Big ideas reap big benefits for seniors

Nissa LaPoint

A group of Bishop Machebeuf High School seniors got big ideas about their faith—and won big after they shared it.

Sister John Peter Clarke, O.P., charged the 11 seniors in her Catholic leadership class with the Big Idea Project, an assignment to create a four-minute video depicting a need in the community and a solution based on Catholic social doctrine.

Senior Clare Lowrey and her classmates worked to show middle school students—who may experience loneliness and low self-esteem—that God is merciful and loving. They spent their Monday nights at St. Thomas More Church’s Bible study for children to participate in discussions and share their own lives.

They learned patience, self-motivation, perseverance and leadership, the seniors reported.

“Self-giving became a big part of our work,” the seniors in the “Go-Getter” team wrote. “It is incredible the outcome when you open yourself up to a person. An outpouring of self through personal storytelling, small acts of service, and investing time in others destroys barriers and builds solidarity.”

In result, the team of four seniors—including Clare Lowrey, Rebecca Haven, Faustine Sullivan and Ricky Pruneda—won a $2,000 scholarship toward college after presenting their video to a panel of judges.

The project originated from Columbine High School in Littleton and has spread to different high schools in the state. It’s focused on cultivating leadership that empowers others to reach their full potential.

“The Big Idea Project, while not explicitly Christian, fits wonderfully well with our core values and the virtue of magnanimity,” Sister Clarke said. “Students in Catholic Leadership learned from the Big Idea Project’s concepts and applications of generous leadership as well as other key sources on leadership.”

The seniors read and analyzed leadership qualities in  “Strengths-based Leadership”, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and “The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard.”

Another team of students spent time at St. Therese School in Aurora and realized their need for more athletic equipment. Seniors John Keyte, Joseph La Rosa and Kate Merth raised $2,000 to benefit their efforts. The Truth Finders team—made of Stephanie Montes, Stephany Vazquez, Myranda Weakland and Luke Weinmann—raised student awareness about how living one’s faith helps self-image and benefits others.

The project culminated in presenting their video, scripts and edits of their documentaries to a panel of judges. The Go-Getter team has a chance to compete at the state level and receive $1,500 toward college costs.

“The Big Idea Project is a great way for Machebeuf students not only to compete but also, and more importantly, to share the magnanimity, the mission, and the mercy of Jesus Christ,” Sister Clarke said.

“One thing I did not expect from the Big Idea Project is that we would benefit so much from this endeavor,” Lowrey wrote. “Ultimately, we learned to trust in each other. We learned that leaders lead from the front lines, but they need their fellow soldiers.”

 

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.