Traveling crucifixes help students think about, pray for vocations

| Susan Klemond | January 29, 2018 | 0 Comments


With the traveling crucifix set up on a table in the classroom, sixth-graders at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic School in Delano pray for vocations along with teacher Sherry Carroll. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Eleven-year-old John Manuel was intrigued when his teacher brought a small, wooden case into his classroom last November.

“I thought it was really cool,” said Manuel, a fifth-grade student at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic School in Delano. “There was kind of a mysterious box, and when she opened it, it was the crucifix with a bunch of little prayer cards with it.”

For a week in Sheila Barth’s class, the crucifix was a daily reminder to her 14 students to pray for their own vocation and for others until they returned it to the handmade box and brought it to another class.

During the past year, local Serra Clubs have been bringing small crucifixes to grade schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a tangible tool for prayer and education about vocations, and to encourage students to think about where God might be calling them. Founders of a program that encourages parish families to take home chalices to pray for vocations, Serra Clubs now are also promoting school crucifixes, which they say are more practical and will help them reach children more directly.

Six archdiocesan Serra Clubs have provided crucifixes that are now in about 30 archdiocesan elementary schools with several more waiting to receive them, said Judy Cozzens, president-elect of the USA Council of Serra International and mother of Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens. Local clubs hope to offer the crucifixes to all archdiocesan grade schools and eventually to high schools, she said. Serra leaders are also promoting the program nationwide.

Serra International is a lay Catholic apostolate based in Chicago with 15,000 members in 36 countries who seek to grow in personal holiness while fostering vocations to the priesthood and vowed religious life through prayer and programs. The USA Council of Serra International, one of 10 national and regional councils worldwide, represents the 214 U.S. Serra Clubs, including seven clubs in the archdiocese with about 325 members.

After piloting the program in several schools last spring, Serrans encouraged schools to sign up last fall to receive the crucifix kits. The clubs pay for the kits, which are made locally and consist of a case, a crucifix, prayer cards and sometimes lesson plans. The schools rotate the crucifix among classes. While the crucifixes are initially for classroom use, local clubs are considering providing more kits so that students can take them home, Cozzens said.

Last fall, Frank Renshaw, a member of the Northwest-Hennepin Serra Club, delivered crucifixes to St. Maximilian Kolbe, four other west metro schools and the high school youth ministry coordinator at his parish, Holy Name of Jesus in Medina. He is now working with two fellow parishioners to design and build more kits.

The lesson materials in the kits “get teachers involved and focused on vocations themselves as well as letting the children realize that they need to follow Jesus and walk in his paths,” Renshaw said.

The materials opened a door to talk about vocations, even in classes such as social studies, said Barth, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in Watertown.

Renshaw said the traveling crucifixes go beyond the classroom walls and encourage families to pray for vocations and consider their own faith lives.

“If you get the kids, the kids will bring the parents to church,” he said.

It’s important to make children aware early of the need to pray about God’s will for them, said Judy Makowske, president of the North Minneapolis Serra Club and a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony. “Nothing can happen without prayer. This is just a good introduction to vocations for children.”

The north Minneapolis club provided a crucifix for Sacred Heart Catholic School in Robbinsdale and plans to distribute about six more in the next several months, Makowske said. The school crucifix program replaces the parish chalice program, which it started in the early 1990s.

The traveling crucifix plays an important role at St. Maximilian Kolbe, which has 88 pre-K through sixth-grade students, said Mary Ziebell, principal and a parishioner of St. Richard in Richfield.

“It’s one of those little blessings that’s part of our daily life here at school,” she said. “We like to include all of those small things that just become part of the culture here and who we are.”

The crucifix reminds students to pray for their pastor, too, Barth said.

“They realize that not only should they maybe contemplate a religious vocation for themselves as time goes on, but also to pray for our current priests and religious,” she said.

Manuel said he prayed with the crucifix about his own vocation — he said he’s open to the idea of the priesthood — and for his grandfather, Deacon Michael DeWitte, who ministers at Guardian Angels in Chaska.

Said Barth: “I think [students] are just at the very beginning of exploring all the different options that they have. I think sometimes children think that there’s only marriage and single life. In our Catholic schools, we really want them to know that there are the priesthood and religious life as well.”

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