Kids’ program fail proof, director says

| June 29, 2010 | 0 Comments

A sea of color lit up Holy Family church in St. Louis Park June 25, as more than 300 children and adults wearing bright tie-dyed shirts gathered around the altar for eucharistic adoration.

Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

The assembly was the culmination of the par­ish’s five-day Catholic vacation Bible school that featured the standard games, crafts and music, but centered on meeting Christ in the Blessed Sacra­ment, which was the program’s final event.

This, however, was not adoration in the classic sense. Rather than quiet reflection, the 250 kids engaged in songs and movements practiced all week during their CVBS curriculum. The idea wasn’t so much to look at Jesus, but to experience him in song and prayer.

At the center of it all was Jean Prather, director of the camp who also serves as the director of religious education for Holy Family. She believes that by centering the annual program on the Eucharist, it cannot fail.

Growing participation

The numbers back her up. When she took over the program 10 years ago, about 50 kids attended, mostly from the parish. This year, it drew 250 youth from age 4 through sixth grade from 20 different parishes.

The growth has caused the program to move from the church basement to Holy Family Academy across the street, which offers two floors of classrooms and a basement cafeteria. In addition to the kids, 83 volunteers helped out, 47 of whom were teens.

And, there could have been more kids at the CVBS.

“I could have taken another 100,” Prather said. “But I had no more space and supplies. Comfortably, this facility holds 225 — 250 is max. It’s a good problem to have because it shows the interest and hunger for authentic Catholic curriculum.”

Amazingly, the school had more kids that week than it did during the school year, when 231 kids from preschool to eighth grade were enrolled.

10 tips for a successful vacation Bible school

Want to start a Catholic vacation Bible school at your parish? Jean Prather, director of religious education at Holy Family in St. Louis Park and director of the parish’s vacation Bible school, offers these 10 tips:

1. Meet with your pastor, discuss your ideas with him, and get his support.

2. Ask for the help of parish staff, including the director of religious education and director of faith formation.

3. Recruit volunteers to take charge of various parts like art, music, snacks and the nursery.

4. Have the first planning meeting at least six months in advance.

5. Decide on a location (church, school, etc.).

6. Pick a theme and start looking for materials to go with it.

7. Get the word out (church bulletin, word of mouth, etc.)

8. Get T-shirts made for all participants, both kids and helpers, to create unity.

9. Schedule speakers that fit with the theme.

10. Pray. “The most important thing is to pray, pray, pray,” Prather said. “Pray that the Lord will bless it.”

Many Catholic school buildings are quiet during the summer, but not this one.

School principal Ann Coone stopped by briefly and marveled at the sight of hundreds of people filling the classrooms and hallways wearing their camp T-shirts featuring the letters IHS (a shortened form of Jesus in Greek). There were plenty of repeat attendees, including teens who once came as campers and have returned as helpers.

One of them was Laine Phillips, a parishioner who will be a junior at Holy Family High School in Victoria this fall. She has been coming since the second grade and was joined this year by her five siblings — Cassie, 15, Madison, 13, Grace, 11, Dominic, 10, and Pearl, 7. Cassie and Madison were helpers.

“I just like being around the kids, and I like the way Mrs. Prather teaches,” Laine said. “It’s not the normal vacation Bible school. There is an emphasis on the Catholic faith. I like that.”

So does Father Thomas Dufner, pastor of Holy Family, who led the eucharistic adoration.

“It’s something I believe in and it works,” he said. “It’s an awesome experience to see kids who love Jesus and love the church.”

Source and summit

There is a theme for each year, and this year’s was “Our Lady of the Rosary.” Every child received a booklet with lessons for each day, beginning with the story of the apparition of Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1916. On successive days, they learned more of the story, and they also learned about the Eucharist as they prepared for the chance to participate in adoration on the last day.

As the children filled the sanctuary, their parents and grandparents filled the pews. Tim Heeren knelt down in the front pew with his son, Andrew, while two of his older children prayed with the other kids in the sanctuary. Nearby, his wife held their newborn child.

“Jesus said, ‘Bring the little children,’” Tim said. “I think it [adoration] is an important part of vacation Bible school. We all know it [Eucharist] is the source and summit of our faith.”

Naturally, a priest such as Father Dufner might wonder if one of the boys in the crowd will end up consecrating the Eucharist some day. For him, however, it’s already a reality. He noted that five priests ordained in the last seven years have come from Holy Family, along with three current seminarians.

One of the priests, Father Patrick Barnes, was just ordained in May.

Parents aren’t necessarily thinking this far ahead. They are merely enjoying the fruits of Prather’s hard work in writing a curriculum that she’s now sharing with parishes in the archdiocese and beyond.

“We love how Jean does everything; it’s so beautiful,” said Cathie Baier of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bloomington, who sent four of her kids to the program this year. “My children want to attend any program she offers because, not only is it beautifully and faithfully Catholic, it speaks to the children. Jean has a way of conveying the Catholic faith to children like no other person I’ve met.”

Several years ago, Baier told Susan Mielke from the Diocese of New Ulm about the program. Mielke and three other volunteers got it up and running at their parish, St. Pius X in Glencoe. Like Baier, she now sings the program’s praises.

I can’t even begin to describe how incredible the curriculum is,” Mielke said. “Many graces come for me, all the teachers and our students each year. I watched my 11-year-old son go through a mini conversion this year during our CVBS. I just know that this curriculum comes to us from the Holy Spirit via Jean.”

Though people like Baier and Mielke are eager to give praise to Prather, she, herself, prefers to credit God and his grace for the program’s success.

“God just pours out his grace,” she said. “It’s a blessed week. We strive to form the kids in the beauty and fullness of the Catholic teachings. We try to make it beautiful.”

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Category: What Works