At the beginning of the school year, Tracy Kempfer posed a simple question to eighth-graders at Our Lady School in Festus.
"I asked them, 'What do you need from your parents to help you prepare for confirmation?'" said Kempfer, who teaches religion to the eighth-graders in addition to serving as school principal. "I gave them a piece of paper and they just wrote their thoughts out."
The consensus of the anonymous responses struck at the heart of the Catholic faith and the realities of being Catholic — even a young Catholic — in this day and age. The students wanted their parents to ...
• take them to Mass every Sunday.
• pray as a family.
• share their faith.
• help guide them on this journey.
In other words, the eighth-graders want parents not only to give them a ride to Sunday Mass but to be an integral driver in their faith.
Kempfer alternates between "awesome" and "pretty cool" in describing the students' responses, with a "real cool" added for good measure.
"They want to go to church, and they want their parents to pray with them," marveled Kempfer, who calls it a "privilege" to prepare "a pretty amazing class" for confirmation. The class has 30 students, with 24 to be confirmed and an additional 12 confirmandi in the Parish School of Religion (PSR). "They're really eager to learn and grow in their Catholic faith. They're taking (confirmation) very serious."
The reason is simple.
"Confirmation is a step into adulthood in the Catholic Church," said eighth-grader Zander Parson, noting the essential role of parents in helping students experience the faith. "We're going to need experience if we're going to make that commitment."
Getting guidance from parents is only natural.
"Sometimes I think talking about confirmation with your parents is more important than talking with your teachers about it," Parson said. "There's more variety of questions than you can ask your teachers."
"You know your parents far more than you know your teachers," classmate Adam Bishop explained.
For eighth-grader Hannah Schappe, prayer time and family time go hand in hand. "It's just sitting down with your family at different times of the day ... and praying," she said.
The increased time has led to discussion in Laura Menendez's family with her mother and brother, who was confirmed last year. Menendez talked with them about saints before choosing St. Catherine of Bologna as her confirmation saint. St. Catherine of Bologna is the patron saint of the arts, and Menendez likes art and dance. She's practicing dance for a school recital.
Meanwhile, Schappe picked St. Teresa of Avila, one of the two original women Doctors of the Church. Bishop tabbed St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of Catholic media. Parson chose St. Francis of Assisi, whom he described as a "very peaceful man. ... I just really liked that he's a peaceful person."
The choice of a patron saint is more than just a choice of a namesake.
"I encouraged them to find a saint that they're a lot a like," said Kempfer, who for example referred to the 6-foot-3 Parson as "a gentle giant." St. Francis of Assisi fits his personalty.
Kempfer told Our Lady pastor Father Jeffrey Maassen "right away" about the students' request of their parents. Father Maassen was duly impressed. "He put it in the bulletin, talked about it at Mass, told Archbishop (Robert J. Carlson)," she said, with a laugh. "He told everybody he knew."
Like Kempfer, Father Maassen described the students' ask with superlatives, such as "great stuff," "fantastic" and "phenomenal."
"The first thing my eighth-graders are saying is they need their parents to take them to Mass ... For a pastor, that's incredible," he said. "That's the source of what we do. ... The most important thing we do is worshiping."
The students' request indicates the quality evangelization in Catholic schools in general and Our Lady in specific plus parents' significant role in the process.
"Our Catholic schools do great work, but the most important thing for them to live the faith as adults is Mom and Dad," he said. "We want our children to know the faith, live to faith and be disciples of Christ, and the most important thing is the family."
At Our Lady in Festus, the process has been reversed with the eighth-graders evangelizing their parents. A highlight for Father Maassen was back-to-school night, when the eighth-graders led parents in prayer circles, a staple of Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline. They gathered in multiple circles, started with a prayer and asked parents about goals for their children this school year. It wasn't just eighth-graders' parents; parents of students from multiple grades were represented in each circle.
"That's pretty cool, too," Father Maassen said.