Placing Jesus in children’s hearts

Benedictine nun’s book helps prepare children for first Communion

Aaron Lambert
First communion featured image (2)

Charged with helping to prepare a 7-year-old girl for her first Communion, Benedictine Sister Immaculata Bertolli’s first lesson was less than successful.

“At one point she said, ‘I’m bored,’” Sister Immaculata, 33, recalled, laughing. The nun, who serves as head cook at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale, Colo., added: “I don’t like failure. I thought, ‘How am I going to get through to her?’ I really wanted to share the beauty of the sacrament.”

Realizing the child was a hands-on learner, the nun put together a book with 18 reflections, lessons and hands-on activities to keep her engaged in the learning process. The girl loved the book so much, she shared it with others. Rave reviews and requests from Sister Immaculata’s abbess, a priest chaplain, homeschoolers and a local Catholic school convinced her to publish the work, “Jesus in My Heart: Preparing for First Holy Communion.”

The 46-page hardback book ($20), which was written and illustrated by Sister Immaculata, aims to prepare a child for their first Communion by fostering a loving friendship with Jesus. It includes lessons gleaned from the nun’s monastic formation, from her experience praying the Divine Office, and from her work in the abbey kitchen.

“Jesus in my Heart” was written and illustrated by Sister Immaculata Bertolli as a way to teach children about first communion. (Photo provided)

“Mother Maria Michael (Newe) was a huge influence on what I put in the book,” Sister Immaculata said, referring to her abbess. “The first lesson is called, ‘Listening with Your Heart.’ It’s about going into your heart to pray. Mother Maria taught me how to do that in my 20s.

“The other great influence has to do with the liturgy, the Divine Office. As Benedictines, liturgy is our life. … There’s a short lesson called, ‘My Child, Give Me Your Heart.’ That title is from one of the antiphons we use on the feast of the Sacred Heart. … A child needs to understand Jesus loves us so much he wants our heart.”

Every lesson is paired with an activity a child can do with a parent using common household items. The activity for the lesson “My Child, Give Me Your Heart,” is making a pizza wherein the stretchiness of the dough serves as a model for making one’s heart bigger.

“The book involves a lot of participation from a parent; I did that intentionally,” Sister Immaculata said. “As our Holy Father says and as we hear throughout the Church, the first church is the home, that’s where children first learn the faith. I find that so essential—for a child to have the experience of the communion of the Eucharist in the home.

“I understand if families may not be able to do all of the activities,” the nun said, “but to do what you can shows your child you value the faith and they will learn from you as much as from the book itself.”

A labor of love, the book is beautifully illustrated with colorful pastel drawings ranging from pastoral scenes—including the dome-topped Abbey of St. Walburga surrounded by rolling hills—to stained-glass windows, Jesus and Eucharistic scenes.

A ballet dancer with a degree in kinesiology when she entered the abbey 11 years ago, Sister Immaculata is a self-taught artist.

“I have an artistic bent and really needed an outlet when I stopped ballet,” she said. “It was fun to do (the drawings).”

When finished by a child, the book will include their prayers, drawings, photographs and their answers to the lessons’ questions.

“I wanted it to be a keepsake for the child,” explained Sister Immaculata.

Her desire is that the book helps children to know the deep love Jesus has for them and impels a longing to return that love and start a relationship with him.

“There’s a lot about what Communion is, but also who it is,” the nun said. “If they understand that, they will treasure the sacrament a lot more and, hopefully, be faithful to it and receive it the rest of their life.

“They’re hearts are so soft when they’re young—so open and ready to receive the good news,” she added. “It’s the perfect time to plant that seed in them. If they really fall in love with Jesus they won’t fall out of love so easily. That’s the goal.”

Roxanne King: 720-771-3394; editor_king@icloud.com; www.twitter.com/RoxanneIKing

Title: “Jesus in My Heart”

Cost: $20

Purchase: online at www.walburga.org; call 970-472-0612; email abbey@walburga.org. Discounts available by emailing srimmaculataosb@gmail.com.

COMING UP: Sensitive locations, not ‘sanctuary’

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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11: Msgr. Bernie Schmitz preaches the homily during the announcement of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish as a diocesan shrine on December 11, 2016, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

With the election of President Donald Trump, many immigrants are uncertain of their future in America. The situation has ignited a national conversation about immigrants and their legal status.

The term “sanctuary” has been making waves in the headlines recently after Denver immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra sought assistance at a local Unitarian church for fear of being deported. The term itself has largely been adopted by the media to describe cities where immigrants cannot be questioned about their immigration status and locations where immigrants can seek refuge and be safe from arrest.

While the so-called “Muslim ban” has been garnering a lot of media attention, there’s another piece of the conversation that’s equally as pertinent; that of the immigrants who are already living in the U.S.; those who have fled their home country in search of something better, established their lives here — and many of which are of Latino descent.

The fear among many Latinos is still prevalent, as many wonder what will become of their residence here in the U.S. under a Trump presidency.

“For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry,” President Trump said in an Aug. 31 speech in Phoenix, Ariz.

The law doesn’t give definition to “sanctuary” but instead describes places where immigrants are safe from any sort of enforcement action by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as “sensitive locations.” A 2011 memorandum distributed by ICE outlines that sensitive locations include, but are not limited to: schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions of worship, the site of a funeral, wedding or other public religious ceremony and public demonstrations, such as a rally or march.

The memo states that enforcement actions are prohibited from taking place in any of these locations without prior approval by an ICE supervisor. In this event, supervisors are to “take extra care when assessing whether a planned enforcement action could reasonably be viewed as causing significant disruption to the normal operations of the sensitive location.”

The policy does, however, call for exigent circumstances in which enforcement actions can be carried out without prior approval. These include: matters of national security or terrorism, an imminent risk of death, violence or physical harm to any person or property, the immediate arrest of individual(s) that present an imminent danger to public safety, or an imminent risk of destruction of evidence material to an ongoing criminal case.

Should any of these situations arise, the memo instructs ICE agents to “conduct themselves as discretely as possible, consistency with office and public safety, and make every effort to lift the time at or focused on the sensitive location.”