Catholic Schools celebrate life, students learn to live their faith

SOUTH CAROLINA — Respect Life Month in October can seem like a very grown-up concept. After all, it tackles weighty topics including abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. These are hardly subjects that teachers want to discuss with their students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Still, Catholic schools are compelled, along with the rest of the faithful, to heed the call made by Pope John Paul II in his “Ecclesia in America.” He said the church community must “commit itself all the more to the defense of the culture of life.”
School officials said they do this by concentrating on life and respect. Most leave the more controversial issues to parents.
“We stress the importance and beauty of all human life, and our responsibility as Christians to care for and protect it,” said Molly Halasz, principal of St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach.
In particular, the teachers discuss ways that students can be kind and helpful to the elderly, handicapped and homeless. They also explain how some newborn babies and their families need extra financial help and encourage the youths to collect money in baby bottles for Birthright and Grand Strand Citizens for Life.
Phyllis Brandis, principal at St. Anthony School in Florence, said her teachers discuss ways to show respect for oneself and others with the younger children.
“It’s all age appropriate,” she said.
The older students are more likely to be involved in the battle against abortion. Brandis said students who are in the church’s Catholic Youth Organization made 24 crosses and erected them in front of St. Anthony Church. They also made a banner that states: “Each cross represents 1 million babies aborted in the U.S. since 1973 — Pray to stop abortion.”     
Brandis said children of all ages also participate with their parents and churches in various Respect Life activities.
Two of the most well-known are 40 Days for Life, which runs from Sept. 24 to Nov. 2; and Life Chains, which formed across the United States and Canada on Oct. 5.
Some principals said they encourage the older students to participate in these events with their churches and families.
Peggy Wertz, principal of St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken, said students in sixth grade and up could earn “house” points if they became a link in the recent Life Chain.  
Other schools skirt the issue entirely.
“We really don’t get into a big discussion of those topics,” said Jean Moschella at Christ Our King-Stella Maris School in Mount Pleasant.
Instead, her school has instituted a new program called Steps to Respect that begins this month and runs throughout the year.
All the principals who spoke to or e-mailed The Miscellany said they put a heavy emphasis on the rosary. Students, teachers, even parents say a decade of the rosary each day for the sanctity of life.  Father Dwight Longenecker, chaplain of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, said each rosary counts toward the diocesan goal of 40,000 Rosaries for Life. His school’s goal is 2,000.
Students at St. John School in North Charleston pray the rosary and donate money to the Right to Life organization. They also studied St. Francis, who encouraged love and respect for all forms of life, said Carole Anne White, principal.  
It all boils down to the many ways Catholics can live their faith.
“We talk about respecting not only the lives of others, but also our own lives,” Halasz said, “by eating nutritiously, getting plenty of fresh air, exercise and sleep. And not ever abusing ourselves by using drugs or tobacco products.”