“Prepare the way of the Lord!” How are teachers and students in Catholic schools celebrating Advent?
Throughout the Archdiocese, prayer is a central part of how our schools observe Advent and prepare for Christmas.
At All Saints in Kenosha, teachers and staff all gather for morning prayer just prior to welcoming the children into the building. Gathering informally in a classroom, they offer intentions and pray from the Magnificat Advent Reflections book.
At St. Charles Borromeo, they are making a special effort to remind faculty and students that Advent calls us to take time for quiet preparation. They are spending one minute each day in all-school silent meditation, reflecting on the hope that Christ’s coming brings.
At Holy Family, all the students gather in the lobby each Monday for a short prayer service prepared by their Campus Ministry students.
And at another school, teachers will receive a candle and the name of a parishioner on the parish Prayer list to pray for.
At Dominican High School, students will receive an Advent prayer each Monday with a different theme each week. The first week is “Care for Others during Advent.” The students are also given a “task” that coincides with the prayer. For the first week, they are encouraged to forgo a trip to the coffee house or some other small indulgence, and give the few dollars to an organization that offers help to the poor.
Indeed, prayer naturally leads to service, and Catholic schools put a special focus on service during this season. This can range from collecting food for St. Vincent de Paul to giving gifts to children whose parents are in prison, from donating sleeping bags to the Salvation Army to give to the homeless to decorating Christmas cookies to give to the retired School Sisters of Notre Dame in Elm Grove. One school has a mitten tree for the House of Peace, and another school has a gift tree where students are asked to take a paper angel ornament off the tree and buy the gift on that angel cut-out for a child/family in need in the community.
Peace and Love
Service is not limited to those outside the school community. During Advent, our schools renew their emphasis on making peace and choosing goodness in our classrooms and on our playgrounds. At Holy Family, students are preparing special homemade gifts , prayers, and cards to share with their younger “buddies.” To celebrate the theme of Peace, one teacher is giving each student a tattoo of a peace sign to wear and then one to share with someone with whom they might need to make amends.
At Catholic Central, instead of “Secret Santa,” one teacher is doing a “Secret Saints” activity with students. For two weeks, students will do random acts of kindness for a particular classmate. Students are also encouraged to pray for their assigned classmates every day.
Another school has created a Tree of Peace. Each student traced his or her hand on green paper. On each hand the child wrote anonymously what he or she will do to bring about peace. The starters are: “I promise to…”, “I never meant to…”, “I am sorry for…”, “I can make things better by…” The hands have been assembled into the form of an evergreen tree. During the Christmas season, they will write on an ornament one “peace gift” they completed during Advent. The ornament will decorate the tree.
At All Saints, each teacher was given a large candle made of construction paper to hang outside of the classroom door and an empty (white space) flame. They were also given small flames in red, orange and yellow. When a student sees another student doing a good deed they are to write it on the flame, cut it out and tape it inside the large flame. They are hoping to fill the flames with Goodness this Advent season!
And at St. Anthony in Milwaukee, the students are preparing a manger for Baby Jesus. Every student has made a paper chain counting down the days until Christmas (25 links). All of the links are yellow/gold. Each day when the students take off a link they will think of a good deed they have done and write it on the strip. Additionally, teachers can hand out yellow strips to students that they catch doing good deeds. The students save these strips and bring them to Mass each Tuesday, where they are put into a manger like straw.
Preparing Our Hearts
St. Charles Borromeo has another way of using the symbol of a manger. While many schools are used to having reconciliation during Advent, the growing demands on the clergy don’t always make that possible. At SCB, they are having a “forgiveness” service as a school. This a prayer service that will use the image of straw in the manger to remind faculty and students that we have to prepare a place in our hearts to receive Jesus just like the manger had to be prepared to receive Him on the first Christmas.
Another school has created a school wide Advent wreath using student and teacher handprints for leaves made out of construction paper, and students, teachers, and staff members wrote down how they are going to prepare their hearts for Christmas.
Finally, at Pius High School, they began Advent with a prayer service centered on the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They used it to introduce the theme of “recognizing the presence of God in our lives” (Emmanuel), and how we are too often skeptical like the church official and too rarely as open as Juan Diego.
As you prepare for Christmas, may you and your students also be open to the presence of God in your lives. Wishing you a blessed Advent!
(Feel free to add comments if you would like to share other ideas. And thank you to the teachers and principals who helped with this blog post: Michael Coffey, Jackie Lichter, Jeanne Bitkers, Pam Pyzyk, Emily Naczek, Jessie Machi, Trinette Stillman, Teresa Amman, Susan Celentani, and those who preferred to remain anonymous…)