Put on school uniform. Check. Prepare lunch. Check. Put school supplies in backpack. Check. Leave for school on time. Check. Pray for a safe and successful school year?
It’s back-to-school for Catholic school students throughout the archdiocese. But with busy schedules and ever-increasing demands on administrators and teachers, how do educators make prayer a priority in Catholic schools?
The Tidings spoke to Kevin Baxter, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and four different principals in archdiocesan schools to find out how they make prayer a priority not only in September, but all school year long.
In the 250 Catholic schools in the archdiocese, including preschools, elementary schools, high schools and colleges, faith is the crux of Catholic identity. Oftentimes, parents who are not Catholic send their children to Catholic school because of moral and spiritual dynamics.
Parents “want to know there is a moral component to their child’s education,” he said. “Our faith is an asset.” Children, whether Catholic or not, learn reconciliation and forgiveness through the teachings and actions of faith. If a child makes a mistake, they are taught that they can do better next time.
When the faculty, staff and community is truly living its Catholic faith, it provides a support system for children to learn and grow in a safe and enriching environment. St. Eugene Catholic School in Los Angeles is one such gem that truly provides a source of light and inspiration for its students who come to school daily, many with heavy burdens to bear.
Each morning, the students at St. Eugene offer up petitions, asking God for peace. Afterward they have quiet time to journal and reflect upon their petitions.
“It gives the students the opportunity to express themselves,” principal Leona Sorrell said.
Students also pray the Hail Mary before recess and lunch and in the afternoon Sorrell leads all of the children, kindergarten through eighth, in the Lord’s Prayer at dismissal outside on the school yard.
“The power of prayer; that’s what gets us through,” Sorrell said.
At La Purisima Concepción Catholic School in Lompoc, the school year began with a morning prayer assembly outside on the school yard led by eighth graders. Parents gathered together with the faculty and staff to pray with the students.
Principal Orlando Leon has brought back an old tradition at La Purisima Concepción School of holding morning prayers outside when churchgoers attend morning Mass.
“People notice us gathered together. Our faith is visible to the community,” Principal Leon said.
Teachers at La Purisima Concepcion are encouraged to pray throughout the day.
“It is a priority to incorporate prayer into everything,” Leon said.
Students attend weekly Mass on Fridays, begin and end the day with prayer and pray before recess and lunch. Leon related a story about a child who went out to their school garden to pray over a plant. The child wanted to make sure it would grow.
“The students are actually taking it in,” Leon said.
Faith and Catholic identity is evident in the school community of St. Brendan’s Catholic school in Los Angeles, too. Principal Sister Maureen O’Connor, CSJ, prays over the student’s backpacks, or as she calls them, their “constant companions,” on the first day of school.
The students hold up their backpacks while being prayed over outside at the school’s first assembly. Once the school year is off and running, the students pray daily in the classroom.
St. Brendan’s even has a commissioner of religious affairs who writes their own weekly prayer to pray with the entire student body. During the Marian month of October, all grades pray the rosary in their classrooms.
“We are very conscious of prayer,” Sister Maureen said.
At St. Philip the Apostle School in Pasadena, Principal Jennifer Ramirez strives to make prayer spontaneous.
“What Catholic school student doesn’t remember class stopping so that they can pray as a siren was heard from the classroom? That is what we want for our students; for prayer to be their first instinct,” Ramirez said.
On Monday, Aug. 31, Father Joe Moniz, pastor, will start the new school year off with a blessing ceremony of the school’s new Learning Commons and Primary Learning Center. He will then bless each classroom and its students.
Celebrating the beginning of the new school year continues on Tuesday when the students meet with their school “families” to receive new Mass booklets and to pray the rosary together.
St. Philip the Apostle school has a wonderful tradition of school families. The families are made up of roughly nine to 10 students from each grade level. The families meet weekly for Mass and religious activities.
“Our students need prayer in their lives. They learn in religion class to pray for each other, for those in need, and for those intentions that we hold deep in our hearts,” Ramirez said. “Our students also learn that Mass is where you go for renewal, for strength for your life’s journey.”