By Cynthia Zook
School has been out for a few weeks, and teachers and students are settling into the summer schedule. This is a great time for students to participate in camps, classes, summer Bible school and other activities that pique their interest — including summer relaxation. It follows a busy end to the school year, as students and staff celebrated accomplishments with awards, graduation ceremonies and field trips.
Several Catholic schools in our diocese highlighted the Year of Mercy by combining field trips to Duluth with visits to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary to walk through the holy doors, celebrate Mass and tour the beautiful church.
Catholic school students have spent this Year of Mercy examining the endless love and mercy God has for us and ways in which we can be more loving and merciful to others. What better way to teach this than through the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy? Each month, our students focused on one Spiritual and one Corporal Work of Mercy. They demonstrated acts of love and kindness to family members at home, in their interactions with classmates at school and through community service projects in the Diocese of Duluth. They also celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday (April 3). Teachers encouraged students to memorize and pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy and add it to their practice of daily prayer. Greater emphasis was placed on the opportunity to seek forgiveness and our Father’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
On my annual visits to the schools, I was inspired by the beautiful student artwork, skits and dramatizations, research projects (such as ways to minimize hunger in the community), and greeting cards sent to viewers of our televised Mass — all connected to the Year of Mercy.
Many of our teachers are participating in summer conferences and workshops to further their knowledge and skills. As this article goes to press, 20 of our Catholic school teachers just completed a three-day retreat at Ruttgers Bay Lake Lodge in Deerwood, Minnesota. Each day included personal prayer, group sessions led by Father Brandon Moravitz on the saints in mercy, opportunities for reconciliation, celebration of the Mass, plus time to read, reflect, and socialize. The timing allowed teachers to step back from the school year and reflect on how mercy enters their faith lives and their vocational calls and how their faith might be strengthened through new insights and instruction.
Catholic school teachers are called to go beyond lesson plans by nurturing a strong personal relationship with Christ, the merciful teacher. This time together provided a supportive environment for teachers to deepen their own faith by recognizing the interdependence of faith and teaching so as to bring to their students the joy of their teaching ministry.
We will continue to celebrate the Year of Mercy when we return to school in the fall. Special attention will be given to the feast day of St. Faustina (patron saint of mercy) on Oct. 5 and the conclusion of the Holy Year of Mercy on the Solemnity of Christ the King on Nov. 20. Hopefully, lessons learned will put mercy in motion for many years to come.
Cynthia Zook is director of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Duluth.