A bronze statue of St. Rita of Cascia by artist Anthony Visco stands in the national shrine in her name in South Philadelphia. (Sarah Webb)

Since 1907, the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia has provided devotees of the saint of the impossible with instruction on bearing crosses, trusting in God’s mercy and hoping for peaceful resolutions to discord.

At a time when pessimism and uncertainty are vying to corrupt the faithful, that final element has become a prominent vocation for the South Philadelphia community centered around the shrine. That emphasis has inspired leaders to teach youths about the patron’s example, which they are doing through the third annual Peacemakers Art and Essay Contest.

The contest, for which the shrine is accepting submissions until April 30, 2020, was organized by Chesley Turner, who recently left her position as St. Rita Shrine’s director. She fondly recalls visiting schools during her tenure to explain to children the virtues of obedience, forgiveness, perseverance and devotion that have made St. Rita such a beloved model.

She didn’t worry that they might not relate to the Augustinian nun who died in 1457, but she reveled in how receptive children were to her message.

“With bright eyes and big imaginations, they are dreaming their futures, so it isn’t a stretch for them to see themselves as peacemakers, in big ways and in small ways,” said Turner, now the director of the Center for Church Management at Villanova University. “I think children understand that while there are headline-making peacemakers in the world, those peacemakers started small, with kindness and caring in the family, classroom and neighborhood.”

Though open to expanding the contest to include high school students, the friars are welcoming the creative talents of elementary pupils for this tribute to St. Rita as a means to foster community and individual growth in order to serve God.

As an aid to appreciation of St. Rita’s work, the shrine’s website has an informative story of her life available as a resource. Finalists in the contest will have their work displayed in the Lower Shrine from April through June of next year, a period including St. Rita’s feast day, May 22.

For more information on the contest, contact the Shrine Office at 215-546-8333, or visit the website SaintRitaShrine.org.

Along with the yearlong search for contemporary peacemakers, the Augustinian friars will welcome one of their own, Father Michael Sullivan, Oct.6-9 for a retreat focused on acknowledging God’s grace, understanding one’s search for meaning and forgiving oneself for missteps.

His four nights of talks and prayers will explore the effects of the sacraments on our souls.

“Our journeys toward understanding are at the heart of Augustinian spirituality,” Father Sullivan said about a prevailing theme of his retreats. “There are messages to decipher from what we see, think, feel and express, and they should not be avoided.”

Traveling the country year-round to provide parishes with these reminders, Father Sullivan believes followers of Christ have many opportunities to grow in wisdom and understanding, and he will address them through his talks titled “To Be Born Again,” “The Healing Love of Jesus,” “The Call to Be Church” and “Our Response to the Call.”

Attendees of the retreat will be asked to contribute a free-will offering on the concluding night.

“The greatest sinner and the greatest saint — God has no more love for one than he has for the other,” Father Sullivan said. “Therefore, if we go astray, we have to realize that he will grant us his mercy and that we have to make the decision to forgive ourselves, too. That can be tough in today’s society.”

With a mix of humor and seriousness, the Augustinian priest expects his style to resonate with attendees and rekindle within them the perseverance they need for mature discipleship.

“We are always prone to longing,” Father Sullivan said. “Jesus knows that and wants us to come to Him every day for guidance.”

Learn more about the retreat at the shrine’s website.