The spirit of Christmas is contagious in South Jersey Catholic schools. Angels and elves are serving others by collecting and delivering food, clothes, toiletries, toys, coats, socks, mittens and household items. Recipients include adopted families, food pantries, shelters, Toys for Tots and veterans. While most efforts support local communities, students at Saint Michael the Archangel in Clayton are reaching children as far away as Haiti. And many schools are sending cards and letters to service men and women on the other side of the globe.
Taking care of others “brings to life what our Catholic faith teaches, especially through the Works of Mercy, the importance of helping those in need,” said Jackie Kern, advancement director at Saint Mary’s in Williamstown.
Some schools are supporting one another. Saint Joseph High School in Hammonton will host breakfast with Santa at nearby Saint Joseph elementary. Students from Paul VI High School in Haddonfield made crafts and spent time with students in the after care program at Saint Anthony of Padua, Camden. Resurrection (Cherry Hill) and Saint Teresa (Runnemede) communities are collecting toys for a gift shop at Sacred Heart School in Camden.
“The Advent and Christmas seasons are beautiful times when our school celebrates the coming of our Savior,” said Sister Nancy Kindelan, IHM, principal at Saint Teresa. “It is wonderful to see the symbols and rituals of Advent and Christmas throughout our school. Students know the gift of Jesus lives on in our hearts and lives as we continue his loving presence in our world.”
Student-led liturgies, reconciliation services, pageants and the lighting of Advent candles are among the ways students reflect on and share their faith during the season. Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill has honored two school community members in Advent song and prayer. The chorus sang at The Fountains, where retired faculty member Sue Quinn is a resident, and an Advent-themed school Mass celebrated the life of business manager David Powers, who died in a car accident in September.
Faculty members go the extra mile to celebrate the season. At Our Lady of Hope in Blackwood, teachers prepared and served a pancake breakfast while students and families visited with Santa. Faculty at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon have a new twist on Secret Santa. Rather than giving Christmas gifts to one another, they set aside money for secret acts of kindness through the year.
“It’s an informal, anonymous way to help others right here in our own school community,” said Sue Werner, director of institutional advancement.
Prayer and service are a primary focus during Advent, but there will be no shortage of celebrations by the time Christmas break arrives. With band, choral and dance performances, classroom parties and family gatherings, and school-led parish events, the joy of Christmas is abundant.
Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.
For more information about Catholic schools in South Jersey visit www.camdendiocese.org/schools (856-583-6103).