This year, St. Mary School in Swormville will continue a parish tradition that enables both students and members of the community to participate in the Stations of the Cross while contributing to a cause. Fifth-graders at St. Mary's will participate in "Pray and Play," a live-action Stations of the Cross, at 7 p.m., Friday, April 7, at St. Mary's parish center gym, followed by a fundraiser for Catholic Charities.
While the event has been an annual tradition at the school at some time, it also ties into the STREAM program, which St. Mary's has offered since it became one of 10 pilot schools to unveil the integrated curriculum offering in fall 2014. According to Mary Jo Aiken, the school's principal, the living Stations of the Cross is a "wonderful Lenten tradition" that lets students combine prayer and almsgiving.
"Prayer is the 'pray' part of Pray and Play, and the 'play' part is the almsgiving, when we collect money for Catholic Charities," said Aiken. "It's a beloved event by the parish and school. Parish and school families come together to pray the Stations of the Cross, and the kids love it, too, because they are the living Stations of the Cross. It's something that the students all look forward to when they reach grade five."
After the conclusion of the performance, St. Mary's Catholic Charities fundraiser has involved a variety of events. In past years, they have allowed students to interact with teachers in a fun way that allows them to vent frustrations about a difficult piece of math homework from last week. Teachers have sacrificed their bodies by letting their children throw pies at them or duct tape them to the walls of the school gym.
In terms of enhancing STREAM education at the school, students kinesthetically recreate a key facet of the Catholic faith, involving the art of drama in a base of religion, while also teaching young students the importance of giving to charity and contributing to their community, Aiken said. While Mary McPherson is the fifth-grade teacher at St. Mary's, Abby Budzinski-Lake, a longtime fifth-grade teacher who now teaches second grade, is filling in and planning the event for McPherson while the latter is on maternity leave.
According to Budzinski-Lake, the fifth-graders' involvement with the Stations of the Cross started 14 years ago, but it previously involved the sixth-graders. "Over the years, we choose different roles. We have Jesus, Mary, Veronica, the weeping women, and we go through each of the stations to tell the importance, why we think we need to learn about this and how we can make it work in our own lives," she said.
Since the children are only 10 and 11 years old, it requires them to come out of their shell to act out the required roles, but has become a rite of passage for St. Mary's students. Since it is not a musical or entertainment, but rather prayer, it is unique in the way students perform it for the parishioners. The event has let students engage faculty members in many in-depth conversations, Budzinski-Lake noted.
"We go over every station. We say, 'Why do you think we have it?' We tell the importance of mothers, of Jesus' relationship with everybody that is part of that whole play, the importance of helping somebody when Simon helps Him, the role of the guards, the importance of everybody in there. I make sure that every student understand the importance of his or her role in that performance," added Budzinski-Lake.
"I ask, 'How do you think Mary felt seeing her baby suffering so, knowing that He never did anything wrong?' 'How does your mother feel when you are sick?'" she continued. "Mary was no different than your mother. She didn't want to see her baby hurting, but because they had such faith and knew something special was going to go on, they never questioned it and they just accepted it. The first one you want to see when you are hurting is your mother coming into the health office, and so Jesus loved His mother."
When asked about the event's significance in terms of the science, technology, engineering, art and math portions of STREAM, Budzinski-Lake said the occasion also opens the door to discussions about theater and performance, technology involved in creating lighting for the performance, and the scientific aspects of weather, including the earthquake that occurred on the afternoon Jesus died in the biblical account.
The event will be open to all parents, parishioners and other community members, as the living Stations of the Cross will serve as the parish's Stations of the Cross for that Friday of Lent, rather than a more traditional reading of the stations. After the prayer portion, the fundraiser will take place in the parish center.