Students, staff create extra prayer time during school week

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Students, staff create extra prayer time during school week

Male students at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights took a break before lunch to participate in their eighth grade weekly prayer group on Jan. 11, 2023. The students meet once a week to pray, sing and reflect. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students raise their hands and sing during the group. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Alex prays during the group. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A candle, rosary guide and small statue serve as a prayer space for the groups. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joe and Sean pray during the group. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sally Shewmon speaks to the students during the group. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dash and Leo follow song sheets. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kevin and Dominic sing during the group. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Max reads from a song sheet. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The students sit close to each other on the floor. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Students and staff members at some Catholic schools are finding ways to add extra communal prayer into their schedule with the creation of prayer groups or prayer circles.

Such groups can help students learn new ways to pray as well as develop a habit of regular prayer among participants.

That’s the experience of Sally Shewmon, a middle school math teacher at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights. Shewmon teaches religion to her eighth grade homeroom, and last year started a voluntary prayer group for eighth grade boys.

And, she said, it was their idea.

“Some of them were asking me to go to their basketball game, and it was on a Wednesday night,” Shewmon explained. “I said I couldn’t, because I had my own prayer group that night. They asked what that was, and when I told them, they wanted to try it.”

Last year, the eighth grade boys were invited to meet once a week during recess time in Shewmon’s classroom. This year, she said, she has separate weekly prayer group meetings for eighth grade boys and girls, and nearly all the students choose to participate.

They start with a praise song, then talk a bit, Shewmon said. That’s followed by a period of quiet, when participants are encouraged to listen for what God is telling them. After that, Shewmon and the students can share what they heard before they close with another praise song.

“Sometimes they walk into lunch still singing about God,” she said.

Many of the students had never engaged in listening prayer before, she said, so it felt a little awkward at first.

“The first time there was more giggling,” Shewmon said. “They were laughing because they were a little embarrassed. Now I feel like they are understanding the value of listening to God.”

Eighth grader Megan Rittle agreed that it was uncomfortable at first, but she has heard important messages, including one encouraging her to check in with her older sister.

“It turned out she’d had a really bad day, and I was able to help by listening to her,” Megan said.

Her classmate Dominic Polka said he has incorporated brief periods of quiet into his daily routine.

“I think it’s really helped me be quiet and kind of spend a little time every day with God,” Dominic said. “I think I definitely pray more regularly. I take some time to be quiet before bed, and sometimes even when I wake up.”

Students at St. Viator High School, also in Arlington Heights, took the initiative to start a rosary group that meets after school on Fridays.

Senior Henry Jochaniewicz said he had the idea for starting the group because, coming out of the closures for COVID-19 pandemic, there weren’t many opportunities for group prayer at that school.

Jochaniewicz said he often prays the rosary with his family, so that seemed like a good place to start. He worked with classmate Marianne Mercurio, also a senior this year, to start the group in the 2021-2022 school year.

At the beginning, the group was small: Jochaniewicz and Mercurio, with each of their siblings and campus minister Nicole Rudolph. This year, the group’s first meeting in January had 17 participants, not including Rudolph, who is on family leave.

“There’s about 10 students, and the rest staff,” said Jochaniewicz.

Mercurio noted that some of the regular participants are coaches who come to pray for their teams.

The student leaders set up chairs in the chapel for each meeting and have a basket of rosaries and cards with the words to the prayers available, she said. They ask the participants for any intentions, then take turns leading decades of the rosary with anyone else who wants to lead.

Because the group meets on Fridays, members started by praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary at each meeting. Now they switch that up sometimes, such as using the glorious mysteries for the feast of Epiphany.

The sorrowful mysteries are still her favorite, Mercurio said, mostly because when she was learning to pray the rosary, the sorrowful mysteries were her older sister’s favorite.

“Then I started to understand that it was a really good story of Jesus’ Passion and death,” she said.

They’re also Jochaniewicz’s favorite, because, he said, they offer a glimpse of how much Jesus loved us.

Jochaniewicz said they are also planning to offer regular participants St. Louis de Montfort’s 33-day program of total consecration to Jesus through Mary leading up to the feast of the Annunciation on March 25.

Neither student said who will carry on the rosary group when they graduate, but they are confident it will continue.

“Most of the people who come aren’t seniors,” Mercurio said. “And the staff who come will still be here.”


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