‘We’ve been schools of mercy for many years’

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, January 24, 2016

You can ask just about any Catholic school principal what his or her students are doing to spread mercy in the world. Just make sure you have a comfortable chair and maybe a cup of coffee, because the answers tend to go on and on.

“We’ve been schools of mercy for many years,” said Mary Vitulli, principal at St. Patrick School in Wadsworth. “And that’s something to be celebrated.”

Some schools celebrate their patron saint’s feast with a day of service projects; others make special efforts during Catholic Schools Week or during Lent. Nearly all Catholic high schools expect their students to perform some kind of service before they graduate, and middle- schoolers preparing for confirmation traditionally help as well. Now, during the Jubilee of Mercy, schools are looking to do even more, and to connect what they have always done with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

St. Patrick School in Wadsworth will focus on one of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy each month, starting in February, said principal Mary Vitulli. The school also is having a poster contest for all students, asking them to illustrate the works of mercy. The winning poster will be printed inside the cover of the school’s yearbook.

In addition, students will participate in a variety of service projects during Catholic Schools Week, including a book drive for Bernie’s Book Bank, an organization that gets gently used children’s books into the hands of kids who would otherwise have few or no books in their homes. School families can sign up to work with Feed My Starving Children, a Christian non-profit in which volunteers pack meals specifically designed for malnourished children around the world. Students will also make cards and write letters to people in their own community who are homebound or in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.

At St. Agnes School in Chicago Heights, fifth- through eighth-graders will learn about “Careers in Mercy” during Catholic Schools Week. Seven speakers, including a prison chaplain and funeral director, will represent each of the seven corporal works of mercy. There’s even someone from the local stormwater reclamation district talking about clean water.

“Academics are important, but here at St. Agnes we are also about service,” said principal Matthew Lungaro. “So we asked these people to come in and talk about what they do and why they do it.”

At St. Sylvester School, 3027 W. Palmer Square, works of mercy are being linked to welcoming the stranger and the global refugee crisis. Families there collected household goods for a refugee family who will be resettled by Catholic Charities.

“We’re waiting to find out when and where the apartment will be, and then we’ll get some parents to go set it up,” said Dan Bennett, St. Sylvester’s principal.

Bennett said he was approached by four or five fifth-grade girls who wanted to do something to help after watching a news report about the Syrian refugee crisis in class. He worked with Catholic Charities to get a list of items a newly arrived family would need and asked families to bring the items during Advent.

After Christmas break, the school was ticking off the items on the list so it could buy the items that were left. Bennett said his office was full of sheets and towels, pillows, diapers, cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils and dishes.

“I’m sure there are some things we didn’t get, but there’s a lot here,” he said.

Because the school does not yet have information about the specific family its collection will help, he doesn’t know if they will need all of the items. Some, such as the diapers, would only be of use to a family with a baby or toddler. But all of it will go to Catholic Charities.

“I know they always need diapers,” he said.

The collection replaced the school’s usual Advent food drive, which Bennett said could be moved to spring.

At St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, 3741 W. 62nd St., students have done everything from collecting food and clothing for local charities to raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through the Olive Garden’s “Pasta for Pennies” fundraiser, said principal Mariagnes Menden. They chose that specific charity because the school has a student with a cancer that benefits from the society’s research.

“We’re focused on helping our community,” she said. “We want to take the richness of our gifts and share it with others. They see the needs in our own community, and they’re very interested in what’s going on.”

The pastor, Father Salvador Hallegado, uses school Masses to talk about mercy with the children, explaining it at their level. “What they understand changes and evolves,” Menden said.

Students at Holy Angels School, 750 E. 40th St., are making cards for sick kids at Lurie Children’s Hospital, principal Siobhan Cafferty said, as well as doing food drives and other collections.

At the same time, some students are looking at the roots of violence and student council members have been researching corporal punishment and its effects.

“We really are going to where the violence starts to start to chip away at the violence in the world,” she said.

At St. Patrick, Vitulli said, she and the rest of the faculty also plan to emphasize the importance of mercy within the school community.

“How do we show mercy to each other in our daily actions and activities?” she said. “As kids grow, there are going to be conflicts, so how do we really take showing mercy to heart? How do we try to empathize and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes?”

The Archdiocese of Chicago offers resources for the Jubilee of Mercy at


  • catholic schools
  • refugees
  • feed my starving children
  • jubilee of mercy
  • corporal works of mercy
  • st. nicholas of tolentine
  • st. patrick wadsworth
  • spiritual works of mercy
  • st. agnes
  • st. sylvester
  • holy angels

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