What is Little Saints and how can we start it in our parish?

Here is a slightly modified version of the proposal that I created to present the program to my parish. If you are interested in starting a similar program in your own parish, please do not hesitate to contact me! I’d love to walk you through it and answer any questions, and even swap ideas for songs, prayers, and activities.  

Little Saints – by Jennifer Fabrizi

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. 34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.

2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.

(-Catechism of the Catholic Church)

As parents, we are entrusted to be the first teachers of the faith to our children. Through our words and actions we model and teach our children what it means to live as Catholic Christians. This is a great privilege and responsibility, however many parents today may feel that they are unequipped to fulfill this duty! Parents may feel they have not received adequate catechesis in their own lives and are thus are unsure of the tenets of their faith, or perhaps did not experience an active faith life in their own upbringing and do not know where to begin.

The purpose of the proposed “Little Saints” program is to encourage and equip parents of small children as they teach their children in the faith.

The structure of the program is modelled after the successful “Mother Goose” preschool program in which facilitators teach songs and stories to parents and their children and more importantly equip parents to become story tellers and to share new songs.  While the facilitators are a source of songs and stories, they ultimately are giving parents the tools they need to teach their own children.  In the province of New Brunswick, for example, this program is being used in particular by the French-speaking community as a means to preserve the cultural heritage of the Acadian people through song and story.

In the “Little Saints” program facilitators and parents will share songs and prayers that can be used throughout the day to help our little saints worship the Lord.  (Young children especially love song and predictable routine, so they are primed to learn through music and verse! Parents’ efforts to teach songs of praise and simple prayers will quickly be rewarded.) At the sessions parents will also learn techniques to get started in incorporating prayer and virtuous habits into their families’ daily routines.  There will also be time for parents to discuss in more depth various aspects of the faith and the Church’s teachings as well as the opportunity for parents to learn how to pray for their spouses and children and also have time to pray for the needs of others in the group.

The “Little Saints” program was initially set-up as an eight-week long pilot program to be held at my parish in the fall of 2014.  At the end of the eight-week session the program should be reviewed.  At that time it will be decided, should the program continue, whether it should continue as a fixed-length program or become an on-going group.  One option may be that after participating in an eight-week session, families “graduate” to an ongoing alumni group that meets regularly for continued support.

 

A sample session would be as follows**:

10:00 AM: Parents and children arrive in an undecorated room.  Everyone sits in a circle on the floor.

10:05 AM: Start with the Sign of the Cross and a simple prayer that can be memorized.  Repeat the prayer two more times, along with gestures, to help parents and children to learn the prayer.  Next share a welcoming song such as “This is the day that the Lord has made”.  Again, the facilitators will repeat this song 2 or 3 times to ensure that parents have a chance to learn the lyrics and participate. The group will continue alternating between simple prayers (such as table Graces and bedtime prayers) and songs.  The songs and prayers are taught without props or instruments.  While musical instruments are a beautiful accompaniment, the goal is to equip all parents to be able to sing and pray with their child in their homes.  The sessions are primarily about teaching the parents, not entertaining the children directly.

10:30 AM:  Snack break: parents and children share a snack and drink as a large group.

10:45 AM: Children go off to one part of the room with some volunteers to work on a craft, look at books, or play with toys. If possible, choose a craft related to the liturgical calendar.  For example, we started a new session on The Solemnity of the Annunciation (March 25) and made an Annunciation craft. Meanwhile, parents gather together.  The facilitator will teach the parents a story that the parent will be able to teach to their children at home. This story will be from the Bible or perhaps from the lives of the saints.  Again, if there is a way to tie it into the calendar, go for it!  On March 25th, we learned a simple version of the Annunciation, and this ties in to the artwork the children made.  After the story is shared, parents will have a chance to discuss a topic related to Christian parenting. Perhaps there will be a guest speaker to address the parents on a particular topic; perhaps the group will read a passage on the topic and have a discussion.  Before the children return there will be a chance for prayer requests to be shared and for participants to pray together for one another and their families.

11:15 AM: Children and parents are re-united and join together in a large group.  Facilitators lead the group in one more concluding song and prayer following the teaching model described above.

11:30 AM: Conclusion! At the end of the session everyone will work together to tidy up the space and only at the very end parents will be given the words to any songs or prayers introduced that day.

(**Ideally, the session could be held immediately following one of the week-day masses and parents could be encouraged to attend the mass with their little saints.)

 

To make this program a success, we will need the support of the Church in the following ways:

  1. Space in which to host the program (preferable carpeted, if not, rugs or mats will be needed)
  2. Volunteers to help with the children for the second part of the session: the parents’ discussion and prayer time.
  3. Volunteers to help teach the parents!
  4. Simple snacks and coffee/tea
  5. Craft materials (at a minimum paper and crayons), books for the children to look at (perhaps on loan from the Parish Library), and a small collection of toys.
  6. Paper and access to the photocopier for printing out lyrics and prayers.
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Chapter Three Questions: Wujek

Comprehension Questions –

Written answers to “comprehension questions” are due Tuesday, March 31st.  Answers may be completed in the space provided or on a separate sheet of paper.  “Discussion questions” are intended to help generate further discussion on the topic between parent and student and these answers do not have to be written down.  In class we will discuss some of these questions further.  

 

Students will submit their answers weekly and will be marked for completion and accuracy.  Please answer with complete sentences! Marks will be deducted otherwise.

  1. Why did the young people call Father Karol “Wujek”, the Polish word for “uncle”?
  2. Describe how Father Karol would typically spend a canoeing trip?
  3. When asked to become Auxiliary Bishop, Karol’s immediate response was that he was too young. How did he then respond to Cardinal Wyszynski’s request to not oppose  the will of the Holy Father?
  4. What was his great concern regarding the young people he had left on the camping trip to meet with the Cardinal?
  5. Why did the Communist Party want Auxiliary Bishop Wojtyła to be appointed Archbishop?  Why was this possibly the “greatest miscalculation in the history of communism?”
  6. Why were the communists obsessed over every detail of Bishop Wojtyła’s life?
  7. What was Bishop Wojtyła’s response when the authorities prohibited the Church from holding a procession with the painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa (or “The Black Madonna”)?
  8. What was Bishop Wojtyła’s response when the authorities prohibited the building of a church in newly built ideal communist town of Nowa Huta?nowa huta

Photo: “The Lord’s Ark”, Nowa Huta, Poland. The Church that the Communists did not want built! Notice the bronze statue of Pope John Paul II in the foreground.

Photo credit: https://heartsgivenfreely.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/dsc02132.jpg

 

Discussion questions

  1. “Every great work, all holiness, is born in silence and recollections.”  What have you learned about Saint John Paul the Great’s prayer life through the first three chapters? Developing a strong prayer life like that of Saint John Paul may seem impossible or at least very intimidating, yet without a doubt, prayer, and the Mass especially, has been an endless source of wisdom and strength for the people of God.   What can you do to start praying more right now? How could you incorporate a time set aside for prayer each day? With your parent, I challenge you to choose one prayer practice you can do together to encourage one another to make praying more a habit!
  2. Are you familiar with “The Divine Office” or “The Liturgy of the Hours”?  This is the official prayer of the Church. Just as the Mass has specific readings for every day, the Litugy of the Hours also follows a specific cycle of prayers, psalms and readings.  Roman Catholic Priests are required to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours each day and the Christian laity is encouraged by the Church to take up the practice too.  Many lay people choose to pray the morning and evening prayer, or perhaps night prayer before going to bed.   When you have about 15 minutes of time to pray together this week, go to the website: divineoffice.org and read or listen to the prayer for whatever time of day it is that you are praying.

Chapter two, Father Karol

Written answers to “comprehension questions” are due Tuesday, March 24th.  Answers may be completed in the space provided or on a separate sheet of paper.  “Discussion questions” are intended to help generate further discussion on the topic between parent and student and these answers do not have to be written down.  In class we will discuss some of these questions further.  

 

Students will submit their answers weekly and will be marked for completion and accuracy.  Please answer with complete sentences! Marks will be deducted otherwise.

Background information that will help you in understanding this chapter:

  1. Adam_Stefan_Sapieha_(1867-1951)Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha (pictured left) was also a Polish prince, born in 1867 in what was then part of the Austrian Empire.  Recall that from the 1795-1918 Poland had been divided between the Russian, Prussian/German, and Austrian Empires.  Of the three, only the Austrian Empire permitted any public expression of Polish culture.

(Photo:Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Sygnatura: 1-R-161 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Stefan_Sapieha)

2. Dachau, Auschwitz, and Birkenau were concentration camps run by the Nazis during World War II (1939-1945) and located in Poland .  Concentration camps were prisons and places of death.  Many people arriving at the camps were immediately executed.  Those deemed strong enough were  often forced to do extremely hard slave labour until exhausted and near starvation they too were executed.  Many of those killed were European Jews, many of whom were Polish.  Many other people from Poland and other countries were also killed in the concentration camps.

3. In this chapter the author interchanges the following terms (which were appropriate for the time period in which this chapter is set):

Germans = Nazis = The German Reich

Russians = Soviets = Communists = Marxists

Comprehension Questions

  1. Who was Brother Albert?
  2. What did Archbishop Sapieha serve Nazi governor general Hans Frank for dinner at the Archbishop’s residence?
  3. Why did he choose this meal and why was this a courageous thing to do?
  4. How did the Nazis treat men who were found to be studying for the priesthood?
  5. Describe what happened to Karol Wojtyła on Feb. 29, 1944 as he walked home from the Solvay chemical plant?  Of what did he consider this to be a sign?
  6. Why did Archbishop Sapieha deny Karol’s wish to enter the Carmelite monastery and live a life of contemplative prayer?
  7. What fraction of the Polish population had been murdered by the Nazis during the war?
  8. After the Russian (Soviet/Communist) invasion, some Poles said: “The Germans will take our body, and the Soviets will take our souls.”  Explain the Soviet strategy to destroy Polish faith and culture?
  9. What gesture, learned from his readings on the life of St. John Vianney, did Fr. Karol make upon his arrival in Niegowić?
  10. Fr. Karol was an extremely intelligent man with keenly developed abilities, however his lectures were so alluring because they had been “marinated in contemplation”.  How did the way he spent his breaks at Częstochowa Seminary differ from the way of other professor priests?

Discussion Questions

  1. Although the future pope was not permitted to enter the Carmelite monastery, contemplative prayer continued to play a crucial role for the rest of his life.  How does contemplation transform intelligence into wisdom? How has prayer helped you to make wise decisions in your life?
  2. Pope John Paul II famously kissed the ground whenever he visited a country.  Parents, can you recall ever witnessing this gesture? What did this gesture signify to you?  We were created body and soul to worship and serve Our Lord. Reflecting this, the Catholic faith and the sacraments in particular  incorporate physical and spiritual elements.  What physical or bodily gestures can you think of that are acts of worship or service?

In-class work for Chapter 1

In-class work for Chapter 1.

Read the Pronunciation Guide (before the Foreward) and practice saying the words aloud.  From looking at the words, can you figure out the equivalent english spelling for the following Polish letters and digraphs? (We will add additional sounds to this chart as we continue in the book)

POLISH SPELLING ENGLISH EQUIVALENT
cz ch
ę
ch
w
dz
sz
ó
c
ie
ł
i
j

Vocabulary for Chapter One: Lolek.  Using a good dictionary, find definitions for the following words.

exalt:

compatriot:

woeful:

gallant:

piety:

quarry:

liquidate:

exodus:

Timeline work:

On your sticky-notes record the dates of important events from this chapter then place them on your timeline. (I am giving you a pack of 100 sticky-notes. Please don’t waste them. If you run out you will have to buy your own!)

Tape your timeline together so that it makes a continuous line, then keep it in the plastic folder from now on.

Chapter one, Lolek

**You are free to use any of the unit study materials that I have created for your personal study or in your classroom, however, I ask that you kindly  credit Jennifer Fabrizi/Our Catholic Classroom or  link back to this website when posting elsewhere online. Thank you!**

Comprehension Questions – Chapter One, “Lolek”.

  1. Young Karol, or Lolek, experienced the loss of two very important people by the age of eleven.  Who were the two people who died and what were their causes of death?
  2. Karol Sr. knew his son had a bright academic future so the family moved to a town where an important University was located.  What is the name of the University and the town in which it was located?
  3. What was the name of the cloistered nun living in a nearby convent in Krakow who received a series of revelations from Jesus? What is the name of the special prayer that she received from Jesus?
  4. What did Karol witness when he came out of Mass at Wawel Cathedral on the morning of September 1, 1939?
  5. Where did Karol Sr. and Karol Jr. wind up after learning of the impending Soviet invasion?
  6. The German Reich declared all Poles to be slaves.  The standard of life was to be kept particularly low in Poland.  Anyone who was unwilling to work for and co-operate with the Reich was to be destroyed.  What did the Reich consider every educated Pole to be?
  7. According to the author, did Karol Wojtyla have a superhuman capacity to absorb suffering? Explain your answer.
  8. Who was the other Polish saint that God was forging during the Nazi occupation? Hint: he died in a concentration camp in 1941.
  9. What are some of the prominent themes of Polish literature and drama that later found their way into John Paul’s papal teachings?

 

Discussion Questions

  1. After the loss of both his beloved wife and his eldest son, Karol Sr. stood by Edmund’s coffin repeating, “Thy will be done!”.  Lolek was deeply impacted by this and remarked, “The violence of the blows which had struck him had opened up immense spiritual depths in him; his grief found its outlet in prayer.”  Can you think of an example of someone who you have seen suffering with something particularly difficult who seemed to develop a deeper faith as a result?  Describe what happened.  What did this teach you?   Later, after recounting the death of Karol Sr., the author notes that  Lolek also grew deeper in his faith.  Why does the faith of some “drown under waves of such unrelenting suffering”  while Lolek’s aloneness became a means to his holiness?
  2. Discuss what you know about life in Occupied Europe during World War II.  What personal stories, books, documentaries, films, etc, about this time have stayed with you?
  3. John Paul II’s favourite poet, Cyprian Norwid writing shows that: “without heroism, humanity degrades itself, losing its identity, and rejecting God, it betrays itself.” What is a hero?  Who are your heroes?

Individual and small-group projects for the Saint John Paul the Great unit study

Here is a list of just some of the ideas for individual projects in conjunction with our study of “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves”.

  1. Communion of Saints – short biographies of various holy men and women who influenced Saint John Paul the Great. – these individual assignments will go together to form our Communion of Saints section.  (2-3 students may work on this)
  2. Geography and History of Poland – A series of maps and major political events from the Middle Ages through to the fall of the Iron Curtain.  Students will be given a list of events to research and include.  (1-2 students)
  3. 20th Century European History: World War II, Communism, the Cold War. Students will be given specific questions and a list of events to cover.
  4. Rhapsody Theatre: Polish literature and culture – will include reading and reciting english translations of the works of the Polish poets, play-writes, and authors that shaped Polish culture and influenced Saint John Paul the Great.  Students will have to learn about the significance of the pieces and their creators and will introduce the pieces before presenting them. (2-3 students)
  5. World Youth Days: Students will select one of the WYD events, research the country in which it was held, find out why it was there, how many people attended, identify a and discuss significant events and speeches from the pope (2-4 students)
  6. Divine Mercy: Student will learn about St. Faustina’s messages from Jesus, and how this influenced Saint John Paul the Great.  The student will also have the opportunity to lead the school in the recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. (1 student)
  7. Carmelite Spirituality: Student will learn about the ideas and practices of Carmelite spirituality and its influence on the life of John Paul II (1 student).
  8. Our Lady of Fatima: Student will learn about the appearance of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, her messages, and the devotion that John Paul II had to Our Lady (1 student).
  9. The influence of Saint John Paul the Great.  Students will interview and collect stories from a number of people who were influenced by our great Pope.  Students will be assisted in drafting interview questions and will be given help in soliciting interviewees.  The students will prepare the answers they receive into articles, display them and possible read selections to the audience. (1-2 students)

 

Introduction to our Saint John Paul the Great Unit Study

Beginning immediately after the March Break and for the remainder of the school year we will have the opportunity to do an extensive, thirteen-week study of Saint John Paul the Great (Pope John Paul II).  It will be the sole focus of our Saints class, but will also extend into Geography, History, Language Arts, and Religion.  The study will culminate in a special Saint John Paul the Great Day to be held at the beginning of June.  Students will be selecting a major project to work on that will be presented at the event.  This will be a showcase to the entire school and parents. We will encourage the students to carefully consider their options and to choose the assignment that they find most appealing.  More details are provided here.

The backbone of our study will be the biography “Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves” by Jason Evert.  This particular book, published in 2014, was selected because it was written for an adolescent and young adult audience,  it is a manageable length, and we believe the students will find it interesting, easy to follow, and inspirational.

For the next thirteen weeks we will be meeting thrice weekly.  Generally, two classes will be devoted to studying the contents of the week’s chapter, and one class will be devoted to work on your special projects.

1) Students will be given weekly reading assignments to be completed at-home.  We will be asking the students to read one chapter and answer ten to twelve comprehension questions each week.  I will send the questions for the current week’s reading each Tuesday. The readings and questions need to be completed before the following Tuesday so that our in-class time can be maximized for discussion of the material and work on special projects (which will be explained below).  We are asking that in each family at least one adult will commit to reading the book along with their child. You may choose to read aloud together, or to read separately, but keeping to the same weekly schedule.   We will also provide you with a list of discussion questions that you can use with your child.  Unlike the comprehension questions, for which your child must provide written answers, you will not be required to write the answers to the discussion questions, but we hope they are fruitful.

There are several reasons we are asking for an adult to commit to reading along with each student:

  • As you read together you will discover that discussing John Paul II, his life, and his influence will naturally open to many great discussions about contemporary issues – 20th century history, politics, religion and atheism in the public arena, human rights, catholic social teaching, culture, and freedom to name a few!
  • As the students prepare for confirmation, either this year or next, reading this book together provides an excellent way to talk about living your faith with courage and integrity.
  • The chapter on human love discusses the Pope’s teaching on sexuality and we strongly feel that as parents you would want to know what is being read and that you would want to be involved in discussing this sensitive  and important topic with your child.
  • Reading together  will encourage your child to keep up with their work.  We can best move ahead with the lessons if everyone has completed their reading on time and has a good grasp of the content.
  • Finally, it is a great example for students to see their parents read and to read with them!

2) Special Projects: I am including a very brief outline of the assignments and their expectations.  We encourage you to discuss these with your child especially if they are struggling with making a  choice.  We are asking students to make a first, second, and third choice, as we want to ensure that a variety of topics are presented at our event.  We will then assign students to their projects and provide further details of the assignment next week, including a series of due-dates throughout the term to complete various stages of the assignment. I will be conferencing with the students individually or in small groups during these periods to help them plan out their projects and to help them find resources. Please note that in addition to the weekly in-class period, students will be expected to do some work on their special projects at home too.