Students at Incarnate Word, Our Lady of Guadalupe schools model the principles of beONE

The vision of the archdiocese's beONE initiative was clear in the cafeteria at Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Ferguson.

As Guadalupe eighth-grader Jakoby Hopkins set the rhythm on a snare drum, seventh-graders from Incarnate Word School in Chesterfield joined traditional Matachina Dancers and other Guadalupe students dancing in a circle around the cafeteria.

The one-two, one-two-three drum beat has been described as hypnotic, but whatever it is, it should be bottled and distributed to schools and parishes throughout the archdiocese. In those moments, the diverse collection of hyphen-ized American students — as in, Hispanic-, African-, Asian- and Anglo- — merely were students enjoying each other's company, smiling, laughing and having a good time. Being one.

Around the cafeteria they danced, leading with the left foot to shuffle twice then turning and leading with the right to shuffle twice more before repeating the process. Even Guadalupe administrator Father John O'Brien and former Guadalupe pastor Msgr. Jack Schuler joined the fun, each donning a colorful Matachina headdress and shuffling around the room.

Nearby, Notre Dame Sister Cathy Doherty, the pastoral associate at Guadalupe and the instigator of this revelry, beamed at the merriment. Her brainchild was a rousing success.

"It was great today; it worked out so good," she said later.

Sometimes, such interactions don't play out as envisioned if students gravitate to their own schools and never the twain shall meet. Not so Dec. 14 at Our Lady of Guadalupe, where students from the schools mingled at the fiesta following Mass in Guadalupe's church.

"They kept mixing," Sister Cathy said. "You saw them dancing and having fun together. ... It was so neat."

The students quickly found things in common. Guadalupe seventh-grader Donovan Whitfield and Incarnate Word's Danny Carroll got to talking about football and realized they had played against each other a few years back at the Show-Me Games in Columbia, Mo.

"We beat them the first time, and they beat us the second," Carroll said.

The duo might meet again on a football field, or on another athletic field, in a couple of years. Whitfield plans to go to St. Louis University High, Carroll to Christian Brothers College High School.

For years, Our Lady of Guadalupe similarly has connected with schools throughout the archdiocese, taking field trips to those schools while hosting them in return "to get the word out that cultures don't separate kids," Sister Cathy said. "The more we bring schools together, the more they see the connections. ... 'Hey, come and see who we are and we'll come and see who you are. We're all the same.'"

Violence in Ferguson last year made the connections even more necessary. Sister Cathy applied for and received a Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant via Catholic Charities of St. Louis to facilitate connections with Incarnate Word and St. Cletus School in St. Charles. Sister Cathy called Incarnate Word a "natural" because former pastor Msgr. Schuler is now an associate pastor at Incarnate and also in charge of Catholic identity at Catholic Charities. St. Cletus and Guadalupe teamed up in a dance program about 12 years ago.

The seventh-graders from Guadalupe and Incarnate Word connected through the topic of Catholic social teaching. A gathering after the first of the year between second-graders at Guadalupe and St. Cletus will include the theme of a common communion table. This spring, Guadalupe seventh-graders will visit Incarnate Word, and its second-graders will visit St. Cletus.

Incarate Word brought 45 seventh-graders to Guadalupe, as well as homeroom teachers Jackie Luley and Libby Pugliese, Spanish teacher Mary Jane Obernuefemann and principal Mike Welling.

Perhaps the most poignant moment in the lead-up to the visit was a discussion Luley had with students a week prior. They discussed diversity, and positive aspects of melding cultures and racial backgrounds. Luley then asked students what came to mind when they thought of Ferguson and north St. Louis County; the answers related to the violence and riots of last year.

Then, she dropped a bomb. She's from north St. Louis County, just down the road from Ferguson in Old Town Florissant, Sacred Heart Parish.

"Their faces just went down," she said. "I grew up there; I love where I live. It's where I trick-or-treated. I walked to church. I loved my neighbors. I still live there. I asked them, 'How do you think that makes me feel when people view my home like that?'"

'Not very good" was the answer.

In further discussion, the students concluded they would feel similarly if folks thought of Chesterfield like that and that they would feel "really bad" if students from another school visited their school but were nervous about being in the area.

"Just because something like that happens in a town doesn't mean the whole town is like that; they did a good job of understanding that," Luley said. "It was neat for me to see that immediate connection."

With negative perceptions of Ferguson debunked, the visit came off as envisioned, with Guadalupe students showing pride in their school and treating their Incarnate Word cohorts to Mass Guadalupe-style — with the Matachina Dancers going up and down the aisle, the signature roses of Guadalupe's apparitions and a skit about the Blessed Mother's appearances to St. Juan Diego. In turn, Incarnate Word students experienced a different culture but with the backdrop of one holy, Catholic and apostolic church — the universal Church, as Sophia Gabriele and Maddie Holthaus pointed out.

Though the Guadalupe aspect of the Mass was new to them, "it was the same Mass," Gabriele said. "I knew when to respond."

After the fiesta, Hopkins, the drummer, reveled in his role bringing together the schools.

"It was a good experience having people of different cultures being in rhythm," he said, simply. 

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