Vacation Bible schools bring fun, faith to summer

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, July 24, 2016

Vacation Bible schools bring fun, faith to summer

Children make friendship with volunteers during vacation Bible school at St Juliana Parish on July 18. Children were learning about Mary Magdalene that day. The theme for the week was "Mercy Mania." (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
A priest gives a blessing before Mary Petrash reads a story to children during vacation Bible school. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Mary Petrash reads to the children. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Theresa Lobianco clips the excess string on a friendship bracelet. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Hundreds of children from the Archdiocese of Chicago are taking time out this summer to explore their faith, learn Bible stories and have fun making crafts and playing games at vacation Bible school.

Vacation Bible schools — sometimes called vacation Bible camps — typically run for a week, usually just in the morning, for children from age 4 or 5 through age 10. Middle- or high-school students often are involved as volunteers to keep the younger kids on track.

Sue Carter has been running vacation Bible school at St. Christina Parish, 111th Street and Homan Avenue, for eight years. While she organized this year’s June 27-July 1 event, using the popular “Cave Quest” curriculum, she left the day-to-day activities to two young-adult volunteers in their 20s who have been helping run the program since they were teenagers because she was recovering from surgery.

St. Christina has more than 100 kids, a big enough group that 4- and 5-year-olds have a separate preschool track. With between 30 and 50 volunteers, each child gets plenty of attention for a 15-hour program that costs $45 per child.

“I think the parents are happy that they’re getting some kind of religion,” Carter said. “It’s a great place to bring them for the money. And it’s also catechizing the parents.”

That’s because the children bring home handouts about what they learned and what they did each day. It also can be an evangelization program, Carter said, because it is open to all children, not just parishioners.

Such summer programs have been a mainstay among Protestant churches for decades, and have recently enjoyed more popularity among Catholic parishes, with more Catholic-focused camp curriculum programs available.

Carter, who became Catholic as an adult through the RCIA program, said she was familiar with vacation Bible schools in Protestant churches.

Carter and her volunteers modified the program the parish purchased to meet their own needs, making some substitutions for crafts or snacks. “It can get kind of involved and expensive,” Carter said. “This year, we built a cave that took up half the gym.”

St. Juliana Parish, 7201 N. Oketo Ave., designed its own vacation Bible school curriculum around the Jubilee of Mercy, said Joyce Brown, who directs the program.

“Mercy Mania” ran July 18-22 in the parish’s gym.

“Every station the kids go to will touch on mercy,” Brown said.

The parish has run vacation Bible school in the summer for about 15 years, and has used a homegrown curriculum two or three times before, Brown said. It’s something that works best when there are enough people with teaching experience — either classroom teachers or religious education teachers — who can plan activities for children ages 4 to 9.

At Queen of All Saints Parish, 6290 N. Sauganash Ave., this year’s camp had a water theme, so organizers chose to use the “Surf Shack” curriculum offered by Concordia Supply, said Aileen Reynolds, who has been directing Queen of All Saints vacation Bible school for several years.

“We wanted a lot of water-themed decorations,” Reynolds said.

This year, 85 children from 4 years old through fifth grade participated, hearing a Bible story having to do with water each day.

One of her favorite activities — breakfast on a makeshift beach — is based on Jesus making breakfast for his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection and before the ascension.

“That’s a story that you don’t see so often.”

Families who participate often are looking for a way to extend religious education into the summer, and an environment where children can interact with other kids their own age, Reynolds said.

A lot of the children don’t know many of Bible stories, she said, and vacation Bible school is a fun way for them to learn about them.

Organizers at several parishes said the same families come back year after year, giving leaders the opportunity to reinforce the lessons, especially when former students return as teenage volunteers.

“We really get them for a long time,” said Carter, from St. Christina. “This has been a project that has served us well. Now my 7- year-old grandson goes, and he comes home every day singing the songs. He is a little kid on fire.”


  • queen of all saints
  • st. juliana
  • youth ministry
  • st. christina

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