By Mary Sitek
In the world of Catholic schools, it’s a week like none other: the celebration of Catholic Schools Week, which this year took place from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. If you were on social media, you would have noted skating and sledding parties in various parts of the city, special movies in different grades, a pajama party, a “treat your parents to lunch” day, a spelling bee, common time of prayer, and a game day where the kids rotated classrooms and played games. That’s to name just a few things the children of St. John’s school participated in.
And there were two additional activities that “knocked your socks off.” One opened Catholic Schools Week, and the other occurred close to the end. The beautiful part of them is how they enhanced Catholic identity in such incredibly spiritual and creative ways.
St. John’s kindergarten teacher Amanda Tessier spent hours creating one of the most unique experiences ever. It began in the school gymnasium, with the whole student body reciting together a decade of the rosary, with younger children being helped by their older buddies. All the lights in the school were turned off and The Blackout occurred.
Each class was given a Blackout kit to help them solve their Mission. The kit included iPads with a QR scanner, flashlights, Bibles, a map of the school and their first puzzle piece. Each kit, one per classroom, was individually wrapped and entered their classrooms as a mystery.
What occurred next was no small task. It required all the members of each class to work together as a team, not only to find the various clues hidden around the school but also to use the QR codes on their scanners to decipher their meanings. Each clue answered correctly allowed them an additional puzzle piece that together formed one word per class. They had to answer one question per clue, and all of the questions involved knowing something from sacred scripture —for example, what was the name of Abraham’s son?
Imagine the time it took Mrs. Tessier to choose the clues and the answers based on the age levels of the various grades. Eventually, they did solve their puzzles, but not before roaming the halls excitedly to find the next clue while working together in their endeavor.
When the students were finished, they gathered in the gym again to unscramble their words. Together, the whole school figured it out. All the words unscrambled read, “And God said, ‘let there be light!’”
And all the lights in the school went back on!
Thanks to Mrs. Tessier, Catholic Schools Week began in the most creative way possible.
But that wasn’t the end! The rest of the week was consumed with the activities mentioned above, all of which created lasting memories in the hearts of students from their time at St. John’s School. Given the level of fun, camaraderie and teamwork, you’d think it would have been enough. But it came as no surprise to any of us that the children and staff of St. John’s School would enthusiastically welcome home our former youth minister, Kevin Pilon, to lead us in a praise and worship service. Everyone headed to church and arranged themselves in the pews to await Kevin’s introduction. He is a gifted musician and singer whose love for God enhances every instruction he gives to children. We are blessed to have his help as he models for children a reverence and love for God that they so want to emulate.
Children in Catholic schools are so blessed. The opportunity to be with friends and teachers who are unafraid to speak and sing their love for God and who are encouraged to solve their difficulties with each other with a forgiving spirit are blessings that cannot be matched.
So there we were, all of us, with Pilon teaching the children to pray in this venue — in sung praise and worship. You almost had to be there to perceive the impact this time had upon all of us. After giving the students information about “how” to pray — allowing them to sit or kneel or stand — Kevin led them in songs they all knew, and a crescendo of voices sang our praise to God.
That was followed by some minutes of silent prayer. Pilon reminded them again their prayer was a conversation with God. “Just talk to him in your own words,” he said.
Towards the end, Pilon invited the students to come as close to the altar as they wished. A wave of students rushed forward as one, unafraid to speak their love for God. They were caught by the Holy Spirit, as was the entire faculty. It was such an honest expression of love for and adoration of our God. It was one more opportunity to know how blessed we are to have our Catholic school and our students and faculty.
So given this milieu, it is never a surprise when an altercation occurs and someone’s feelings are hurt, and the need for reconciliation occurs. That also happened during Catholic Schools week. Something was said that hurt one child who was not quite ready to forgive. The other child was visibly overwhelmed with grief. She wanted the incident over, and no amount of cajoling her was going to work: only reconciliation would work. As tears covered her face, I was struck by how alike a child’s and an adult’s needs are for forgiveness. One crumbles on the outside while the other experiences the same sensations inwardly. Nothing will be OK until forgiveness happens.
I loved witnessing these two little girls quickly solve their differences. They talked over the incident, cleared the air, dried their tears and made up in time, they said, to recite the Angelus with their classmates.
All of this took place within an environment that encourages our unity — that we are a family, and we need, love, enjoy and forgive one another. We are St. John’s School.
See how these Christians love one another.
— Quintus Septimus Tertullianus
Mary Sitek is a volunteer at St. John’s School in Duluth.