Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

As I wrote the title for this post, I was immediately transported to a rainy morning in Toronto, Canada. I am 15 years old, and I have been waiting at the barricades since dawn, in the pouring rain, knowing that HE would be driving by soon. Because I am small, and despite several language barriers, as the time draws near I am hefted up onto a German man’s shoulders and immediately handed at least ten cameras. (We didn’t really do cell phone cameras yet.) By the time John Paul the Second drives through the crowd I am soaked, excited and screaming along with everyone around me, “JP 2, We Love You!” to which the now saint replied, “JP 2, he loves you!”

John Paul the Second is one of my favorite saints for many reasons, but getting to see him at World Youth Day is certainly in the top five. John Paul the Second was a pope of so many firsts: first non-Italian pope in centuries, first pope to travel extensively, first pope to add to the mysteries of the rosary, first pope to rally the youth of the Church and so many more. I think it’s super important that our students get to meet this groundbreaking man, and since his feast day is next week, this is the perfect time to teach about John Paul II.

In honor of his feast day on the 22nd, I wanted to share a project I have used for many years to help students learn more about John Paul II. We focus on learning about his life and then three specific things he did during his papacy: start World Youth Day, add the luminous mysteries to the rosary, and canonize 483 saints, more than any other pope before him. As we learn more about him, students get a chance to take one of these three accomplishments and create a project based around it.

Project 1: The Luminous Mysteries. When students choose this project, they research the history of the luminous mysteries and why the Holy Father added them to the Rosary. They then go through the gospels and create a new set of 5 mysteries of the rosary, using the life of Jesus and the gospels. Some of my favorites in the past have been The Mysterious Mysteries of the Rosary, which focused on tricky stories like the cursing of the fig tree and the calling of Bartholomew, and The Mysteries of Exorcism, which are exactly what they sound like.

Project 2: Design a World Youth Day. When students choose this project, they research the history of World Youth Day and why the Holy Father decided that meeting the youth of his church was so important. Then they research the city where the next WYD will be held and create their own design for the stage and events for each day. They also create a World Youth Day symbol for the stage. Some of my favorites include the year a group made a 3D stage/altar, and the group that had themselves as a headlining band.

Project 3: Modern Saints. When students choose this project, they each research a saint canonized by the Holy Father and write a brief biography describing why this person is a good role model for Catholics today. Then they write the story of how they became saints and create a book mixing the saints with their own “saint” stories. This project tends to be picked the most, probably because saints are so relatable. I also think my own enthusiasm for the lives of the saints leads students in this direction.

Want to do this project with your students? Here are the handouts I use in my class:

And here are a few student friendly bios of John Paul the Second:
Biography.com
John Paul the Second Shrine
Loyola Press

Check back for pictures of student projects soon, or put pictures of the projects your students complete in the comments! When I am back from maternity leave I will add some student work to the post. Happy feast day JP II!


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