Students of the Early Childhood Center at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Tonawanda held a special ceremony honoring Mary on May 6, the mother of Jesus, and their own mothers and grandmothers for Mother's Day.
The event included a sing-along with music director Mary Knoerl in the chapel, after which the mothers met their children in the former elementary school building for coffee and tea. The brief ceremony included songs honoring Mary and all mothers, and a May crowning, where 3-year-old Lilly Colwell and 4-year-old Connor Milne placed a crown of flowers on a statue of Mary. Father Michael Uebler, pastor, briefly addressed the children to discuss the meaning of honoring the Blessed Virgin and the significance of Mother's Day in the Catholic Church's tradition.
"This is the statue of Mary - you all know Mary - and May is called the month of Mary. When we think about mothers, we think about Mary being our mother in heaven, and Mary is mother, queen of heaven and earth. Mary is in heaven. She went straight to heaven because she was such a good person," Father Uebler said to the congregation, urging the children to follow her example by living good and holy lives.
"Our ceremony is part of what we do all year to bring our religion to the kids, and that they've been very receptive to it," Father Uebler said. We find that the young kids, it really puts a seed in their heart, and that's the beginning of it. We're going to continue on now with teaching our young kids within the parish, and our program here, the Early Childhood Center, is very much a part of our parish and very supportive of the parish."
The Early Childhood Center is located in the parish's former elementary school building. Parents of 3-year-olds may send their children to the center either three or five days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., or 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Programs for 4-year-olds are five days, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Many of the former St. Francis of Assisi teachers are now teachers at the center.
Sally Babcock, director of the Early Childhood Center and a former St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School teacher, added that this was the first year for the event, including coffee, tea, cookies and a carnation to give to each mother of the children.
"We have real carnations we're going to give out," Babcock said. "We have had such a good response. Every mom is coming, either a grandma or a mom. The response to these little things that we have is always so wonderful. The parents seem to just love to come."
At one point, the center had a lunch for the children and their families. Community events such as this one will always draw a full house, Babcock said, and once a month, the parish has a special Mass for the Early Childhood Center. St. Francis of Assisi regularly involves the children since, while Knoerl organizes the church chorus, she invites the Early Childhood Center children to come sing with her.
"We try to incorporate the parish and we try to be part of the parish, because when we were a school, it was the parish school," Babcock said. "We did go to Mass and everything, but we can't do Masses that much with the little kids. We did the Stations of the Cross in church when it was Lent, and they do come over here and sometimes sing, and look at the statues and stained glass windows. Our school closed in June 2014, and we opened in September as an early childhood center."
Sue Ann Saltarelli, who serves as parish director of faith formation with her husband, Michael, said the ceremony went well and added, "I love to watch these children in their natural faith toward God."
"They know they are loved by Jesus," Saltarelli said, noting with the addition of the center, more young families have been getting involved. "We don't have to convince them of that, and they're just excited about it. Because of the Early Childhood Center, I am changing the way I'm doing faith formation in the whole parish. I'm going to start with 3-year-olds with the parents, instead of 5-year-olds, because they learn everything. It's really made it more vibrant. It's really been a shot of life into the parish, having these kids and these families who want to bring faith to their families, and find this a good place to do that."