Saints go marching in at Stuart Hall

Story and Photos By Beth Donze
Kids’ Clarion

An annual event produced by Stuart Hall’s fourth graders recently gave attendees “up-close-and-personal” encounters with more than 30 canonized saints.

Fourth grader Harrison Serio, dressed in the brown robes of the religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209, told guests something they already knew: St. Francis is the patron saint of animals. But did they also know that the three knots in St. Francis’ cincture (rope belt) represented his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience?

Fourth grader Race Hughes, portraying St. Augustine, reminded listeners that St. Augustine was also the son of a saint – St. Monica. Race noted how St. Augustine’s conversion began when he heard the voice of a child saying, “pick up and read” – leading him to seek out the first passage in the Bible.

And just when attendees thought they knew everything about St. Joseph, fourth grader Benjamin Pullen, dressed as Jesus’ father, shared that St. Joseph is called “the silent saint” – because none of his words are recorded in the Bible. Benjamin added that St. Joseph is the patron saint of “happy deaths.”

On Nov. 22, biographical nuggets such as these were offered by class members as they presented their “Living Saints Museum: A Celebration of the Church Triumphant.”

Each fourth grader researched the life of a different saint and “became” that saint for the afternoon, sharing with rotating groups of visitors the diverse stories of their vocations.

Jeannette Dufrene, lower school religion teacher, said that unlike many schools, Stuart Hall’s Nov. 1 All Saints’ Day Mass is used as “an entry point” – and not the end – of students’ saintly studies.

“(On Nov. 1) we begin to learn all about the community of saints in heaven and then we delve deeper, and we open the door, so that we can explore the saints,” Dufrene said.

Each boy picks his own saint to portray.

“Sometimes they have been named after that saint, or they have a particular devotion to that saint, or they want to be challenged and learn about a new saint because they like a specific period in history,” Dufrene said.

As they research their saints, their writings, their historical era and make slide presentations to share with their classmates, the fourth graders are encouraged to look for “everything that made (their saints) unique as humans,” Dufrene notes.

“In other words, there were saints who got in trouble a lot as children, or saints who ran away from the call or who did not receive a call until later (in their lives),” she said.

For example, an encounter with Jesus led St. Paul to suddenly stop persecuting Christians and channel his extensive gifts toward service to the church. Other initially “wayward” saints include St. Augustine, who Dufrene said “spent most of his life chasing wealth and fame,” and St. Ignatius of Loyola, “who dreamt of being a knight and courting ladies.”

“Some of them were very literate, very educated, and they made excellent contributions to the church with their writings, with their teachings – and they earned titles as ‘doctors of the church,’ but some of them were born into peasant families and their contributions to the church came in different ways,” Dufrene said. Newly canonized St. Francisco Marto, for example, was an illiterate and kind shepherd who witnessed the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, and had a worldwide impact in his 10 short years of life.

To organize the living museum – and hammer home the point that all kinds of people can attain canonization – Dufrene grouped her student-actors into 10 categories: “Giants of the Church” (Peter and Paul); “Iconic and Legendary Saints” (Nicholas, Patrick, Pope John Paul II, Gregory the Great, Christopher); “Founders of Religious Orders” (Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Vincent de Paul, Ignatius of Loyola, Augustine); “Young Saints” (Dominic Savio, Francisco Marto, Sebastian, Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows); “Gospel Writers” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John); “Uniquely Gifted Saints” (Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Anthony of Padua, Genesius); “Saints of Great Suffering” (Padre Pio, Maximillian Kolbe, Andre Bessette); “Saints Related to Jesus” (Jude, John the Baptist, Joseph); “Saints Who Are ‘Out of This World’” (the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael); and “One Saint Who Canonized Another” (Pope John XXIII, Martin de Porres)

The fourth graders concluded their monthlong study by making prayer cards with an original prayer and illustration.

“My hope with this project is that our boys can identify and connect with their saints and find encouragement and inspiration for their own lives,” Dufrene said, “that they, too, might be willing to say to Jesus, ‘Take everything I have, everything I am!’”

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