By JIM GAUGER
Special to the CS&T
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continuing, several schools in the Archdiocese have taken steps to remember the men and women in current and past struggles. School children have honored veterans through various means, including patriotic prayer and song programs, collecting gift bags, buying phone cards and sending rosaries.
At Sacred Heart School in Manoa, Delaware County, the month of February was dedicated to honoring veterans.
Deirdre Sansoni, the school librarian and head of the service club, was inspired by Catholic Schools week at the end of January.
“Commitment to service is the theme,” she explained. “We extended it through February.”
The first project for the 233 students was to send Valentine’s Day cards to veterans at Coatesville Veterans Hospital.
Next, the students collected toiletries for care bags to be distributed at the veterans’ clinic at the HealthPlex in Springfield. Those care bags were to be dropped off late in May.
Throughout the month of February each class in the school included a group of 20 veterans, living and deceased, in morning prayers.
“Our big event was a prayer service and a patriotic song show for veterans in the community,” Sansoni said. “There were 70 veterans and families who came. We mentioned all the veterans’ names.”
Each class participated in the patriotic singing. Music teacher Rob Szybowski coordinated the singing program and Sister Julia Ann Walsh, I.H.M., coordinated the prayer service.
“The children developed an appreciation of the service that our veterans give our country,” Sansoni said. “They now understand that veterans come in all age groups. Some men were using walkers; two men had just returned from Iraq.”
When the program concluded the veterans were given a standing ovation by families and students, Sansoni said.
“We’re still getting letters thanking us for honoring the veterans,” she said.
At St. Alphonsus in Maple Glen, Montgomery County, more than 400 students participated in the “Pennies for Patriots” program that enabled the school to buy phone cards for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kindergarten teacher Anita Fleming, whose husband Frank served in Iraq in 2006 and whose son, Anthony, is in the Air National Guard in Willow Grove, organized the project.
“We asked the students to bring in photographs of their relatives who were veterans,” Fleming said. The resulting 150 photographs – some from World War I – were displayed on a “Wall of Heroes” at the school.
Coffee cans were set up to gather coins. “On the first day we got over $700,” Fleming said. “By the end of the week over $2,000 had been collected.”
There were also visits from military personnel. One was a Philadelphia resident, a young woman named Amanda Po, who was stationed in Fort Dix, N.J.
“She was deploying to Iraq in February,” Fleming said. “She talked to the students and said it was great to know that they would all be praying for her, and the phone cards were being sent to her.” She continues to keep in touch with the school through e-mail.
As for the students at St. Alphonsus, they received much in return.
“They realized that their little acts of kindness make a big difference,” Fleming said.
At St. Bernadette of Lourdes School in Drexel Hill, Delaware County, Rose Wallace, the physical education instructor, took a unique approach.
For the past three years she has coordinated “Troop Tango,” a dance for students in the school gym that is held at the end of a collection drive.
She works in conjunction with a non-profit volunteer organization called Soldiers’ Angels. This group of more than 250,000 volunteers determines what is needed and sends the items to soldiers stationed overseas.
Wallace, who teaches dance at the school, worked with Betty Tiger of Soldiers’ Angels to organize the event. First- to sixth-graders participated in the dance. Seventh- and eighth-graders competed for a free gym day.
“Students sometimes are only concerned with themselves, what they can get,” Wallace said. “I wanted them to connect with other people; it’s about service. We live in a free country with so much available. We take it for granted. I don’t want them to take it for granted.”
Students at St. Bernadette were asked to collect items such as candy, socks, DVDs, CDs and toiletries. More than 1,800 items were collected during the drive and sent to the 506th Emergency Medical Group in Iraq, as well as to an additional troop stationed in Afghanistan.
“Each St. Bernadette student also wrote a personal letter to the soldiers thanking them for their service and protection of our country,” said Carolyn Kilroy, a parent in charge of marketing for the school. “The letters and items were packaged and sent to our military men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan in mid-April. A portion of the postage for the items sent was paid for with proceeds from an ice cream sale held at St. Bernadette School.”
Wallace recently read a letter to the students from Captain Matthew Bracken of the 506th Emergency Medical unit in Kirkuk, Iraq.
“The letters you wrote are pinned up on the wall of our base hospital,” Bracken wrote. “People love to read your stories and look at the great pictures as well. Many of us have kids back home and we miss them very much while we are far away. Seeing your letters makes us smile and think of home.”
At Mary, Mother of the Redeemer School in North Wales, Montgomery County, students in the four classes of the fourth grade made rosaries that were sent to the soldiers in Mosul, Iraq, at the beginning of May.
Kiersten Wagner, mother of a student in Kathleen Gifford’s class, had a friend who expressed a need for rosaries for the troops.
Gifford, Valerie Tinney, Karen Brody and Laurina Calabrese – the fourth grade teachers – loved the idea.
“Mrs. Gifford approached us and we decided to make it a group project,” Calabrese said.
The rosaries were made out of colored beads. Mothers of several students trained the students to assemble the rosaries.
“Once the students got it down, they really enjoyed it,” Calabrese said. The rosaries were blessed by Father William Teverzczuk, parochial vicar at the parish.
There were more than 200 rosaries made, of which 120 were sent to Mosul. The remainder were donated to other organizations.
For the students of Sacred Heart, St. Alphonsus, St. Bernadette and Mary, Mother of the Redeemer the appreciation of country, and of service to others became a reality through the efforts of faculty and parents.
Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.