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Two years in, School Connection Project continues to link students

An effort of three Catholic schools continues to break down human-made barriers and develop relationships among students from various parts of the archdiocese.

In its second year, the School Connection Project is a collaboration of second-, fourth- and seventh-graders at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, Incarnate Word in Chesterfield and St. Cletus in St. Charles. This year, students focused on the corporal works of mercy and living out Catholic social teachings.

The project is the brainchild of Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, pastoral associate at Our Lady of Guadalupe. When unrest befell Ferguson after Michael Brown's death, Sister Cathy wanted to bring together students from different parts of the archdiocese to get to know one another, with a goal of better learning Catholic teachings. Last year, the three schools had a theme of Catholic social teachings and coming together at the eucharistic table.

This school year, students visited all three schools, shared meals and listened to speakers on the works of mercy. They celebrated Masses together — the closing Mass was held earlier this month at Incarnate Word — and created art depicting the works of mercy. The works are on display at the Good Shepherd Gallery in Ferguson through the end of March. Part of the proceeds from the sale of their artwork will be donated to Catholic Charities of St. Louis. Students also held a fundraiser to purchase statues of the works of mercy created by world-renowned religious sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The statues were presented to Catholic Charities' agencies at the closing Mass at Incarnate Word.

Sister Cathy sees the effort as a mixing of cultures. For example, students learned a Mexican dance at Our Lady of Guadalupe. At St. Cletus, students were paired for a personal Q&A that helped reveal similarities. "When they had time to talk about it, they learned there are not that many differences," she said. "Doing this kind of thing decreases fear, anxiety and suspicion, and people get to know one another as human beings."

Seventh-graders at Incarnate Word reflected on how they grew in faith as they met their peers from other parts of the archdiocese. Andrew King, who designed the works of mercy in art foil, said he enjoyed participating in a Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe that incorporated the Mexican culture and Spanish language.

"We have definitely made new friends," Dominic Ilardi said.

Funding for the project came from a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops' domestic anti-poverty program. The advocacy department of Catholic Charities of St. Louis administers the local grant funding. Sister Cathy received $1,500 the first year, and $3,500 for this year. While grant writing isn't a simple process, she said, the time and effort was worth it, seeing students come together.

"If you're committed to bringing races and cultures together, you just do it, because it's important for families," she said. "Pope Francis talks about a culture of encounter and this is where the whole idea comes from. This is coming around the eucharistic table as one Body of Christ."

Msgr. Jack Schuler, director of mission integration at Catholic Charities of St. Louis and senior associate pastor at Incarnate Word, celebrated the students' closing Mass at Incarnate Word. He said he hopes their time together has helped them "grow in faith and also to love one another. ... We bring these three schools together so that we might learn more and be able to be like the Body of Christ, having people coming together in the name of the Lord in His house doing things together, playing together, eating together praying together." 

RELATED ARTICLE(S):Annual Catholic Appeal taps into corporal works of mercy as source of strength for those who give

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