`Flower power’ harnessed to teach saintly virtues

There are countless ways one can cultivate the virtue of “love of neighbor.”
Six-year-old Emma Myer likes to extend love by hugging her Paw-Paw “really tight.”

Clare Thomas, 5, is striving to becoming more attentive at Mass, “even during the homily.” 

Elizabeth Pittman, 6, proudly reported: “I brought dinner to my lonely neighbor.”

Small and large ways kids can live out neighborly love were shared Feb. 6 by members of the “Little Flowers Girls’ Club” at St. Rita Parish in Harahan, an afterschool group that has girls and their mothers meeting inside St. Rita School’s art room on first Mondays for lessons and fun activities related to a monthly virtue and female saint.

Geared to girls in grades K-5, the program is based on an easy-to-teach curriculum based on “The Catholic Girl’s Guide,” a book of devotions and instructions for girls in acquiring Catholic virtues written in 1906 by Father Francis Xavier Lasance, an American priest. The clubs are named for St. Therese of Lisieux – “The Little Flower.”

“Rachel Watson developed this curriculum where we study a virtue, a flower and a saint every month,” said Angie Thomas, founder of the St. Rita group currently numbering four girls and their mothers.

After an opening prayer, Thomas launched into the night’s lesson on “love of neighbor,” writing a quote from the Letter to the Romans on the chalkboard: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“When God told us to love our neighbor, he meant everybody,” said Thomas, asking her Little Flowers how love of God and love of neighbor were connected. The following wise-beyond-her-years answer came from 6-year-old Eva Melton: “When we love our neighbor it teaches them to love God, too,” Eva said.

After offering ways in which children can even show love to strangers – by donating items to St. Rita’s food pantry or by simply offering a smile to everyone they meet – the St. Rita Little Flowers learned about their saint of the month: St. Jane de Chantal, a French widow who founded a congregation of religious sisters and who practiced love of neighbor by adhering to two simple actions: “Desire nothing. Refuse nothing.”

Club members earn a “flower patch” for each virtue after completing a few outside activities related to that virtue. For example, for the recent “Faith Patch,” emblazoned with a sunflower (because sunflowers always point to the sun – just as our Catholic faith always points to the Son of God), the Little Flowers were invited to send a card to someone whose faith might be wavering.

Dawn Cusimano coordinates another local Little Flowers Girls’ Club –  a group of about two dozen children that gathers inside St. Dominic Parish’s Siena Room on second Fridays. Club members hail from St. Dominic and several neighboring parishes, Cusimano said.

“I really wanted to have something concrete to introduce my daughter to the lives of the saints, in particular the female saints,” Cusimano explained.

On Feb. 10, to learn about the virtue of piety and its related saint, the youngsters colored pictures of St. Cecilia. To celebrate her role as the patron saint of music, the children sang and learned the hand motions to “Our God is an Awesome God,” and decorated tiny terracotta bells to remind them of St. Cecilia’s holiness.

To earn the flower patch related to St. Cecilia – which pictures a forget-me-not – the children could choose from activities that included discussing how piety was expressed by the newly pregnant Virgin Mary in her song to her cousin Elizabeth during the Visitation.

“Our group is younger, so we keep it really low key,” Cusimano said. “As the children get older they can do a research project and teach the others about the saints.”

During last month’s study of the virtue of obedience, the St. Dominic Little Flowers studied St. Joan of Arc, made carnation flowers out of coffee filters and played a Catholic version of “Mother May I” called “Mother Mary, May I?”

Cusimano said she is always amazed by what her own daughter Angelina, a kindergartner, retains from the monthly gatherings.

“When we pray as a family at night, she always likes to invoke the saints she remembers, and the list is growing,” Cusimano said. “Now, it’s ‘St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us!’ Since joining Little Flowers, (her list of saints) has multiplied!”

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