With the final month of the Fatima centenary celebration approaching, Father Anthony Gerber issued a challenge to his students at St. Theodore School in Flint Hill. Could they pray at least 225 Rosaries in just 13 days?
With 164 children in grades K through eighth, if each student prayed at least two Rosaries between Oct. 1 and Oct. 13 — the anniversary of the Blessed Mother's sixth and final apparition to three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 — they would more than cover the goal. No problem whatsoever, said principal Kelly Cassinger.
The idea was to highlight the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, but also to draw the students closer to the Blessed Mother in prayer. They came up with creative ways of getting in their Rosaries, Cassinger said, including a group of students who prayed several decades over two days during before-school care. Students also were encouraged to pick up their rosaries at home and pray together with their families.
"Quite a few of them told me they were (praying) on the way to school in the car," Cassinger noted.
The students did better than meeting their goal — they exceeded it, with 234 Rosaries in total storming heaven. They celebrated with one final candlelight Rosary led by the eighth-graders during an all-school assembly Oct. 13. It was a "living" Rosary, meaning the students stood in as the beads, with each one lighting a candle as they recited each prayer.
The Rosary challenge was an added bonus to the history lessons on Our Lady of Fatima they were receiving in the classroom. When the Blessed Mother appeared to the Fatima children, she called on them to pray the Rosary daily for an end to the Great War — World War I, which concluded in 1918. Her messages of conversion and prayer, especially for peace, reparation and penance and devotion to her Immaculate Heart were all in the name of drawing people closer to her son, Jesus.
Those messages seem just as relevant in today's culture, Cassinger said. "With everything going on in our world in general ... Our Lady of Fatima's whole thing was talking to these children and asking them to pray for a stop to the violence — for peace, in essence," she said.
"We wanted them to follow the Blessed Mother's wishes to pray the Rosary," said Father Gerber, the parochial administrator at St. Theodore since June. "The invitation of the Blessed Mother to pray the Rosary is the way to bring peace. One of the major things she said when one of the (Fatima) children asked what her name is — she says she's Our Lady of the Rosary."
The Blessed Mother also told the Fatima children that her Immaculate Heart will triumph. Through that, she was saying "we must not despair and hold hope," Father Gerber noted. "She's giving the children hope."
Eighth-grader Haley Hunsel and her fellow classmates taught their Kindergarten buddies how to pray the Rosary during the two classes' regular Friday visit to church. Personally, Haley prayed several Rosaries before bed. That was over and above the regular prayers her family says together before dinner every evening.
"There's a lot of different attacks on the world right now, and we need peace," Haley said. The all-school Rosary "showed that we're all united. It made me feel like we're all in this together."
Eighth-grader Eric Belarde, who recited several Rosaries with his family, poignantly noted that our culture could certainly use another apparition from the Blessed Mother today.
"It would be great if she showed up," he said. "In the world we live in, there's lots of attacks, like the Las Vegas shootings. She should show up to tell them that this is wrong. This isn't what God would want you to be doing."
>> Our Lady of Fatima
• In 1917, Our Lady appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions began in May, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their 10-year-old cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until October 1917. The Church later declared the apparitions worthy of belief.
• When she appeared to the children, the Blessed Mother called on them to pray the Rosary daily for an end to the Great War — World War I. Her messages of conversion and prayer (especially for peace), reparation and penance and devotion to her Immaculate Heart — all in the name of drawing us closer to her Son — serve as timeless messages a century later.
• Francisco and Jactina, who died of illness as children, were canonized by Pope Francis in 2017. Sister Lucia, who later became a Carmelite, died in 2005 at age 97. Her sainthood cause is under study at the Vatican.
• To learn more about the devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, visit the St. Louis Division of the World Apostolate of Fatima at www.fatimastlouis.com. RELATED ARTICLE(S):Rosary Run called an opportunity to publicly display faith in the streets of St. Louis