Tiny chapel has giant impact at South County grade school
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, "Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love."That's just what one Catholic school community has done in its efforts to place Jesus in the Eucharist as the center of its students' daily lives, and in the process, boost the school's Catholic identity.
Last summer, St. Simon the Apostle School in south St. Louis County established an adoration chapel. The chapel is housed in a small room, which in the past has served as a resource room and storage space; but according to Mary Jo Ponder, coordinator of religious education, it has made a big impact on the 339 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
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Once a month, the school has a day of adoration, in which one of the parish priests, accompanied by servers, escorts the Eucharist into the chapel.
"We announce that Jesus in entering the building," said Ponder. "Some of (the students) stand in the hallway in silence. Every classroom along the hallway is silent as they watch the Eucharist being brought down to the chapel." Students are then assigned to take turns praying in the chapel throughout the entire school day.
"The kids say, 'It's so peaceful, Mrs. Ponder,'" she said of their reaction to the chapel. "That's what we want. Our world is not peaceful. We want them to find Jesus in the peace and quiet."
The chapel at St. Simon is just one of many efforts being made by Catholic schools to boost their Catholic identity. That's also one of the priorities as laid out by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson in the archdiocese's Alive in Christ mission advancement initiative for Catholic schools.
Students have said the chapel not only instills within them a sense of peace and closeness to Jesus, but also helps them in their academic lives, too.
"The time in the chapel is a peaceful time with me and God," said eighth-grader Mitchell Lux. "I do not have to say a written prayer. I can just sit and talk to God and be at peace. There is a connect (with Jesus) when I enter the chapel. You can just feel it."
In addition to prayer and adoration at the chapel, students also attend all-school Mass twice weekly and have a weekly procession with a statue of the Blessed Mother. They also adopt a spiritual theme for the year, said Ponder. This year's theme is, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace," based on the St. Francis Peace Prayer.
In integrating prayer into their students' lives, "we need it to be a part of who they are," said Ponder. "We talk about how you feed your body, and this is how you feed your spirit. If we aren't doing that, then we fail our children."
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