Catholic Schools Week looked different, still festive

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Catholic Schools Week looked different, still festive

Schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago celebrated Catholic Schools Week this year by highlighting their Catholic identity and showing appreciation to all the members of their communities, just as they always have, but things did look a little bit different in 2021.
Nazareth Academy seniors Megan Henehan and Jaden Hernandez-Maxson pack cleaning supplies and other items Feb. 5, 2021. Students donated the items and staff contributed restaurant gift cards for families at the Ronald McDonald House. The collection was part of Nazareth’s Catholic Schools Week celebration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nazareth Academy freshman Amalia Dray packs goods for a local Ronald McDonald House on Feb. 5, 2021, as part of an outreach project for Catholic Schools Week. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nazareth Academy freshman Stella Anderson stacks paper towels that will be loaded into a truck for delivery on Feb. 5, 2021. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mother McAuley Liberal Arts School’s student government created a Padlet that was shared with the entire school to give students an opportunity to thank a teacher during Catholic Schools Week 2021. In the past, students could write individual notes to teachers during their lunch periods.
Principal Erin Boyle Folino leads the World Mission Rosary Zoom gathering from the front office desk at St. Ferdinand School during Catholic Schools Week. (Photo provided)

Schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago celebrated Catholic Schools Week this year by highlighting their Catholic identity and showing appreciation to all the members of their communities, just as they always have, but things did look a little bit different.

“We’ve had two themed out-of-uniform days, and every day we are celebrating a different class, including faculty and staff,” said Therese Hawkins, principal of Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park.

The school’s social justice club, Just Us, continued its service by holding a competition to see which class could collect the most for a local Ronald McDonald House, she said.

“But we usually have a really big pep rally, and of course we can’t do that this year” because of COVID-19 social distancing protocols, she said. Instead, the school hosted a trivia competition over Zoom on the Friday night of Catholic Schools Week, Feb. 5.

“We’ve tried to move forward with as much as we can. Catholic schools should be so very proud of how we’ve faced this year,” Hawkins said.

Erin Boyle Folino, principal at St. Ferdinand School, 3131 N. Mason Ave., said the school followed a similar strategy, using technology to do many of the same activities, but in slightly different ways. That meant the annual open house on Jan. 31, the Sunday that kicked off the week, went virtual, and instead of bringing all the students into the chapel for the World Mission Rosary and giving each child a bead, students stayed in their classrooms and were linked by videoconference.

In some ways, Folino said, that actually worked better, as the youngest students did not have to keep as quiet and each classroom presenting a decade of the rosary got excited for their turn to go live.

“It’s definitely been a fun week,” Folino said on the Thursday of Catholic Schools Week. “It’s been fun and happy. We’ve kept it as busy as it always was in the past, just with some modifications.”

Some things had to change, Folino said, like bringing in-person guests into the school to talk about their careers and vocations for vocation day. This year, Missionary Sister of Christ the King for Polonia Agnes Michna, who teaches religion to students in second through eighth grade, spoke to all the classes about her vocation, and a transitional deacon who has been helping at the parish preached the homily for the Friday morning school Mass and later took questions from students.

Students served the community by making valentines for patients at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, Folino said, and raised money to donate to the hospital by purchasing “slap bracelets” that they could wear that day.

One thing the school couldn’t do this year?

“Last year, all the teachers practiced a dance medley and did it for the students,” Folino said. “No one has asked why we aren’t doing that again.”

Sacred Heart School, 2926 E. 96th St., made use of social media platforms to help celebrate, principal Kathy Tomaszewski said. Instead of inviting grandparents to visit the school, for example, students were invited to bring in photos of themselves with their grandparents, and the photos were added to the school’s Facebook page.

Students also were invited to send photos of their families having a game night to be posted on social media

“The biggest difference is that we weren’t able to have our open house and have our building open for tours and have our parents and grandparents come in,” Tomaszewski said. “We made the best of what we were able to accomplish.”

Tomaszewski said she was happy the school was able to have its Jan. 31 family Mass, even if attendance wasn’t what was expected because of a snowstorm. On the other hand, families who didn’t make it to church could watch online.

Students at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, 3737 W. 99th St., watched a video of a Catholic Schools Week Mass celebrated in the school’s chapel during their theology classes, said Amanda Sullivan, chair of the school’s theology department.

While it wasn’t the same as bringing the whole school community together in prayer, the students appreciated being with their individual classroom communities, Sullivan said.

“It was nice because we were able to have a discussion afterward,” she said.

Another thing that was new this year was a “Padlet” or online space for students to thank teachers or give them a shout-out for the whole school to see. In the past, students could write individual notes to teachers during their lunch periods. They also made virtual thank you cards for their parents or guardians.

“There is something about a handwritten note that makes you feel good,” Sullivan said. “But this way, everyone could see it.”

Catholic Schools Week is an important celebration, educators said, because it increases awareness of what makes Catholic schools different.

“It’s just the culmination of recognizing all of the things we do as Catholic schools, all the people that are involved with Catholic education,” Sacred Heart’s Tomaszewski said. “It highlights that we are a family as a Catholic school community and we are able to bring that religious piece into schools and we are different from public education.”

Sullivan said the week was fun and worthwhile, even if the students missed being able to gather as a whole student body.

“I think it worked out OK,” she said. “Students missed some of the things we have done in the past as far as in-person activities, but I think it went as well as it possibly could, and it had meaning.”



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