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen, Rector of St. Benedict Cathedral. Deacon Thomas Kempf assisted. Students and faculty from St. Benedict Cathedral School attended, with students singing in the choir for the Mass and serving as lectors.
“We celebrate today how Mary shows us how to be obedient, how to be humble, how to recognize God’s mercy and love at work in us even when we don’t understand … and how to trust; how to trust in God,” Bishop Thompson said. “Let us pray for the grace that, like Mary, we may stay open to that encounter with God’s grace.”
He added, “Pope Francis, in beginning the season of Advent, asked us simply to keep our hearts and minds open to encountering the sacred presence of God not only in Mass, but in each other, in our families, in our schools in our neighborhoods – wherever we are.”
(For news from the Diocese of Evansville, log on to the website of The Message at www.themessageonline.org)
At 18, Alex Coreas came to the United States. It was very difficult to leave his family, but under the circumstances, it was really his only hope.
His native El Salvador was in shambles. The country had been torn apart by civil war for many years. In the aftermath, his homeland descended into anarchy. Violent gangs ruled the cities and towns. They demanded “rent” for protection and terrorized the populace.
“It was getting really bad,” said Coreas. “It was common to see a dead body in the street.”
As he was coming of age in his late teens, the gangs started to recruit Coreas. But he wanted nothing to do with them, aspiring instead to raise a family and have a business career. He rebuffed their advances, a response that put him in great danger.
Then came a terrible earthquake that caused widespread damage in El Salvador. The United States came in to provide aid. For some, there was a chance to be granted a special work permit to come to the U.S. Coreas jumped at the possibility.
Visa in hand, he joined a boyhood friend who was living in Fort Wayne. He found work doing maintenance and construction jobs, always supporting himself along the way. Eventually he became a commercial carpenter, which is still his full-time job.
“There are many like Alex who come to the U.S. legally every year as refugees and asylum seekers,” said Luz Ostrognai, Coreas’ case manager at Catholic Charities. “Because these people are living in the most dire of circumstances, they typically have a great appreciation for being here.”
As the prospect of returning home diminished because of continued unrest in El Salvador, Coreas made the decision to stay in the United States and apply for his green card. Catholic Charities helped him navigate the labyrinth of red tape. With a steady work history and proficiency with English, he was granted permanent residence status.
Day by day Coreas’ appreciation for his new country grew. The freedoms and opportunities he experienced here were in such sharp contrast to the oppressive environment in his native El Salvador.
“Compared to my country, there is no hardship here,” he said. “If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.”
Ever thankful for his new lease on life, he wanted to show his appreciation for his new country by serving in the military. Once he received his green card, he became a member of the Army National Guard.
“My respect for my new country is big. It’s been 16 years, but every day I still feel a great sense of gratitude for being here.”
Photo caption: Alex Coreas poses in front of the Allen County Courthouse. He is now a Fort Wayne resident, thanks to the help of Catholic Charities.
(For news from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, log on to the website of Today’s Catholic at www.todayscatholicnews.org)
By Anthony D. Alonzo
HAMMOND and PORTAGE – Local Catholic school students could send hundreds of texts in the time it takes to compose a letter, place it in the mail and wait for a response from their intra-diocesan penpals. Nonetheless, the youths appear won over by the uniqueness of hand-written correspondence.
Students at St. John Bosco in Hammond and Nativity of Our Savior in Portage recently completed the first round of a letter writing exchange as part of a diocesan penpal program that has created a buzz among participating Catholic schools in recent years.
Showing the colorful drawings on one side of large postcard-style letters they received, St. John Bosco second-graders Kaelyn Lee and Madeline Monroe said they could not wait to receive their second responses sometime before Christmas break.
At this stage, the letters from this year’s grade-level penpal program contain mostly basic or “introductory” information.
“I learned that she likes math and reading, and also recess, like I do,” said Monroe about her penpal, who is coincidentally named Madalynn.
Monroe noted the spelling difference in the names and said she notices the smallest details as she double checks her writing before sending it.
At both St. John Bosco and Nativity of Our Savior, students are required to take penmanship classes. In an era when many public schools have erased writing lessons, the diocesan schools still teach cursive writing.
Despite youths’ ever-shortening attention spans, St. John Bosco second-grade teacher Molly Donner said the penpal project seems to be the spark the students needed to apply a focus on their writing.
“It’s taking learning to a new level: the writing for class is one level, but when they know someone else is going to get it, they all of the sudden come up with something better,” Donner explained.
Photo caption: Nativity of Our Savior seventh-graders Angie Radoe (left) and Ava Sykes read letters received from their St. John Bosco of Hammond peer penpals, at the Portage school on Nov. 11. The exchange helps the youths communicate through writing. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)
By Marlene A. Zloza
CROWN POINT – Calling the family a “school of love,” speaker David Wells urged close to 400 people attending Family Advent Day on Nov. 27 at St. Mary parish to embrace “a mercy that is unlimited and patient” in nurturing their family and reaching out to their parish and community.
Following the theme “Mercy in the Home,” Wells quickly established that “There is no perfect family,” but gave his audience reason to hope.
“If you read the writings of Pope Francis, you’ll see that all of the opening chapters begin with a sense of our self-deception, a reality check,” noted Wells, who began his career as a teacher, then an advisor for the Diocese of Nottingham in England, and is now an evangelism advisor and speaker. “He says to the Church, ‘It could be better than this.’”
Wells said the Catholic Church “is in danger of getting stuck in a kind of paralysis, and a kind of remoteness and small-mindedness. . .” A tomb psychology, he added, “slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.”
Disillusioned “with reality, the Church and themselves,” these ‘mummies’ “experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy”. . .feeling “no energy, no zeal.”
Wells boiled down the theme of “Downton Abbey,” the iconic television show about British gentry in the early 20th century, to “What do you do when you are stuck and the world around you is changing,” and compared it to the predicament the Church is facing. “The pope says that is a real danger for the Church – the world is changing and the Church is ‘stuck’.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Wells added, addressed this fear with the statement: “If in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties,' then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper', but loveless.”
In a modern context, Wells said, “People are crossing the sea to save their lives and we are debating what hymns to sing.”
In another instance, Wells quoted Pope Benedict XVI that “The programme (mission) of Jesus is ‘a heart that sees.’ This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.”
Critical to the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI and becoming the foundation of Pope Francis’ papacy, added Wells, is the idea that the role of mercy “is to look through the eyes of love” and forgive the Prodigal Son when you see him “coming over the hill, admitting that he got it wrong.”
“Is mercy a word you use?” Wells asked his audience. “Where do you see it? Where do you experience it?”
Photo caption: Lynn and John Clark, and Penny Pappas, all parishioners at St. Mary in Crown Point, share their thoughts about the role of mercy in everyday life during Family Advent Day at St. Mary's. The annual event drew almost 400 people or all ages. (Marlene A. Zloiza photo)
(For news from the Diocese of Gary, log on to the website of the Northwest Indiana Catholic at www.nwicatholic.com)
By Caroline B. Mooney
NOBLESVILLE — Students at Our Lady of Grace School began the Advent season by forming a “living wreath” on Nov. 28.
“This was an amazing opportunity for the kids to participate in the kickoff to Advent,” said Principal Michelle Boyd. “It was reminding the whole school community what the four weeks of preparing for Christ’s coming are all about. Not all of our students attend Mass at Our Lady of Grace on the weekends, as many come from surrounding areas, so it was a great opportunity for us to get together as a school family.”
The two fifth-grade classes, who led the event, gave pieces of evergreen to students as they entered the gym. Luminaries that were made by the fifth grade shone along one wall of the dimly lit gym.
Advent wreaths are traditionally made of evergreen branches and hold four candles — three purple and one pink — to represent the weeks of Advent.
Four fifth-graders stood in the middle of a circle holding Advent candles that were lit one by one as classmates read prayers for each week.
First week: “Jesus, as we wait for your coming, help us not to be afraid and to trust in you. As we light this candle, we remember that you bring the light of hope into our lives. May your word always be in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts.”
Second week: “Jesus, John the Baptist told the people, ‘If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any. If you have food, share it with someone else.’ As we light this candle, we remember that you bring the light of service into our lives.”
Third week: “Jesus, we gather here as a family to dedicate our lives to you, as John the Baptist did. Help us to know, love and serve you. As we light this candle, we remember that you bring the light of joy into our lives.”
Fourth week: “Jesus, your mother, Mary, is ‘blessed among women.’ We are happy that she said ‘Yes!’ to being your mother. As we light this candle, we remember that you bring the light of love into our lives. May your word be always in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts.”
“Advent is an amazing time to celebrate Jesus’ coming to the world to save us from sin,” said fifth-grader Aubrey Griffin.
“It is wonderful to be at a Catholic school and be able to start the first week of Advent together,” said fifth-grade teacher Elizabeth Ahlgrim. “All the teachers do something special with their classes, but this is one of the few things that brings us all together. We are very blessed to be able to do that. The students are active in creating the wreath — it’s a very special event. It brings us together with joy right away.”
(For news from the Diocese of Lafayette, log on to the website of The Catholic Moment at www.thecatholicmoment.org)