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The Catholic New World
Catholic schools have faith in service

By Hilary Anderson

Kathleen Barton, principal of St. Juliana School, is an idea person. She, like many of her Catholic school peers, finds unique ways to combine service along with faith in the classroom.

One of her best, she said, happened when she invited teachers to create individual outreach projects for Advent instead of asking them to participate in one school-wide activity.

"I thought it would be interesting to see what our teachers could create that would prepare our children for Jesus' birth and help others in a tangible way," Barton said.

Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese participate in a variety of service projects, from food and charity drives to helping make the world-or the homes of elderly and disabled residents-more beautiful.

First-graders, under the guidance of teacher Stephanie Newes, gathered teddy bears that were given to children who came to Swedish Covenant Hospital's emergency room.

"The children were delighted," said Newes, whose mother is a nurse there. "Our children gathered about 80-90 bears, all of which were gone before Christmas."

St. Juliana's second graders participated in the Heifer International Project.

"The children collected money, which will enable a family or village in a poor country like Africa buy an animal to help them become more self-sufficient," said Barton.

The school's third- and fifth-graders participated in a parish project for shut-ins. The children made cards, which were delivered along with poinsettia plant.

St. Juliana's fourth-graders embarked on two projects. One was making angel ornaments for nursing home residents. The other was sending cards to soldiers serving in Iraq.

The school's seventh- and eighth-graders made gift boxes for residents of the Forest Villa Nursing Home during religion class. Each included things like a pair of socks, toiletries, ornaments and other small crafts. They then personally distributed the boxes.

The classes also made cards for shut-ins and collected food for the parish's food pantry.

Patti Weyna, St. Juliana's librarian, spearheaded a collection of more than 40 sets of hats, scarves and gloves by the eighth-grade classes, which she distributed at the Night Ministry where she volunteers.

"I was so inspired by the creativity of the teachers who devised these projects and the enthusiasm of the students who made them happen," Barton said.

Jeanne Petkus, principal at St. Joseph School (Round Lake), said her school ties projects to the monthly "character focus" based on the Pillars of Character program.

"This year we started in October with a special focus on 'Respect,''' said Petkus. "Tying in with the Feast of St. Francis, our children collected pet food for a farm in Wisconsin that is home to unwanted animals. Some of them are old or disabled, like a blind Clydesdale."

Students also collected money in plastic baby bottles, which was then given to Aid for Women, an organization in Lake County that helps Women with troubled pregnancies.

The school focused on "Stewardship" during November. With Veterans' Day as a starting point, St. Joseph students connected with local Cub Scouts and made cards for soldiers in Iraq. They then collected items the soldiers could use.

December's focus at St. Joseph was "Caring" and featured three separate projects.

Students collected canned goods and grocery store gift cards and made food baskets that were distributed by the Parish Assistance Committee. St. Joseph students also gathered toys in the Toys for Tots program. They collected toiletries and small crafts that seventh- and eighth- graders assembled.

Trinity High School (River Forest) students have their own long list of service projects.

Juniors and senior students involve themselves in the weatherization project through the Home Volunteers organization. Each fall they cover the windows of senior citizens' homes with plastic sheeting to make them warmer during the cold months.

Trinity seniors participate in the special olympics bocce Ball Tournament by helping the program's director with activities. They also conduct a toy drive or the children of Catholic Charities' clients. Juniors stand on street corners and collect money for Misericordia's tag day, and the basketball team decorated a home for autistic children.

"We want our students to live their faith and care about others in a tangible way," said Petkus.

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