Our Lady of Lourdes eighth-graders Will Feise and Matthew Johnson leaned in, hanging on every word as 76-year-old Ken Clark talked about his faith and his childhood.
In a room across the hall, Andrew Falk nodded approvingly as Marbie Reap, 74, told of her relationship with Jesus and her reliance on Him through the years.
The eighth-graders at Our Lady of Lourdes School in University City, as part of their preparation for the sacrament of confirmation, interviewed members of their parish’s elder generation, recording them for posterity. Students paired up to do hour-long interviews with an individual on two occasions.
Will enjoyed learning from the two men he interviewed, including their favorite ways to pray. “I got to see someone who’s been through what I’m going through now as a teenager,” Will said.
Parishioner Gerry Banet suggested the intergenerational interviews, an idea he developed in part from his days as a hospice nurse when a woman who died had many photos but no survivors. Banet had no way of knowing the stories that accompanied the photos. “It’s an opportunity for the older generation to pass on their story to the younger generation. This opportunity, confirmation, is a great time for the younger generation to look to the older folks for wisdom and understanding,” he said.
Clark told Will and Matthew that he wakes up and goes to bed with God’s goodness on his mind. He offers gratitude for little things as soon as he gets up in the morning.
He prays in silence, often sitting with a cup of coffee. Sometimes he has something in mind to talk to God about and sometimes he waits for God to speak first. “I love that silence. And I love that personal communication,” Clark said.
Clark keeps a journal, he told the eighth-graders and keeps track of spiritual experiences he can pass on to his children.
When asked if he’s ever experienced a miracle, Clark told the teens that “I’m looking at two of them right now.”
He told the students about the importance of retreats. He’s been involved in White House Retreats and ACTS retreats in which men talk about their spiritual life, “a beautiful thing when they peel away their sports-bar talk and talk about real life.”
His advice to Will and Matthew was to be kind to others and get to know them. He asked them to reach out beyond the boundaries, including the racial barriers that he referred to as “the Delmar Divide.”
Reap told Andrew of her days teaching at a preschool at Washington University. She said she chose to “act my faith,” spreading it with kindness, humor, listening and understanding.
She told the student that her faith is key to her life and that she couldn’t imagine life without Jesus in it. Reap added that she talks to God because “He’s right there.”
After the interview, chuckling, she said that she’s not holy, she’s a “user.” She tells God that “I know you are with us, and I know just looking at the crucifix how much you love the world and people. He didn’t have to let His Son die for us. He suffered, He really suffered, He really died for us. Then He gave Himself to us in Communion every day, an amazing, amazing gift.”
She tells her children that “when you know God you automatically love Him. And when you love Him, you want to serve Him. You want to bring Him to other people through your kindness and words.”
Eighth-grader Ryan Grunzinger interviewed a woman who discussed how she became close to God. She travels around the world helping people affected by natural disasters through the American Red Cross. “It showed me that she goes out of her way to help other people in need, so maybe I could do that, to do what God would want us to do,” Ryan said.
He enjoyed the project, he said, because he learned how others have showed their faith in God and how he can use their example to become closer to God.
Another interviewer, Molly MacDonald, interviewed her grandmother, Sue MacDonald. Molly learned things about her grandmother that she didn’t know even though Sue had told stories about her childhood. “I learned how she didn’t really feel God’s presence until she was in high school when sitting in church after this Mass,” Molly said.
Molly said the project is important because it preserves important memories that people may not have discussed with others.