Evangelization motivated National History Day winners

| Caroline Rode | July 1, 2013 | 0 Comments
After the girls performed in finals, (from left to right) Maggie Schmidt, Carly Zimmerman and Kateri Schmidt hold a sign from their performance that reads solidarity in Polish. Photo courtesy of Greg Schmidt

After the girls performed in finals, (from left to right) Maggie Schmidt, Carly Zimmerman and Kateri Schmidt hold a sign from their performance that reads solidarity in Polish. Photo courtesy of Greg Schmidt

With more than 2,000 years of existence, it’s no surprise that people continue to study the Catholic Church’s vast history.

Three girls from West St. Paul took one event in Church history and ended up creating a prize-winning performance.

Sisters Kateri and Maggie Schmidt and friend and classmate Carly Zimmerman, all from St. Joseph in West St. Paul, participated in National History Day, a competition involving middle and high school students that is co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society.

They won first place in the senior group performance category for “John Paul II’s Apostolic Journey to Poland.”

But the girls said they weren’t there necessarily to win, but to evangelize.

“Why can’t we do something and put the Church in a good light?” Maggie Schmidt said.

The three homeschooled students — Carly, ninth grade; Maggie, 10th grade and Kateri, 11th grade — spent months researching the topic and presented their research at regionals in March before heading for the national competition at the University of Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., June 9 to 13.

Preparing the drama

The 10-minute performance included narration, short scenes and portrayals of communist Poland and how Pope John Paul II’s election eventually led to the fall of communism in the coutnry.

The girls had to get creative, as some of the parts were male.

“He’s [Pope John Paul II] such a famous historical figure, and we’re all girls,” Kateri Schmidt said. “We didn’t want to play him” and have it seem artificial.

Instead, Maggie Schmidt stood behind a picture of Pope John Paul II and recited some of his most famous quotes.

The performance started with a short introduction about what the Polish regime was like before the pope’s election in 1978.

Then two of the girls acted out a scene in which a Catholic must take down his cross as part of the religious oppression in Poland at the time. The announcement of the pope’s election is overheard on a radio broadcast.

When the newly elected pope visits Poland, there is a picture of John Paul II revealed from under a black cloth on a backdrop.

After, the girls acted out a scene that featured Lech Walesa, a union leader in Poland’s reform movement who was inspired by the pope’s visit and who was Poland’s second president from 1990 to 1995. The performance wrapped up with the girls reciting quotes from the different characters.

They decided to portray the pope through the Polish people’s eyes.

“The focus isn’t so much on the pope as an individual. That’s really important, but we more focused on his impact in Poland,” Kateri Schmidt said.

Keeping a story like this one under 10 minutes was a challenge for the girls. One night, Maggie Schmidt went to eucharistic adoration with the script and a pen and got to work cutting lines. The next morning, the girls discovered that Zimmerman, too, had revised the script, and the two had cut out nearly all the same lines.

“We really grew to love the topic because it wasn’t just something that we were interested in, but we really felt truly passionate about the research that we were doing,” Maggie Schmidt said.

“Our parents didn’t want us to go if the only reason we were going to go was to compete,” Zimmerman said. “They really wanted it to be something where we could evangelize about this event that no one knows about.”

The road to nationals

At first, nationals wasn’t even an option. At state, they were awarded third place. Only the top two places get to travel to nationals. But when the second place group could not attend, they were up next.

The day before they left for nationals, Kateri Schmidt was diagnosed with mononucleosis and Lyme Disease, and Zimmerman got the flu the first day at nationals.

“I was in tears the morning of,” Maggie Schmidt said.

But facing illness and arriving at the wrong room that day, the girls took it in stride, continuing through the rounds at nationals. The girls agreed that historical drama is the most stressful format, but that the audience excitement helped.

“People really want to come see the performances just because it’s interesting, it’s exciting and it’s more high pressure,” Kateri Schmidt said. “You feel the excitement when you’re there and you get a lot of people coming to see them.”

Along with medals, the group also will receive $1,000. The girls don’t have any official plans yet for how they’ll use their winnings.

For Kateri, Maggie and Carly, the biggest takeaway was learning to trust in God.

“If he wanted us to do this, then he was going to be able to make it happen, and if he didn’t, then it was out of our hands,” Kateri Schmidt said.

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