Big ideas reap big benefits for seniors

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: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”