January 27, 2017

2017 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Catholic schools witness to the Gospel through service

Our Lady of Lourdes middle school teacher Angie Therber and Lourdes eighth-grade students Grace Swinefurth, left, and Olivia Wilson show the “peace posts” created by the Indianapolis school’s eighth graders to promote peace in the school’s east side neighborhood. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Our Lady of Lourdes middle school teacher Angie Therber and Lourdes eighth-grade students Grace Swinefurth, left, and Olivia Wilson show the “peace posts” created by the Indianapolis school’s eighth graders to promote peace in the school’s east side neighborhood. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Catholic schools across central and southern Indiana—and indeed across the nation—are known for their academic excellence.

They’re also dedicated to helping their students take what they learn in their classrooms, including their knowledge of the Catholic faith, and applying it in service to the broader community.

Middle school students at Our Lady of Lourdes School and St. Simon the Apostle School, both in Indianapolis, have done this in a variety of ways throughout this academic year.

With their school situated in the heart of Indianapolis’ east side, an area affected by poverty and crime, Lourdes students have taken action to promote peace in their Irvington neighborhood. They put a peace banner along the school’s fence facing high-traffic Washington Street, gave speeches at a peace rally, and created artistic “peace posts” that share messages of peace that will be placed on the grounds of faith communities on the east side.

Small groups of St. Simon students throughout the year go out from their northeast side school to assist at charitable agencies. But the entire 240 middle school student body fanned out on Oct. 27, 2016, to serve in food pantries, shelter homes and other charities for the school’s annual Fall Day of Service.

In sponsoring service events, educators in both schools spoke of a purpose beyond forming their students to give of themselves. They also see it as a way for their schools to be witnesses to the Gospel in the broader community.

“It’s a witness to our faith,” said Lourdes middle school teacher Angie Therber. “And I think that’s as important as the academics that we’re teaching in the building. That was really the impetus for the whole thing, to combine the two.”

“It makes you step back and be in awe,” said St. Simon assistant principal Laura Mates of how the Fall Day of Service demonstrated the Catholic faith to others. “It was such a wonderful gift for us to be out and be stewards of the Catholic faith. For us to be that example of our religion was pretty powerful.”

Mates did a lot of logistical work in arranging some 50 drivers to take the students across the Indianapolis area to serve people in need at agencies such as the Wheeler Mission Thrift Shop, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s food distribution center and Seeds of Hope.

“To hear the casual conversations when [the students] got back with their peer groups about what they did, the impact they had and they joy they had in doing it makes it all worth it,” she said.

St. Simon eighth-grader Nicholas Zink has learned a lot about the importance of service in his nearly three years as a middle school student.

“It shows others our faith,” he said. “It shows how God is affecting them through the community by knowing how people are helping them. They aren’t alone. People are there to help.”

Nicholas says that God is also affecting him when he leaves his school to help others. It builds in him a habit of service which he described as “something that I just do, like going to sports practices or to school.”

Mates said middle school is a key time to nurture this habit in students.

“By doing it in the middle school, we have a lot of molding and shaping that we can do before some of their ideas are cemented in place when they get to high school,” she said. “This can be an entry way for them to figure out what they can do to help others.”

Leaders at Lourdes are as dedicated to growing hearts for service in their middle school students as well. But the difference in that school’s’ context and focus in service from St. Simon shows the various ways that Catholic schools can approach this aspect of education.

Lourdes has 68 middle school students and is located in a historic neighborhood. St. Simon, on the other hand, has 240 middle school students and is in a suburban community developed during the past few decades.

Leaders at Lourdes chose to focus on promoting peace, while St. Simon sent their students to a broad array of charitable agencies.

Yet both schools incorporate service into the learning that goes on in their classrooms in ways that let all students discover and use their gifts.

“This [peace post] project gave everybody a chance to excel at something,” Therber said. “We had everything: reading, discussion, writing, presenting, speaking and art. They can all carry it forward in some way. They know that they have a God-given talent that they can use for the betterment of others.”

Lourdes eighth-grader Grace Swinefurth appreciates her chance to take part in the peace efforts of her school.

“It has been an incredible experience,” she said. “I love sharing everything that I have learned with other people and making the world a better place. My family is super proud. My friends are super proud. Everybody in the community is feeling better because we did this project.”

The experience has had a similar impact on Therber.

“It’s probably one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done as a teacher, honestly,” she said. “I feel proud that we’re doing something that’s beneficial to the community, and is reinforcing the Catholic Christian ideals that we try to teach.” †

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