JP 2, We Love You!

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!


Happy Feast Day St. Therese!

For those of you who have been with my for a while, you know that I have been completely changed by my experience reading Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul. In honor of her feast day, here are a few resources to help you teach about this amazing Doctor of the Church: a talk I gave to my middle schoolers last year, some reviews of books about St. Therese and a link to some resources in my TPT store. Happy Feast Day, Therese!

Book reviews:
Summer Spirituality Series: Story of a Soul
Summer Spirituality Series: The Way of Trust and Love
Summer Spirituality Series: Praying with Therese of Lisieux

TPT links:
Living the Beatitudes: features Therese and 7 other saints with multiple worksheets and activities
Oh When the Saints: multiple saint research activities and games for All Saints and beyond

And the talk from our back to school retreat last year:

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 and the link to Story of a Soul are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase this song or the book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: The Way of Trust and Love

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means that if you use my link to purchase a book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

I first encountered the writings of Father Jacques Philippe a few summers ago, when I read a copy of Interior Freedom * that my Dad had given me. (You can read my review of that book here.) I’ve told this story before, but it’s such a good one that parts of it bear repeating. Father Philippe is very open about the fact that his spirituality is greatly influenced by St. Therese of Lisieux, and for years I had a weird spiritual block about Therese. As I finished Interior Freedom in my parish’s adoration chapel, I felt a tug on my heart. Okay God I thought, I’ll read Story of a Soul *if you want me to. As I walked out the door, I ran into Fr. Peter, one of our priests. “I’m looking to put together a group of people interested in reading St. Therese’s Story of a Soul,” he told me. “Would you be interested in joining us?” I love the way God works.

The Way of Trust and Love * is a small book based on a retreat that Father Philippe gave in Spain about 10 years ago. It is based on the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux, who called her “little way” a way of trust and love. He suggests that if possible, the book still be used as a retreat, with the reader using one of the six chapters each day for a week and then ending with a day of prayer and reflection. Reading the book was not feasible for me during the school year, but I did have time every Thursday afternoon when I would bring my class to adoration at the parish. Reading this book in the presence of the Eucharist was an incredible gift. Each week I found a gem of insight and spirituality that was exactly what I needed to hear.

Because this book is mostly the transcripts of talks, the writing style is a little different from Philippe’s other books, but I liked that. At times I found his conversational style easier to understand than his more polished works. There were also some great quotes throughout the book that gave me the spiritual kick in the pants I needed. Here are some of my favorites:
“The most important task of all is to save mankind, and mankind will be saved by prayer…not everyone can spend hours in church, but each of us must do the little that he or she can. If there were a little less television and a little more prayer in our lives, we would be more at peace.”
“Worrying never solved any problem. What solves problems are trust and faith.”
“If trust disappears when we do wrong, it shows that our trust was based on ourselves and our deeds.”

I want to read this book again sometime soon with a spirituality group. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially people who want to learn more about themselves and St. Therese.

Popcorn Rating: 2. Father Philippe’s work always makes you think, reread and try harder.

Stars: 5+. There aren’t a lot of spirituality books that I reread, but this one I’m already planning to see if I can form a women’s group to read it again. It’s just that good. I also read this during a year when I was coming out of a very tough time of depression and anxiety and during the loss of a pregnancy. This book helped remind me that trust in God is not based on my circumstances and that God (and many others) love me so very much.

*the links for books in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you use my link to purchase a book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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!

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.

IMG_1690

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.

Five prayers every Catholic Kid should know (and why)

When I first moved to the Northwest, I was an idealistic 21 year old fresh out of a huge state school with a vibrant campus ministry. Before that I had attended 13 years of Catholic school in a VERY traditional religious community, and I also came from a family that prayed often at home and went to mass daily from first communion to high school graduation. I had a vague experience of CCD in 9th grade, where several of the kids didn’t know their prayers, but in general, I just assumed that there were certain prayers every Catholic knew. Fast forward eleven years of teaching and I’ve realized that I should never assume any knowledge of prayer on the part of my students. So here are my top five prayers every Catholic kid should know and why. The links are to websites with the full text of the prayer.

  1. All the prayers of the Rosary.
    The rosary is the quintessential Catholic prayer, and knowing the prayers that go into it connects students to thousands of years of tradition. To pray the rosary students need to know: the sign of the cross, the Lord’s prayer, the Hail Mary, the Glory be, the Fatima prayer, the Hail Holy Queen and in some places, the prayer after the rosary which begins with the words “O God, whose only begotten son”. Once students are familiar with these prayers, the 20 mysteries of the rosary familiarize them with key scriptures and events in the life of Jesus.
    Why should students know this prayer? For many reasons, but one of my favorites is simply because Mary asked us to. In many famous Marian apparitions, Mary asks the people who see her to pray the rosary for peace. Our world desperately needs our prayers for peace. Our families desperately need these prayers for peace. Our students need these prayers for peace.
  2. The Memorare.
    The memorare is another beautiful Marian prayer that I think all students need to learn. It’s also a beautiful prayer of intercession, so it would make a great teaching tool within a unit on the various types of prayers. I learned this prayer in middle school and it is one of my go-to prayers when I am asking God for help with situations and people in my life.
    Why should students know this prayer? I love the idea that Mary is our mother and just waiting to bring our prayers to God. When explaining how Mary intercedes for us, I love to give my students the analogy of when something isn’t working for them at school. If they are really in trouble and need someone to go to bat for them, most of them know they can count on their mom. (As a teacher I know the power of a mom on a mission.) There are also many great vocabulary words in this prayer: intercession, incarnate, despise, petitions and more!
  3. The Saint Michael Prayer
    This was a prayer I said many times as a child. For some reason, many of my teachers used this as our class opening prayer when I was in elementary school. The story behind the prayer is that Pope Leo XIII had a vision of Satan that left him deeply affected and concerned for his church. He composed this prayer and encouraged people to pray it after each Mass for the protection of the faith and believers. This is a prayer I still pray when I feel I am under spiritual attack or when I find myself deeply afraid or troubled by something.
    Why should students know this prayer? While people may disagree with me on this, I truly believe in spiritual attack. I think that when we are trying to live God-centered lives and learn and live our faith, Satan is ready to try to get us off track. This prayer asks God to protect us from these attacks. I have found that when my mind is full or worries or fears, this prayer always reminds me that God’s power is so much bigger than my enemy.
  4. The Prayer of Saint Francis
    Before I go into this prayer, let me say this: I know that Saint Francis didn’t write this prayer, but I still love the prayer and when I learned the real story of how the prayer came to be, I actually loved it more. This prayer was first printed during WWI, and then distributed to soldiers on a prayer card with Saint Francis printed on one side and the prayer on the other. Soon it became known as the peace prayer of Saint Francis.
    Why should students know this prayer? This prayer contains so many powerful requests of God, and its inclusive language makes it a prayer that many religions can pray together. Its focus is on giving to others and doing God’s work in the world, which can expand a student’s view of prayer as mostly intercession to prayer as a mission.
  5. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy
    I’ve written about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy briefly before in some of my Lent posts, but someday soon I want to devote some serious time to the Chaplet on the blog. This prayer is the most powerful prayer I have ever prayed. Given to Saint Faustina in a series of visions from Jesus, this prayer can be prayed on a rosary and is simple to learn and remember. When I was in middle school and a friend’s dad died unexpectedly, we prayed this prayer. On September 11, 2001 we prayed this prayer at my school in North Jersey, where many of my friends had parents who worked in or near the Twin Towers. When I was in labor with my son and his heart stopped, I prayed this prayer top the rhythm of my contractions. Six weeks later he was baptized on Divine Mercy Sunday.
    Why should students know this prayer? Jesus told Saint Faustina to spread this prayer and that he wanted to shower the world with mercy. Middle school is such an important time to learn about mercy. Life is not fair, and middle schoolers desperately want it to be. Thinking about the fact that Jesus loves us and forgives us despite our complete lack of worthiness can help start conversation about how to live a life of mercy towards others. I also have seen so many answered prayers come about because of the Chaplet that for me it is an amazing way to show students the power of prayer.

These are just a few of many amazing prayers. Please let me know in the comments of any prayers you think I should add to my list of must-knows. I hope you have a blessed start to the school year. If this blog is helpful to you, please consider sharing it with a friend! Thanks!

Summer Spirituality Series: Super Girls and Halos

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Last summer I wrote a post about My Badass Book of Saints by Maria Morera Johnson, which you can read here. Super Girls and Halos is Johnson’s second saint book, which is organized very much like the first one, but with a twist. In this book she matches up inspiring saints with strong fictional women from popular culture. There are four sections to the book, one for each of the cardinal virtues: temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. Each section has two chapters featuring two women each.

I wanted to love this book, just like I wanted to love the one before, but there were a few things that I struggled with. For one, Johnson spends A LOT of time on her analysis of the characters in pop culture. It reminds me of friends who really want you to like D and D so they keep explaining and reexplaining how cool it is. Also, at times I felt like she loved the character but had struggled to find a saint to match. Some of her saint stories seemed flat compared to her character sketches. That being said, this book was super interesting to my students- two borrowed it and actually read it during the year, which is more than I can say about any other saint book I have in my classroom. And even if I felt there could be more about the saints, she picked some really great powerhouse women to highlight.

The saints and character match ups are as follows:
Justice: Wonder Woman and Katharine Drexel; Rey and Claire of Assisi
Prudence: Black Widow and Mary Magdalene; Dana Scully and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Fortitude: Storm and Cunegunde; Hermione Granger and Margaret d’Youville
Temperence: Katniss Everdeen and Mary MacKillop; Nyota Uhura and Kateri Tekakwitha

Popcorn Factor: 3. I got really bogged down in the Wonder Woman chapter.
Stars: 3.5 Again, the saint stories were great, but I felt the balance was slightly off.

Summer Spirituality Series: Saint Books for Kids and Classrooms

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While most of my posts so far this summer have been about books that have been helpful to me in my own walk with God this year and at other times in my life, I thought I would take some time to talk about some books that have helped me to teach the faith to my son. Many of these books will seem very juvenile, but they do translate well to classroom use. I love using picture books in middle school. Students find it somewhat unexpected, and many beautiful children’s books can deal with topics that apply to our study of scripture and the moral life. The following books are all books I have read to my son and several I have also used in my classroom.

Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times by Meghan Bausch is a beautifully illustrated book with paper pages. Each page focuses on a single saint with a short rhyme describing a few of the things that make that saint special. I especially love the fact that this books highlights more recent saints, and many of the saints that I feature in my religion class. While I haven’t used this one in school yet, my son loves it and it has his patron saint in it. I will be using this book as I highlight our saint of the month in class this year though.

Probably one of the most classic saint books of my childhood was the Picture Book of Saints by Lawrence Lovasik. The update version has many of my favorite saints in it, with the same style I remember from when I was little. Each page features one saint, their feast day, patronage and a short story of the saint’s life. I have 10 copies of this book in my classroom and we use them often. Because they are designed for children, my students can use them as a quick reference when they need to select a saint for a project. The concise written story provides a launching point for further study.

While The Clown of God by Tomie De Paola is not strictly a saint book, I think it can fit into this category of books. A classic story retold with De Paola’s gorgeous illustrations, this book is a great one to use with the parable of the talents or to talk about stewardship. Giovanni is a gifted juggler who spends his life gaining fame and fortune through his fabulous juggling. At the end of his life, Giovanni is left with nothing and ends up in a Catholic Church on Christmas Eve, where he has only one gift to give the Christ child. It’s a truly beautiful book, and this is one I have used in school. De Paola has lots of other beautiful religious books too.

I also love The Song of Francis by Tomie De Paola. While not strictly based on Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, this book takes the spirit of that beautiful prayer and puts it in a format for children. This book is beautiful and bright and is a great way to teach students about adoration and praise prayers. Often I will have students write their own “Song of (their name)” and illustrate is as a companion project. My son likes the pages with the birds.

All of these books are easy to read, so they all get a popcorn rating of 5. As for stars, I love illustrations and children’s books. I think that picture books are highly underused in a classroom setting, and I give each book 5 stars for spirituality and teachability.