School families take faith formation seriously

On the last day of the school year at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School, Msgr. Norbert Ernst thanked the parents and graduates who joined the students at Mass.

"Thank you Lord that my parents sent me to a Catholic school," was a refrain the parish pastor repeated in a song he sang during the homily May 25. He spoke of the need for a firm foundation in Jesus and His teachings and for being His hands and heart to others.

The parents at the school in south St. Louis County don't simply send the students there for their religious instruction — they take a role, thanks in part to a faith development committee of the Home and School Association. One of the activities they developed was a pilgrimage challenge to encourage families to grow in their faith by exploring many of the churches, shrines and holy sites in the archdiocese. Each family was provided with a list of 13 suggested locations and asked to take family photos during their visits.

"Our goal is to foster and encourage faith formation at home by providing resources and opportunities to families to develop a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith," said Pete Holcomb, co-chair of the faith development committee.

St. Louis has a rich Catholic history, so visiting the shrines and churches is "a great way for families to explore their faith together, have little outings and adventures to these sites," Holcomb said.

At the closing Mass, the Blanner family was recognized for visiting 10 of the 13 sites and for compiling a scrapbook of their visits.

The Blanners have eight children, with the youngest four attending St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Mary Blanner said she and her husband, Jeffery, visited pilgrimage sites during the Year of Mercy, 2015-16, and enjoyed it. This time, mom and dad Blanner's favorite site was the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, which is the parish they attend. Other family favorites included the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, where they were drawn to an interesting history involving the underground railroad and the presence of relics.

Traveling to Mass at a destination makes the faith more important to the family, Mary Blanner said. "It's not like just stopping in at Mass and then going to a game," she said.

Their children appreciated it, she added: "They were happy to go and like to learn."

Jeffery Blanner referred to the Gospel and Msgr. Ernst's comments at Mass, adding that a family's activities and focus on the faith relate to "building a foundation of your domestic Church."

Holcomb agreed, noting that "anytime we can show our kids the beauty of our faith is a great experience for us." He's planning on taking his family this summer to some of the sites they missed during the school year. His favorite site so far is the cathedral basilica. He talked to his children about its history, its mosaics and St. John Paul II's visit there.

The committee also had an initiative to introduce parents to perpetual adoration. "As much as we can help families in this day and age, with their attention being pulled in different directions, to help them with their faith, that's our goal," Holcomb said.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School is "just a wonderful community," he said. "You feel like you're part of a family. It's a very caring place and there's always a lot going on. And I think they offer a great education there." 

Summertime advice

Msgr. Norbert Ernst, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish, asked students at a Mass closing the school year to stay in touch during the summer.

"Remember to come to church on Sunday. Ask mom and dad to bring you to church," he said.

Father Scott Scheiderer, associate pastor, invited students to come by for daily Mass as well and to stop in at other times to see the parish staff if they'd like.

Msgr. Ernst added other advice. "Don't live according to the spirit of the world. Live according to the spirit of God," he said, giving the example of the world's focus on revenge vs. the way of Jesus and forgiveness.

Families also were encouraged to visit any of the sites they may have missed on the school's pilgrimage challenge. Those sites are: The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis; The Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (The Old Cathedral); The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows; Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne; Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos; Shrine of St. Joseph; Chapel of the Precious Blood — Carmel of Saint Joseph (Carmelite Nuns); Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet; St. Francis Xavier (College) Church; Kenrick-Glennon Seminary; Cardinal Rigali Center; The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; Monastery of Saint Clare of the Immaculate Conception — The Poor Clares of St. Louis. 

Faith development

The St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School Faith Development Committee has a mission to support the faith development and spiritual growth of school families. Structured around the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — The Profession of Faith (we believe), The Celebration of the Christian Mystery (we celebrate), Life in Christ (we live), and Christian Prayer (we pray) — the committee's goal is to foster and encourage faith formation at home by providing resources and opportunities for families to develop a deeper understanding of their Catholic faith.

Committee Chairs are Pete Holcomb and Kristen Driskill. Marianne Freiling, principal of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School, said the committee fills a need by helping parents connect with the Church "so they feel they are active members of our Church." 

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