Schools take service seriously

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, January 26, 2014

Schools take service seriously

Students from Saint Francis Xavier School in LaGrange, Il, honored the feast day of its patron saint with an all-school service day. More than 600 preschool through 8th grade students packed 15 buses, to serve and build relationships with others throughout the Chicagoland community. The kids helped feed the poor, clothe the needy, entertain the elderly, honor our veterans, and even provided for God’s four-legged creatures.
Kevin Kuchler and Matt Benz from St. Francis Xavier School in LaGrange help load vans that serve the needy at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on Dec. 3, 2010. Students honor the feast day of their patron saint with a yearly all-school service day. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Hannah Sturwold, Maggie Huder, Kristen Young, and Nina Bazzanella, eighth-graders at Saint Francis Xavier School in LaGrange, measure and pack stuffing that will serve the needy at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on Dec. 3. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Kevin Rius, Michael Hillsman, and Matt Tully, eighth-graders at Saint Francis Xavier School in LaGrange, help load vans that will serve the needy at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on Dec. 3. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Cammy Lang, Katie Uphues, Kaitlyn Yarka, Jon Croney and Grace DeWitt, students a Nazareth Academy in LaGrange, Il, pack goods and non-perishable food items on Nov. 22 for families suffering from the devastating effects of the tornadoes that hit Washington Ill last week. Nazareth partnered with several area schools and businesses to collect items to be delivered to families that are being housed at the middle school in the Washington area. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

For students at Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park, providing service to others is not an add-on. It’s not simply a requirement to be done as quickly and painlessly as possible.

“This is something that I think a lot about,” said Rosemary Caragher, campus minister at Nazareth Academy. “It’s a really important part of what we do and what we stand for. It’s one of the four pillars of the school.”

Because service to others is so deeply ingrained in the school, service projects are undertaken by lots of groups of students, including clubs and teams whose primary purpose might not be service, she said. All students are required to complete 40 hours of community service in order to graduate, and most exceed the requirement in ways that include shoveling snow from senior citizens’ walks and planning parties for disadvantaged children.

“Our experience is rooted in Gospel values and how you live it out in service to others,” Caragher said. “We try to offer lots of ways for our kids to get involved. It’s something we ask you to take on right away as a freshman — get involved, get immersed in a variety of things right away. Then by the time they are juniors and seniors they can take on things that maybe they couldn’t do at an earlier age.”

Nearly all Catholic high schools either require or encourage students to do some form of community service. Elementary schools also have students engage in service projects, often as part of their classes. St. Francis Xavier School in LaGrange gets everyone, even its preschoolers, involved in a schoolwide “Day of Service,” scheduled every year in early December, sometime close to their patron’s Dec. 3 feast day. Each class has its own service projects, and returns to the school to celebrate at the end of the day.

“It’s a true celebration of who we are as a school at St. Francis Xavier,” principal Deb Rodde said in a statement about last year’s event. “It is with great pride that we send out our students into the community to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier. Our students have embraced the belief that it is not only our duty, but our privilege, to serve those in need. It continues to be very gratifying to see our students graduate and carry this core belief with them to high school and beyond.”

Seniors at Nazareth do a similar day of service each year on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the congregation that sponsors Nazareth Academy.

At Nazareth, students learn about the importance of service in their religion classes, Caragher said.

“It’s vitally important for them to understand the connection between what they are doing and Gospel values,” Caragher said. “You can’t say you’re a Catholic, say you’re a Christian, if you don’t do these things. It’s a disconnect. … Yes, the service is wonderful, and people can benefit from it, but our kids benefit from it so much more. It’s more than shoveling snow or putting cans on a shelf or planning a party. It’s walking in Jesus’ shoes.”

That’s certainly been the experience of Maggie Harrington, 16, a Nazareth junior from Clarendon Hills.

Harrington is a student leader in Friends in Service in Hospitality (FISH), a group of students who spend time visiting and socializing with intellectually and physically disabled teens and adults in three area group homes. She got involved with the group last year.

“It’s been a really great experience,” Harrington said. “There are all kinds of projects to help with disabled children, but not so many for adults. And you can sit down and have a conversation with them. Sooner or later it comes full circle. You see the face of God in these people.”