In this day of TV, electronic gadgets, telephones and other assaults on any effort to have some peace and quiet, St. Francis of Assisi School in the city of Tonawanda has launched a new initiative to help students and faculty enjoy quiet time.
Sue Ann Saltarelli, coordinator of faith formation for the parish and the sixth- to eighth-grade religion teacher at the school, decided to propose a new practice not only to students, but to teachers and staff.
She decided to introduce Christian meditation in all grades from pre-K to eighth-grade to show the students and staff how to fulfill their need for a moment of quiet.
Saltarelli is no stranger to meditation and has for the past several years practiced it herself.
"This is not just a Christian practice. It's good for everyone," Saltarelli said. "Kids don't know how to be quiet. They are bombarded with noise. It's so simple and not confusing, just a time to sit quietly and be in the presence of God."
Six teachers and administrators and three volunteers recently traveled to Toronto to learn about Christian meditation.
Saltarelli begins the meditation on a Thursday morning, just before the students attend the weekly all-school Mass in the church.
"The children and their teachers took right to it," said Colleen Politowski, principal. "Students found that when they sit for peace and quiet, it makes the bad things that happen go away and they are more relaxed."
The amount of meditation time is different for each class.
"It's suggested one minute for each year of age, so preschoolers may meditate for three or four minutes, while the eighth-graders meditate for 14 minutes," Saltarelli said. "For the older students who are more self-conscious, it's great. There is no success or failure; it levels the playing field."
Father Michael Uebler, pastor, sees it as a challenge. He visits each classroom daily to see the fruit of the practice.
"The children are enjoying it and see it as something different," he said. "It's good for the kids; there's lots of benefits. They think better and accomplish more. They are more spiritual and overall this is better for them."
Students have various reactions to the meditation. Sixth-grader Jenna DiVirgilio said she felt like she was in heaven during meditation.
"I felt like I was floating," Robert Kuhn said. Jordan Boyd added, "There are a lot of problems around, but they're just gone."
Eighth-graders were also quick to give their opinion. Whitney Verbeck noted that the practice is very relaxing. "It makes me calm on the inside," she said.
"It's like a nap but you're awake," Noah Gillis said of his experience. "And it's one time you can actually close your eyes."
Caitlin McMahon said the quiet time helps her focus on one thing. "You forget your school, marks, problems," she said.
Alex Patkalitsky enjoyed "no stress" while Ben Torres said he thinks of the bad and good times. "Then I know how good my future will be."
Thomas McMahon said he sometimes finds it hard to meditate. "But it helps and it's really worthwhile."
Michael Miller found the exercise makes him feel "fresh and rejuvenated. Sometimes I use it after school."
Helen Wilkie summed up the meditation as "better than coffee. I'm so energized after," to which her classmates nodded and smiled in agreement.
Saltarelli said she would like to expand the meditation to the parish itself.
"Everything is fun if God is with you," she said.
Kris Urbano is from St. Francis of Assisi School in Tonawanda.