AIKEN—A new program at St. Mary Help of Christians Church helps elementary and middle school students learn how saints can play a central role in their lives.
Joan LaBone, youth director at St. Mary, wanted to bring third- through eighth-graders from Catholic and public schools together for faith formation. So she invited members of the Secular Franciscans to lead descriptive sessions about a different saint once a month.
“Our focus is on the saints, and it’s also a way to teach the kids about community, vocations and parish fellowship,” said Carole King, one of the main organizers.
At the first session in October, a volunteer from the church youth group dressed as St. Francis of Assisi and performed a skit about his life.
In November, LaBone talked about All Saints Day, what a saint is and how people become saints. Students also did a craft project.
On Dec. 1, the children learned about St. Nicholas and the traditions surrounding his feast day, and decorated gingerbread cookies that symbolized the holiday. They also heard the story of how St. Francis is credited with creating the first Christmas nativity scene in 1223.
Each student received a holy card with a picture of St. Francis holding the infant Jesus, with a piece of straw taped to it to symbolize the manger.
“We told them when you go home, take this piece of hay and put it in your manger scene, and let it be a reminder of why Jesus came for us,” King said.
The activities are meant to bring the saints alive for the children, she said.
“When we have a person dress up as a saint, they can look at him and talk to him,” she said. “A craft or memento … gives them something to touch, to take home and show to their parents.”
Youth group members enjoy helping out. Will Victor, 16, a junior at Aiken High School, said they play games with the children, perform skits and talk to them about other aspects of their faith.
“It’s great to see how the adults work with the kids, and for the kids to see how the adults care about them,” Will said. “Through this program, you really get a picture of the way that Jesus cares about us. He’s our God, but also our friend.”
King said the children inspire her.
“Children are very open to holiness,” she said. “I think if we can encourage them to learn about the saints at this age, they can carry it into their adulthood, and we can raise a generation of open and holy people.”
Nicholas Judd, a third-grader at St. Mary Help of Christians, said his favorite activity was decorating his own gingerbread man at the December session. His mother, Alice Judd, said her daughters in kindergarten and first grade can’t wait until they are old enough to join.
Judd likes that her son is learning from the Secular Franciscans, who are adults, and with the youth.
“He’s learning that formation in your faith is something that is a life journey,” Judd said.