Saints Hall of Fame at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta School honors universality of Church

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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With younger students squeezed into the hallway and older students gathered at either end, Father Robert Rosebrough blessed the Saints Hall of Fame.

First came the school and parish namesake, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, "who led a Revolution of Tenderness in your name," the parish pastor prayed. "We honor her who shows us the way to extend mercy."

Then, the saints, a dozen for now with room to grow.

"Children of various races and backgrounds will find models of virtue on this wall," he said. "These saints will accompany them on their young journeys of faith as they live their lives. May we ... come to understand they are united to each other and all the saints in the family of God."

After a hearty "Amen," the students filled the hallway with song, "Shine, Jesus, Shine."

The students expressed in song the enthusiasm Father Rosebrough and Blessed Teresa principal Addie Govero had for this project, a little more than a year in the making and indicative of the beONE concept — aka the universal Church.

The Hall features three former slaves in Blessed Peter Toussaint, St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Martin de Porres, as well as St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest who ministered to slaves in Colombia. The first Native American saint, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, is on the Hall, along with Vietnamese martyr St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Juan Diego of Our Lady of Guadalupe fame, patron of immigrants St. Frances Cabrini and St. John Paul II. In addition, Blessed Teresa and St. Vincent de Paul dedicated their lives to serving the poor, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne helped bring education to St. Louis and is buried in St. Charles and, of course, King Louis IX of France is St. Louis' namesake.

Father Rosebrough picked six for the Hall — Sts. Louis, Kateri, Dung Lac, Martin de Porres, Juan Diego and Blessed Toussaint — and students selected the other six from among 13 candidates. Students dressed as the saints and gave presentations to sell their candidates.

"It was just cool," Father Rosebrough said.

The saints campaigns lasted for a week, with classes decorating doors and teachers leading class discussions about the saints. After the vote, the results were announced on Nov. 18, which happened to be the feast day of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.

"So, I'm glad she got elected," Father Rosebrough said with a laugh.

St. Charles Lwanga, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann failed to make the cut this time, but might be picked in the future when the Saints Hall expands. Father Rosebrough sees the Hall as an evolving process of the journey that began in 2005 when Blessed Teresa was formed by the merger of six parishes.

At the time, Father Rosebrough thought about adding diversity in the parish's artwork and statues, but that remained just an idea until August of 2014, when the nearby shooting death of an African-American teenager prompted an explosion of racial tension that had simmered just below the surface for years. Bishop Edward K. Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., articulated that tension in his seminal pastoral letter, "The Racial Divide in the United States," a year ago.

In one section of the pastoral letter, Bishop Braxton suggested visualizing flipped roles, with African-Americans dominating the Catholic Church and Caucasian-Americans seeing few if any white saints, the reverse of reality. After reading the pastoral letter, Father Rosebrough put his thoughts about diverse artwork into action.

Paintings of African-Americans Sister Thea Bowman and Father Augustus Tolton, blessed in September by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, now adorn the back wall at the church, with the Saints Hall of Fame now on the main floor of the school.

Govero immediately embraced the idea of the diverse Hall, which is in line with the school's diverse student body of African-Americans, Anglo-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans learning side by side.

At a dinner with African-American couples last spring, Father Rosebrough received confirmation that he was on the right track in displaying saints of color in the church and the school.

"A young father told me, 'That gesture will have a great effect on my son ... the fact that he sees a saint of color will raise his self-esteem and pride,'" Father Rosebrough said. 

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