On May 16 and 19, the Archdiocese of Hartford recognized three Catholic schools for taking schoolwide action this spring in response to a Laudato Si’ Challenge.
Students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Waterbury, St. Bridget School in Manchester and St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership School in West Hartford focused actively on environmental education and activities from March through May.
“Some of the projects have been wonderful,” said Patrick Laorden, coordinator of the Laudato Si’ Challenge. “We were really challenging them to take initiative and be creative.”
The Laudato Si’ Challenge was organized by the Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry in cooperation with the Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis. The Challenge was conceived as a way for schools to join the efforts of the archdiocese to pray, learn and act upon Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.
The pope’s encyclical on the environment was published two years ago this month.
Representatives from the archdiocesan offices visited each school and acknowledged the students who completed the challenge with a special plaque. They also listened to members of each core team explain how they carried out their project.
“Our day-to-day lives and our faith are connected,” Laorden told the students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Waterbury on the morning of May 16. “Pope Francis is challenging us to be converted. Conversion leads to change.”
Fifth graders at the school took up the challenge called “Daily Actions to Care for Our Common Home.” Sydney Jason came up with the idea for the “3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” program.
Sydney and her classmates worked together with the City of Waterbury to outfit classrooms, offices and even water fountains with recycle bins for the collection of paper, cardboard and plastic. Currently, each Tuesday afternoon the core team collects the bins for recycling pickup on Wednesday mornings.
The students also created and posted numerous signs to remind everyone about the 3Rs program and to caution them against littering the earth.
“Everything you are doing now has a profound impact,” Laorden told the core team. “You’ve impacted 242 students and faculty.”
Gail Ducham, the school’s art teacher, confirmed the effect. “Students automatically go to the recycling bin now,” she said. “It’s loaded with scraps, so the program is really working.”
Even so, concern for the environment needs to spread beyond the school’s four walls, said Principal Jack Tavares. “It still takes a lot of convincing. You go to the beach and you don’t even want to put down a blanket,” he said, referring to all the litter at Connecticut’s beaches.
“Just continue to spread the word,” Laorden advised the youths.
The students at St. Bridget School in Manchester opted for a challenge called “Be a Part of the Whole Human Family.”
In March the student council sold carnations with proceeds going to Catholic Relief Services (CRS). In April, Principal MaryAlice Nadaskay placed CRS rice bowls in each classroom and students deposited their loose change. For Spirit Week in May, the eighth graders collected $5 from each student who wanted to dress down, then donated the money to CRS.
“When we think about our own families, it’s hard to imagine that we have to think of the entire world as our family,” Laorden said to the students on the afternoon of May 16, as he congratulated them for making the global connection. “To think of someone that we’ve never met, someone that we see in a picture or just pass by every day, it’s hard, right?”
Laorden also pointed out that the core team’s efforts affected 187 students at their school. Moreover, 25 percent of the money raised for CRS stays in a diocese and so will go toward helping the Archdiocese of Hartford, he said.
Dr. Michael Griffin, superintendent of Catholic schools, told the students in Manchester how proud he was of their accomplishments. “With the challenge, you’re really rising to the occasion to do more and give your best,” he said.
“Pope Francis is proclaiming this because we need a little bit of a wakeup call,” he explained to the students. “We take too much for granted — the interrelatedness of all the earth with its people.”
The middle-school students at St. Bridget also read books published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — Drop by Drop, about water conservation, and Green Street Park, about cleaning up a city park — to the elementary school kids.
“We’re really pleased that you took this challenge and stepped forward,” the superintendent added. “It’s a lifelong process, so hopefully you’ll keep doing what you’re doing and share it with others.”
Students at St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership School in West Hartford selected the “Daily Actions” challenge. Members of the school’s science club, advised by science teacher Donald Fay, currently operate a school-wide recycling program.
The school and its students were honored for their efforts on May 19.