Nurture middle school spirituality, Calderone-Stewart urges


NORTH AUGUSTA — When most people think of middle school, the images are far from religious. By the time Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart was through with her talk at Our Lady of Peace Church May 15, she had convinced everyone that spirituality should be at the center of a middle school child’s life and that it was up to adults to nurture it.

Calderone-Stewart is the author of several catechetical books, including “Catechism Connection for Teens,” and is associate director of early adolescent ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis. Her presentation showed that she knows young people and what they need in their faith journey.

“Teens have an internal walkman running 24/7 in their brain saying, ‘How do I look? Who are the people who like me? Does this outfit look good on me? What about relationships? What about sex? Who am I? Where am I going in life?’ It runs all the time and it does not matter that they are in the middle of a math test,” she explained.

She said the same questions run in the minds of adults, along with a few additional ones such as, “What is my cholesterol level?”

Calderone-Stewart cited a study by the Search Institute that suggests that three family activities can predict whether a child will grow up to be a faith-filled adult. The activities are family faith conversation, family rituals, and family outreach and service.

“Research says if you do all these things, your children will stay in the church,” Calderone-Stewart said.

She went on to suggest that if parents are not comfortable talking about God with their children on a regular basis, they are not going to appear credible during a sudden crisis that requires a moral explanation.

“Family rituals are also important because they are a concrete way of showing something bigger,” she said.

Nonreligious rituals like birthday traditions can become a way to express love, illustrating how one’s participation in Mass is an outward expression of love, too.

Outreach and service projects done together as a family are another way to grow in faith. Calderone-Stewart recalled the first time she recruited her son to work in a soup kitchen. At first he was resentful; then he saw a child he recognized from school being served. It suddenly became “real” for him and his attitude completely changed. He began to ask questions and was propelled into more action for the poor.

“The church has to support you in your efforts. It should make it easier for families to experience their faith, not as individuals, but as a family,” Calderone-Stewart said.

She listed author Leif Kehrwald’s five key moments in daily life that need attention: exits/entrances, car time, mealtime, bedtime, and memory-making time. She encouraged parents to make the best of these moments. She warned them not to start an argument when a child is leaving the house because they and the child will have to carry that memory the entire day. She also told parents not to ignore their children’s arrivals at home, but to greet them affectionately.

“Take advantage of the time in the car,” she advised. “You have a captive audience. Don’t let everyone tune out with their electronic entertainment but have a list of topics for them to discuss. Spend the time listening to their ideas and concerns.”

Shadrick Clay, a fifth-grade student, enjoyed Calderone-Stewart’s stories. He’d like to see the parish follow through with her suggestions by having a monthly event for parents and youth that includes a meal and discussion.

Marsha Delmore said she would like to see more events planned and carried out by youth.

“Most of the time we don’t let them do it because we want everything to be perfect,” the junior youth minister said.

Although adolescence is a time when children begin to separate from the family, Calderone-Stewart doesn’t believe they are ready to completely break away from their parents, who are their sole support and safety net. Unfortunately, parents are so busy that they are easily frustrated by the challenges and run away from discussion.

“You can have a peaceful adolescence if you take time to do fewer things apart and more things together,” she said.