Celebrate a Feast Day

I originally published this post before our school’s feast day (St. Joseph Day), but yesterday as my family celebrated my baptism day, I thought this might be a good resource for starting to celebrate baptism days and feast days in your classroom. My family has always celebrated our baptism days with all the special things people do for birthdays- cake, parties, presents and special treats. Because we also celebrate birthdays, this meant two special days that were all about you, which in a family of nine, felt pretty darn special. This year in my class I want to celebrate the baptism days of my students with a small treat or extra recess. For my students who aren’t baptized, I want to celebrate a saint’s day, so that every student has a special faith celebration day.

I’ve always loved a good feast day. I remember the year our son was born, I was sooooo excited to take him to mass on his feast day. We were going to bring his icon of Saint Maximilian and his icon of Saint Jude, along with some medals and rosaries to be blessed. I dressed him in his cutest panda onesie and we were out the door and on to noon mass. It wasn’t until the end of mass, when Father pointed out that it was Max’s feast day that I realized the entire back of his onesie was black and white striped. If you are familiar with the story of Maximilian Kolbe, you can see why I was suddenly horrified that the entire church was now looking at my baby, who appeared to be dressed as a prisoner. (Maximilian Kolbe heroically died in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz.) After mass Father told me he had in fact thought that I dressed Max as his patron saint, and we laughed about it before he blessed our various religious icons and medals.

Celebrating feast days is another way to connect students to the joy of faith. Often times in religious education we get so focused on what we want students to know that we forget who we want them to know. Our end goal should be a personal relationship with Jesus. While prayers and facts can certainly help strengthen that relationship and even help begin the process of forming the relationship, the experiences of joyfully lived faith are going to last a lot longer in our students’ memories than the exact wording of Exodus 20 and the 10 Commandments.

Faith is a family. In a family you celebrate birthdays, achievements, and anniversaries, both happy and sad. Feast days are a great way to introduce your students to their family of faith.

If you’re new to the feast day game, here are some ideas to help you get started. First, start with your school’s patron saint. Our school is Saint Joseph’s, and luckily, this was a feast my family celebrated in style growing up. Because I grew up in North Jersey with an Italian godmother, I learned to celebrate this feast the way the Italian American community does: with lots of food. For Saint Joseph’s day you have spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread, and zeppole for dessert. Last year our school had a marvelous procession in honor of our patron saint, which you can read about here, and I brought zeppole in for my students, even though I had to get up at 4 am to fry them all. So if your school has a patron, research their feast day. Maybe there are fun foods and traditions for your saint.

If your school doesn’t have a specific saint of obvious feast day, you could pick a feast that is special for the Church. Any of the Holy Days of Obligation would be an easy and obvious choice. For Immaculate Conception you could have a Mary crowning or do a special mass or living rosary. I’ve written a lot about All Saints Day on the blog because it’s my favorite, and the internet is full of great ideas for how to celebrate All Saints with students.

I think the formula I would use to start a feast day is this: prayer + food + fun. Students will remember the food and fun, which will hopefully bring them back to the prayer and the meaning of the feast day.

Wish us luck- for this year’s celebration of our feast day, my students are already scheming about how to get donuts out to the whole school. If you have a favorite feast day celebration or food, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments!

A saint who changed the way the world prays: Resources and ideas to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday

It’s still one of my favorite teaching moments. I was staring at the student saint requests for our living saints project. Five different students had requested to perform as St. Faustina Kowalski for our living saints performance on All Saints Day. For a pretty obscure saint with a hard to pronounce name, she certainly had a large fan group in this class. I remembered studying her life with the class the year before, but I wanted to hear from the students themselves why they wanted to perform her life for the school. The response I got from one of the girls was so inspiring she got the role on the spot.

“I feel like she just really listened to God, and because of that, she changed the way the world prays,” the student told me. Then, after a pause, she added, “I want to listen like that.”

St. Faustina has been one of my favorites for a long time now. I was first introduced to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in middle school, probably around the time she was canonized in the year 2000. Since then, the prayer has been with me at all the most difficult times in my life. And St. Faustina has walked my faith journey with me. If our son had been a girl, he would have been named for her.

With Divine Mercy Sunday just around the corner on April 19th, I wanted to share some resources for you to share with students and families to help them learn about St. Faustina, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Divine Mercy Sunday. Some links are to other blog posts, some are to free resources I have created and some are affiliate links to Amazon resources. Each link will be clearly marked with its type.

Links to Resources on Amazon:

(these are affiliate links- this means if you purchase a resource, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.)

1. The Diary of St. Faustina– one of the things Jesus asked St. Faustina to do was to keep a diary of their conversations. This diary is huge, but an amazing spiritual resource. One of my life goals is to read the whole thing straight through, but as of yet I have only prayed with portions of the text.
2.St. Faustina Kowalska: Messenger of Mercy– I love the Encounter the Saints Series from Pauline Media. They are easily readable books of about 100-125 pages geared toward middle grade readers. I still use them with my middle school students because it introduces them to in depth reading about saints at a level almost all of them can handle.
3. Divine Mercy Prayer Cards– The ten pack was the most economical way to find these on Amazon. They make great end of year or confirmation gift!

Other blog posts with St. Faustina:
Knowing the Saints
Five Prayers Every Catholic Kid Should Know (and why)
Five ways to have a Holy Lent
Books to Use During Lent

Free Resources:

I hope you and your family had an amazing Easter and look forward to hearing hor you celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday this week. Let me know your great ideas in the comments!

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week: Succeed

In planning Catholic Schools Week with my students, there’s a moment each year that warms my heart. Two years ago, when planning this day, one student suggested that the whole day be about saints, because they were the ultimate success story. I can’t really top that, so here are four ideas for the theme succeed.

  1. Pick a patron saint for the day. It could be fun to pick a variety of saints who had different types of “success” and then dramatically changed their lives to reflect the gospel. Ignatius Loyola, Francis of Assisi, Katharine Drexel, Rose of Lima and many more would make great choices for this day.
  2. Dress in college swag. While I am a firm believer that college isn’t the path for every student I teach, going to college is still a large marker of educational success. The local Catholic high school uses it as one of their main marketing tools. Also, this is a free dress option that most students and staff will be able to do without a whole lot of fuss.
  3. Dress as a favorite saint. The year we did this was probably my favorite ever. At our St. Blaise prayer service which coincided with our saint day, the entire gym was filled with saints blessing saints. It was amazing.
  4. Have students create a commercial about success. For this I would show a few inspirational commercials about unexpected “success” stories. I love Nike’s Iron Nun commercial and the Find your greatness series. After finding some inspiration, students can work in teams to act out their own commericials about what success looks like. If you want to be an overachiever, film the commericials and share with your school community.

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week: Lead

One of the amazing things about Catholic education is the way that students are asked to lead. At our school, from kindergarten on, students are given the chance to read and sing in front of the whole school at prayer services, masses, Christmas programs, concerts and more. They are asked to think critically about problems facing the community and try be part of the solution. Here are five ideas for celebrating leaders in your school:

  1. Choose a patron saint for the day. John Paul II, John the 23rd, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, and many other saints would be a good example of leadership,
  2. Dress as someone who is a model of leadership. The year we did this, it was so inspiring to see who the students and staff chose to dress as. I came to school as Sally Ride, and some highlights included Malala, Pope Francis, Clara Barton, Joan of Arc, various presidents and more.
  3. Create a “trust” maze. My coworker showed me this and I am stealing the idea from her. She drew a pretty simple maze in chalk on the parking lot, then had students try to lead a blindfolded classmate through by giving directions. Students had a blast, and it stressed the importance of good leadership. If you had enough space, you could make several and classes could take turns completing the activity.
  4. What makes a good leader? Have a class discussion where students brainstorm the characteristics of a good leader. Then use those characteristics as a jumping off point for some time of self reflection. Students can take some time to think of ways they are already good leaders, and think about some of the characteristics they would like to develop more in their own lives.
  5. Learn about church leadership in your area. Find out more about your pastor, bishop, and even Pope Francis. Students could read biographies of these leaders, or maybe even have the pastor visit classrooms to talk about what it’s like to lead a parish and a school. You could also have a leadership panel with leaders of ministries so students can see how they can be leaders in the church as lay people too.

All Saints Party Ideas

It’s always bugged me a little that so many classrooms at our school have Halloween parties instead of All Saints parties, and while I am known to be the grumpy staff member about this, I have conceded that I am not going to win that battle at my school. But my hope is that this post could convince a few readers to try their hand at throwing an All Saints Party in their class this year. It’s just as easy as a Halloween Party, and because it’s the day after, parents could use your party as a way to offload candy and treats from the day before. Here are some simple ways to celebrate the saints in your class this November 1st.

Decor: I have this one pretty easy. As part of my Pick a Patron Saint Project, students create Facebook pages for saints. We hang these around the room. My students also create icons as part of the 7th grade art curriculum, so sometimes if the students have finished that project we have extra fancy decorations. Here are some ideas for decorating your classroom if you don’t have student art:

  • Make tissue paper flowers. Many saints are connected with the idea of roses: Elizabeth of Hungary, Juan Diego, Therese of Lisieux, Rose of Lima and more.
  • Hang a decorative mirror. Write the words “This is what a future saint looks like” on the mirror.
  • Cut out a bunch of fun shapes. On each shape write a saint fact. For example, a cow could say “St. Brigid of Ireland is the patron saint of dairy farmers.” Or a sun could say “St. Francisco and St. Jacinta saw the sun dance in the sky in Fatima.”

Games: There are lots of ways to adapt fun party games for a specifically saint themed party. Obviously you may want to tailor your games to the ages of your students, but I’ve discovered that middle schoolers sometimes love the silly little kid games they played in elementary school. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

  • All Saints Bingo. At the bottom of this post is a template I made for my class, but I’m sure there are other versions online. I give the students the saint biographies at the beginning of the week so that they are familiar with each of the saints by the time we play.
  • Pin the Halo on the Saint. In my class we will be using a poster of Saint Joseph, because he is the patron of our school. You can use any saint you like to play this version of pin the tail on the Donkey, You could also change what you are pinning depending on the saint. For example, pin the stars on the tilma, or pin the shamrocks on Patrick, etc.
  • Saints Musical Chairs. In this version of the game, there are enough chairs for all students, and each chair has a picture of the saint on it. When the music stops, pick a random Saint name, remove that chair, and that student is out.

Food: I’ve always been a fan of themed foods, so here are some ideas that could be a lot of fun:

  • St. Michael’s deviled eggs
  • Angel food cake
  • St. Lawrence’s grilled cheese
  • St. Margaret of Antioch’s dragonfruit
  • St. Lucy’s chocolate eye balls

I hope these ideas inspire some fun celebrations in your classroom!  Let me know your favorite ways to celebrate the saints in the comments.





Pick a Patron Saint Project

Saints are an important part of any Catholic religion program, and it always makes me sad that my students know so few.  A few years ago our art teacher as school started incorporating writing icons into her curriculum, and it seemed like a great opportunity to work more saint research into religion class.  So now every year, right at the beginning of October, the 7th graders start on the Pick a Patron Saint project.  Throughout the project they will do initial research on as many as 12 saints, and then eventually they will choose one potential patron saint and create a paper based Facebook page for the saint.

For the first step of the project, I gather as many old saint books as I can from around the school.  The library has a complete set of the old classic Butlers Lives of the Saints, and I really like the Picture Book of Saints as well.  Using the Pick A Patron Saint Project Library the students research the lives of saints whose feast day is on or near their birthdays, as well as saints with their name or a similar name.

The next step is the computer research phase.  Once students have completed the library research, they use the Pick A Patron Saint Project Computer worksheet to research the patron saints of things that relate to them, such as athletes, brothers, sisters, students etc.  Because each page has a spot for six different saints, and two per sheet that the student has researched more thoroughly, they now have a lot of information to sort through to pick the saint they want to have as their patron.

Once the students have picked a saint, they then create a “Saintsbook” page for the saint.  Here is my example one for Saint Gianna that I created in class last year with the students.

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Here is the SaintsBook Project assignment sheet that I used last year and the SaintsBook Rubric 2018 that I used to grade students.  I know that I normally attach files as a PDF, but because the websites change and you may want to tweak the requirements to meet your needs, I have left everything editable.

I hope these ideas help to make your class’s celebration of All Saints even more meaningful!

The Little Way of Holiness

Our annual middle school retreat was a huge success! While I have so many amazing things to share about it, first I wanted to post the talk I gave on St. Therese’s little way of holiness. She was the patron and theme for our day and it was such a wonderful time of prayer, sharing and fun. I hope this helps you find encouragement today and maybe gives you some ideas for talking about the saints in your class.

The Little Way of Holiness

There’s a quote from Mother Teresa that I’ve seen many times and in many places.  “I cannot do great things,” Mother Teresa said. “I can only do small things with great love.”  While I find this quote super inspiring, I also struggle a little bit with it. If you know anything about Mother Teresa, you know that she did do great things.  She completely changed the world. But Mother Teresa’s words are still true, and they are a great illustration of the topic I am going to be speaking about, which is the little way of holiness that St. Therese of Lisieux lived and taught. 

We’ve already heard about who St. Therese was and how she lived, first in a tight knit family of sisters, then in a convent of sisters for the last 9 years of her life.  Aside from her trip to Rome, Therese in many ways lived a very small life- literally, she only lived until 24 and she never left the convent grounds once she entered them at 15.  It was on her trip to Rome that she saw something that would inspire her teachings of the “little way”. Here’s what she wrote in her autobiography, Story of a Soul.

Instead of being discouraged, I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realised, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. I have sought to find in Holy Scripture some suggestion as to what this lift might be which I so much desired, and I read these words uttered by the Eternal Wisdom Itself: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me.”[4] Then I drew near to God, feeling sure that I had discovered what I sought.

Already I find it encouraging that Therese’s spirituality is inspired by such an ordinary thing: an elevator! She and her sister saw these for the first time on their trip to Rome and thought they were the coolest thing. It seems so relatable to me to think of the elevator as a way of skipping the hard ways to perfection: heroic martyrdom or great deeds. Therese wasn’t afraid to ask God for a different way to reach her goal.

The first step to Therese’s little way is this: think small.  Instead of worrying about all the big things you can’t do, instead find the small things that you can do. Therese tells a story of her first years in the convent.  She was very young and had been very spoiled in her life before becoming a sister. One of her first jobs was to sweep, and she received a lot of criticism from the other sisters for her lack of ability in what were pretty normal chores.  Instead of worrying about it, Therese made sweeping a way that she could show her love to the people criticizing her.

The next step to the little way is the one that gives me the most hope: know that you can’t be perfect.  In middle school, you have a lot of pressure on you. Our school is an academically challenging school. Some of you are facing big pressure from family and friends to get certain grades, do well in certain sports or have certain friends and attitudes.  The good news from St. Therese is: you can’t be perfect. Even the people you look at and think, “Oh, they’re perfect, they have it so easy,” aren’t perfect. In some ways, letting go of trying to be perfect can feel like giving up, but it’s not. Letting go of being perfect is being free to let God do big things in your life. 

Another way Therese lived her little way of holiness was to never let people know that she found them irritating.  Living in close quarters with a small community of women for nine years wasn’t easy for her, and there was one sister who Therese really struggled to get along with.  She found everything about this nun annoying, so she made a special effort to be extra nice to her. After Therese died, the nuns were talking about her, and the super annoying nun said that of course it was hard for everyone, but Therese had been especially close to her, so of course it was harder.  Therese had hidden her irritation and been so kind that the sister had no idea that Therese struggled so much. 

 Part of the little way of holiness is to not draw attention to the small ways you are trying to spread love.  This is hard for me. It was hard for Therese. It’s natural to want to be acknowledged for doing the right thing and for being extra kind, but that’s not why we need to do the right thing.  We need to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, and I promise people will notice. Therese became a saint in record time because people read her book and did notice.

Holiness is hard.  When you are trying your best to be holy, people often misunderstand you or judge you.  I was 12 years old when I had an experience that completely changed my life. My class was praying in front of the blessed sacrament when all of the sudden, I knew- really knew- that Jesus was there.  Jesus loved me! It was something I had always been told and always known, but in that moment I had a powerful experience of God’s love. I started to sob, which as you can probably guess is super embarrassing in a quiet church filled with all your friends.  When I tried to describe what was happening to my teachers, they thought I was crazy, all except for one. My friends thought that I was making the whole thing up to get attention. But that day in front of the Eucharist was real, and it’s part of the reason why I want you all to have a chance to meet Jesus in the Eucharist.  

Therese’s small community couldn’t always understand what God was doing in her life, but the ones who could saw that it was something big.  In your walk towards holiness, expect that others won’t always understand what God is doing in your life.

This last part of the little way is the part that isn’t super fun to think about.  Holiness is often accompanied by suffering. Therese suffered in many different ways.  She was lonely being the youngest nun in the order. Her father suffered from a really intense physical and  mental illness before he died, and this was incredibly painful for Therese and her sisters. Therese also died a drawn out and painful death from tuberculosis.  When you are trying to be holy, God knows what you can handle and you often have to handle some pretty difficult things.

But to end on a more positive note, even when holiness seems too hard or out of reach, you can always start small.  I know it can be a little scary, but I really want you to try to close your eyes and listen to this song. Use this as a time of prayer and reflection on the Little Way of Holiness.

Play “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson. *

So, to wrap up, remember the parts of the Little Way of Holiness:
Think Small.
Remember that you can’t be perfect.
Do kind acts in a way where you won’t receive attention.
Holiness is hard and often accompanied by suffering.

If you are already on the road to holiness, that’s awesome- recommit to that path today.  If holiness is a new endeavor for you, remember that you can do small things with great love every single day.

*The song link is an affiliate link. This means that if you purchase this song, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Forget not Love

This post contains affiliate links. This means if you purchase a book using my link, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

I don’t know when I first heard the story of Maximilian Kolbe, but as soon as I did, I knew his example would have a profound impact on my life. When my son was born, we named him Maximilian Jude, and my dad, sender of most of my spiritual books, sent me Forget Not Love which is a biography of the great saint written at the time of his canonization.

It wasn’t until recently when I was talking to a friend about my son being named for this great saint that I realized many people don’t know Maximilian’s story. For some reason I had just assumed that even outside of Catholic circles his story of heroism might have leaked out. But if you don’t know his story, I will give an abridged version here.

Maximilian was born in Poland in 1894, and when he was 12 years old, Mary appeared to him, offering him two crowns. White meant he would live a pure life, and red meant he would die a martyr. Maximilian asked her for both. Later he became a Franciscan friar and devoted his life to spreading Marian devotion through a series of newspapers and radio programs. He founded several monasteries, including one in Poland that would become a major religious publishing house.

When World War Two began, Maximilian continued publishing work and refused to take a vow that would make him a German citizen. He and his brothers also hid 2,000 Jews on the grounds of their monastery. But it was his anti-Nazi radio comments that led to his arrest and eventual imprisonment at Auschwitz. While he was there, the guards were choosing 10 men to die in the starvation bunker, and Maximilian offered to take the place of a man weeping for his wife and children. The man Maximilian saved was reunited with his wife and present at Maximilian’s canonization.

Maximilian died after two tortuous weeks in a starvation bunker, where he helped keep his companions calm by leading them in prayer. When he was canonized, he was recognized as a confessor and a martyr, and the red and white canonization flags were flown. I can’t help but think back to Mary’s promise with the two crowns.

Forget Not Love gave me much more insight into Maximilian’s story before his heroic death. I learned more about his devotion to the Blessed Mother and more about his dedication to spreading the good news through modern communications, which is inspiring for me as I try to build up Catholic teachers through this blog. I felt more convinced than ever that we had given our son a powerful patron saint to learn from and live like. I also connected strongly with the story of Mary and the crowns, because while it didn’t have the same dramatic setting, my own faith was deepened drastically in a time of prayer I had at summer camp when I was twelve. I look to that moment as the time when I decided that my faith and my relationship with God are the most important things in my life. Everything has been different since that moment.

Popcorn rating: 3 There were times when the translation was clunky, and periodically the jumping back and forth from 1982 (When Kolbe was canonized) to his life was confusing.
Stars: 4. I was very inspired to pray the rosary more after reading this book. I also filled my amazon wishlist with books by Maximilian Kolbe.

Celebrate a Feast Day

I’ve always loved a good feast day. I remember the year our son was born, I was sooooo excited to take him to mass on his feast day. We were going to bring his icon of Saint Maximilian and his icon of Saint Jude, along with some medals and rosaries to be blessed. I dressed him in his cutest panda onesie and we were out the door and on to noon mass. It wasn’t until the end of mass, when Father pointed out that it was Max’s feast day that I realized the entire back of his onesie was black and white striped. If you are familiar with the story of Maximilian Kolbe, you can see why I was suddenly horrified that the entire church was now looking at my baby, who appeared to be dressed as a prisoner. (Maximilian Kolbe heroically died in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz.) After mass Father told me he had in fact thought that I dressed Max as his patron saint, and we laughed about it before he blessed our various religious icons and medals.

Celebrating feast days is another way to connect students to the joy of faith. Often times in religious education we get so focused on what we want students to know that we forget who we want them to know. Our end goal should be a personal relationship with Jesus. While prayers and facts can certainly help strengthen that relationship and even help begin the process of forming the relationship, the experiences of joyfully lived faith are going to last a lot longer in our students’ memories than the exact wording of Exodus 20 and the 10 Commandments.

Faith is a family. In a family you celebrate birthdays, achievements, and anniversaries, both happy and sad. Feast days are a great way to introduce your students to their family of faith.

If you’re new to the feast day game, here are some ideas to help you get started. First, start with your school’s patron saint. Our school is Saint Joseph’s, and luckily, this was a feast my family celebrated in style growing up. Because I grew up in North Jersey with an Italian godmother, I learned to celebrate this feast the way the Italian American community does: with lots of food. For Saint Joseph’s day you have spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread, and zeppole for dessert. Last year our school had a marvelous procession in honor of our patron saint, which you can read about here, and I brought zeppole in for my students, even though I had to get up at 4 am to fry them all. So if your school has a patron, research their feast day. Maybe there are fun foods and traditions for your saint.

If your school doesn’t have a specific saint of obvious feast day, you could pick a feast that is special for the Church. Any of the Holy Days of Obligation would be an easy and obvious choice. For Immaculate Conception you could have a Mary crowning or do a special mass or living rosary. I’ve written a lot about All Saints Day on the blog because it’s my favorite, and the internet is full of great ideas for how to celebrate All Saints with students.

I think the formula I would use to start a feast day is this: prayer + food + fun. Students will remember the food and fun, which will hopefully bring them back to the prayer and the meaning of the feast day.

Wish us luck- for this year’s celebration of our feast day, my students are already scheming about how to get donuts out to the whole school. If you have a favorite feast day celebration or food, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments!