Saints in the making

Catholic schools celebrate All Saints’ Day in style

Aaron Lambert

At other schools, Nov. 1 was likely just another Friday for students. At Denver’s Catholic schools, however, it wasn’t just Friday – it was All Saints’ Day.

On this special feast day, Catholic schools invite their students and teachers to participate in the communion of saints by dressing up as their favorite saints. The occasion is usually marked by class parties, fun activities and even parades around the school.

During his Angelus address at the Vatican, Pope Francis said on All Saints’ Day that “the saints of all times, which we celebrate together today, are not simply symbols, distant human beings, unreachable. On the contrary, they are people who have lived with their feet on the ground. They have experienced the daily toil of existence with its successes and its failures, finding in the Lord the strength to always get up and continue the journey.”

More than just a fun day for students, All Saints’ Day is an opportunity to remind them that they, too, are capable of holiness, and is another way in which Catholic schools live up to their name.

Students at various Catholic schools dressed up as saints for All Saints’ Day. (Photo by Vladimir Mauricio-Perez)

At St. Rose of Lima in Denver, celebrating All Saints’ Day perfectly complements the goal of preparing its students not only academically, but also spiritually.

“We believe all students are called to sainthood, and as we prepare them academically for success in Catholic high schools and college, we also prepare them for heaven,” said Tomas Gallegos, principal at St. Rose of Lima. “It’s seeing themselves as saints, praying to the saints and using that for guidance on how they should live their lives.”

Teachers and staff are also encouraged to join in the fun. Gallegos was dressed as St. Francis of Assisi, a saint that’s had a particularly special impact on his life.

“I had the opportunity to visit Assisi and go see the chapel that [St. Francis] helped rebuild and see where he’s laid to rest,” Gallegos told the Denver Catholic. “He’s someone that I pray to in a very special way, but I also think it’s a good connection for our students who already innately have a love of animals to see somebody who really embodied that.”

At St. John the Baptist School in Longmont, the preschool classes had their own celebration complete with fun activities themed after particular saints. Students sprinkled roses over an image of St. Theresa at her station, searched for lost items at the St. Anthony station, and shot a toy bow and arrow at a target at the St. Kateri station — “target practice,” as some of the students said.

Criscelda Mortimore (left), a parent and volunteer at St. John the Baptist school in Longmont, assists a preschool student during the preschool class’ All Saints Day celebration. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

Criscelda Mortimore, whose son Ambrose dressed up as St. Mark the Evangelist and is in his second year of preschool at St. John the Baptist, volunteered to help run one of the stations for the children. She likes the All Saints’ Day celebration not only because it’s fun for the kids, but also because it presents an important learning opportunity for students and parents alike.

“I really like how it opens up the opportunity for me to discuss things like [the saints],” Mortimore said. “Although I am one who considers myself to take Catholicism seriously, it can be hard to bring that stuff up in everyday activities.

“I probably would’ve never been able to discuss with him the idea of the symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist being a winged lion and that’s something that I actually learned myself too, were it not for our participation in All Saints’ Day.”

As part of their All Saints’ Day activities, students at Assumption Catholic School in Denver created a prayer chain with the names of deceased loved ones to tie with the celebration of All Souls’ Day the following day. (Photo by Rocio Madera)

More than just the practical application of learning about the saints, Catholic schools’ participation in All Saints’ Day activities also gives students the chance to find new role models in the saints in an interactive way.

“It’s a beautiful thing for kids to have these spiritual role models that they can look to for guidance, individuals who walked the earth and had professions and families, but also chose to devote their lives to Christ,” said Sarah Grey, principal at Assumption Catholic School in Denver. “Our kids are being exposed to so many people — celebrities, athletes, individuals that are maybe not the best role models for them, so it’s a beautiful thing for them to learn about individuals who have died for their faith that they can hopefully try to exemplify.”

Rocio Madera and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.

COMING UP: The bullies and that book 

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Immediately after news broke on January 12 that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah had written a book on the crisis of the priesthood in the 21st-century Church, online hysteria erupted — which rather underscored the prudence of a New Year’s resolution I had recommended to concerned Catholics in a January 1 column: “Resolve to limit your exposure to the Catholic blogosphere.”  

The extraordinary venom spewed at the pope emeritus and the cardinal by more than a few commentators did not advance the Church’s discussion of the reform of the priesthood one jot or tittle. It actually retarded that urgent discussion, diverting attention from some urgent issues (including the deep roots of the abuse crisis and the meaning of clerical celibacy) by treating a serious book as if it were a partisan political tract.  

Yet the cacophony over the Benedict/Sarah book, From the Depths of Our Hearts, did serve two useful purposes: it spoke volumes about the character of the venomous, and it clarified some of the dynamics roiling the Church as the pontificate of Pope Francis approaches its seventh anniversary on March 13. 

The attack on Pope Emeritus Benedict was exceptionally nasty — and deeply ill-informed. One prominent partisan of the current pontificate opined that Benedict is “conscious barely half an hour at a time;” another wizard from the left field bleachers had it that Benedict was “incapacitated.” Neither man has the faintest idea of what he’s talking about. I spent a full 45 minutes with Pope Emeritus Benedict this past October 19, discussing a broad range of issues. He was quite frail physically, but in the early evening of what I assume had been a normal day, he was completely lucid, quite well-informed, eager for new information, full of good humor, and able to recall themes and personalities from conversations we had had decades earlier. The pope emeritus seemed clear as a bell, intellectually, at age 92; can the same be said for those who, relying on “reports,” dismiss him as a senile old man, out of touch with events and perhaps even reality? 

The attack on Cardinal Sarah was equally vicious and just as ill-informed. I have had the honor of knowing the Guinean cardinal for several years and, like anyone who has spent significant time with him, I have found him a man of profound holiness: a truly converted disciple of Jesus Christ whose ministry flows from his radical fidelity to the Lord. Despite the caricatures perpetrated by those who evidently fear his present and future influence in the Church, Cardinal Sarah has also struck me as a man of Christian joy, still amazed at the grace of God that has been at work in his life, and therefore able to laugh (in that robust way that only Africans can) at the human foibles of the moment. Cardinal Sarah was not laughing, however, at the claim that he had lied about the origin and nature of From the Depths of Our Hearts and his righteous, if controlled, anger confirmed what those who actually know him understand: this is an honest man.  

These calumnies against Benedict and Sarah were amplified by another absurd charge: that by discharging their minds and consciences on what is necessary for an authentic reform of the priesthood, the pope emeritus and the cardinal were somehow interfering with Pope Francis’s “discernment” after the Amazonian synod of this past October. So it has now come down (and I do mean down) to this: the partisans of openness and dialogue are now telling two of Catholicism’s most distinguished sons that their views are unwelcome; that the theological and pastoral defense of clerical celibacy is an act of disloyalty to Pope Francis; and that they should just shut up.  

These are not the tactics of advocates convinced that they have won the substantive argument and are likely to continue winning. These are the tactics of those who, fearful that time is running out, imagine that their only recourse is to resort to bullying.  

There is nothing of churchmanship in this, nor is there anything of Christian charity. The reform of the priesthood is essential for the evangelizing mission of the Church. Those who dismissed a serious proposal for such reform, in large part by vilifying its authors, branded themselves as less interested in reforming the priesthood of the New Covenant than in ecclesiastical power-games. 

Featured image: © L’Osservatore Romano