Throughout the 2017-2018 school year, 13 Catholic schools accepted the Laudato Si’ Challenge, publicly answering the call of Pope Francis to care for our common home.
Students in these schools participated in school-wide, age-appropriate activities that focused on environmental education and action. Among the students’ creative ideas were recycling cardboard and used lunch containers, painting pictures of plants and animals, creating an outdoor classroom and video recording younger students’ Laudato Si’ projects.
The second annual Laudato Si’ Challenge was organized by the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry in cooperation with the Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis. It 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 in May 2015. It offers a spiritual perspective on creation, the environmental crisis, the use of natural resources and the resulting effects on the poor and developing nations.
As part of the archdiocese’s Laudato Si’ Challenge, participating schools were presented with four broad initiatives to choose from. They involved (1) daily actions to care for our common home, (2) cultivating creation and sensing the spark of awe, (3) being part of the whole human family and (4) communicating the beauty of God’s creation.
From February through May, representatives from the archdiocesan offices visited each school to celebrate the process and recognize students with a special plaque. They also listened to students explain how they carried out their special projects.
Students at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hartford, which includes prekindergarten through fifth grade, participated in all four of the challenges. During the school’s monthly prayer service in March, Patrick Laorden, archdiocesan social justice coordinator, and Lisa Orchen, archdiocesan director of catechetical initiatives, presented them with their plaque.
“It starts at home,” Laorden told the students, teachers and parents who attended the service. “Whatever you do makes such a big difference. Little differences make big changes in the world.”
One by one, children took to the microphone, enumerating their good works, which included cleaning the church and school grounds, stocking the parish food pantry, recycling bottles and donating the money for hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, growing flowers to plant around the flagpole and making homemade greeting cards for hospitalized children.
They were also in the process of collecting coins from family and friends during Lent to raise funds for Faith Mulira Health Center in Uganda.
“The Laudato Si’ Challenge has been an exciting way to show our students, families and communities how we put love into action by caring for the earth and for people both near and far,” said Janet Cashman, associate principal, librarian and co-chair of St. Thomas the Apostle’s Laudato Si’ team with Meghan Ciacchero, school counselor.
“It’s magnificent,” Principal Colleen DiSanto said of the school’s participation in the Laudato Si’ Challenge. “It’s not something we’re unfamiliar with,” she said of their interest in Catholic social teaching, “but we’re adding multiple dimensions to it.”
This year, the newest addition at St. Thomas the Apostle (STA) was the formation of a group of fourth-and fifth-graders who call themselves “STAr Reporters.” The reporters met on Mondays after school to create four videos focusing on the Laudato Si’ projects of each class, then posted them on the school’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/StThomasApostleWH. They planned to create additional videos by the end of the school year.
To create the videos, the STAr reporters drafted a logo for themselves, dreamed up the “Find the Kind” theme for the video series, developed scripts, drew cue cards and artwork and interviewed students in the lower grades about their Laudato Si’ projects.
“It’s really cool because everyone has a role,” said Claire Flynn, a STAr reporter, who did much of the videotaping. She also edited the videotape using Apple’s iMovie video editing software and even taught one of the adult team leaders how to use it.
As for the content, Callie Cosgrove, another STAr reporter, said, “We do all Catholic social teaching, but were mostly focused on kindness.”
In the videos, the STAr reporters opened with shots of their logo, school sign, then a spinning globe. Three reporters sat at a large desk, serving as news anchors. They also injected a bit of humor, with one reporter jumping out from behind a recycling bin. One video ended with applause, all after making important points about the interconnection between humans, livestock and the earth.
“It makes learning enjoyable and fun,” Claire said.
Another school that took up the Laudato Si’ Challenge was St. Bernard Catholic School in Enfield, which educates students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. They hopped on the Laudato Si’ bandwagon as soon as the pope’s document was published in 2015 and eventually became a CT Green LEAF School, recognized by the Connecticut Departments of Education, Energy & Environmental Protection and other organizations, for educating and promoting environmental awareness and student health.
This year, to grow and care for God’s creation, St. Bernard students planted raised keyhole garden beds with composting. To care for the whole human family, they sold candygrams to buy livestock for poor families around the world through Heifer International.
To build a closer relationship with the plants and animals we are all charged with protecting, students created artwork with nature themes throughout the year under the direction of art teacher Ted Furey. The colorful artwork was on display at the school’s April open house.
There was also one unique project. In response to several teachers’ request for a shaded area to teach outdoor lessons, eighth-grader Katelyn Birdsey converted an existing outdoor pavilion into an outdoor classroom.
She enlisted the entire school in raising funds for the project, then removed the picnic table under the pavilion and replaced it with two long benches made of recycled materials that can seat a class. She also repainted the pavilion and provided a removable table that teachers can now use to demonstrate experiments.
The 13 schools that participated in this year’s Laudato Si’ Challenge are: East Catholic High School, Manchester; St. Thomas the Apostle School, West Hartford; St. Timothy School, West Hartford; St. Mary School, Simsbury; Corpus Christi School, Wethersfield; St. Peter-St. Francis School, Torrington; St. Mary Magdalen School, Oakville; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Waterbury; Catholic Academy of Waterbury; Notre Dame High School, West Haven; St. Bernadette School, New Haven; St. Bernard School, Enfield; and St. Gabriel School, Windsor.