If you’ve had a chance to read through this blog at all, you’ll probably have seen that I kind of have a thing for the lives of the saints. I think that Pope Emeritus, Benedict the 16th said it beautifully in his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope): “Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope” (section 49) I think it is really important for my students to learn about some of these stars of the faith, especially those who are still living or not yet canonized. So each month my 8th grade class researches and completes a social justice project related to one of these “stars”.
Here are three Catholic all-stars and some project ideas to go with them.
1. Mother Teresa– I know this one might seem a bit cliche or obvious, but surprisingly, Mother Teresa was a figure of my generation, not my students. From year to year, I am surprised by how little they actually know about her aside from her inspiring quotes that show up on calendars and pinterest. Possible points of emphasis: her ability to see the beauty and potential in everyone she met, the darkness and loneliness she felt for most of her life and the faith it must have taken to continue with her mission in spite of that darkness, or her ability to work with people of any race, gender or religion.
Possible projects: Any service project would be completely appropriate for learning about Mother Teresa. I have also had students connect her work to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which would work really well in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, which starts next month. One year students made picture books using the life of Mother Teresa to teach their younger peace partner class (a buddy system we have at our school) about the works of mercy.
2. Sister Helen Prejean– She’s been featured on this site before, but she’s really just that awesome. She was like me and many other Catholics, doing her good works and never thinking about the death penalty. But then the Holy Spirit put her in a position to learn about capital punishment and the people it affects. She’s really amazing- she went to meet with Saint John Paul II and because of her, he released official Vatican statements on the death penalty. Can you imagine meeting a saint and influencing them? Possible points to emphasize: She doesn’t sugarcoat the wrongdoing of the men she is a spiritual director for, and doesn’t believe they should be free from a life in prison, and she also shows where she has made mistakes in her activism, like when she neglected to meet with the victim’s family in the first execution case where she was involved.
Possible Projects: This year I had students research facts about the death penalty in the United States and then write a persuasive letter. Those students who were in favor of the death penalty wrote to our governor asking him to lift the current moratorium on the death penalty in our state and those who were against wrote to the Bishop of our Diocese asking hi to issue a statement educating Catholics about the church perspective on the death penalty.
3. Dorothy Day– The founder of The Catholic Worker Movement and an activist for equality and nonviolence, Dorothy Day is a great role model with a powerful conversion story. She also founded a newspaper devoted to raising awareness for social justice and houses where the working poor could live. Possible points to emphasize: her rocky path to holiness included an abortion- I wouldn’t avoid talking about this, God calls us no matter who we are or what we have done. I also like to talk about how her faith impacted every aspect of her activism. The story of her conversion is a good point as well.
Possible Projects: Have students create their own newspaper highlighting 3 social justice issues, one in the local community, one in the country and one in the world. I have also had students create their own movement: they identify a problem, make a movement to address it, come up with 5 services they could offer to help the problem and 3 ways the community could get involved with their movement.
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