“There is nothing on this Earth more to be prized than true friendship,” said Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Friendship is what two 8th grade students from Delaware County found at the Religion Bee, a friendly, faith-based competition sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.

The Religion Bee format is similar to a Spelling Bee. Participants answer questions on Scripture, sacraments, doctrine, and devotion, as well as archdiocesan history.

Cecilia Kohlenberg from Sacred Heart Parish School in Havertown and Emily Griffin from Saint Dorothy Parish School in Drexel Hill knew of one another as fellow contestants at Religion Bees in earlier years, though the two had never spoken.

“We knew of each other, but we didn’t know each other,” said Kohlenberg, until they were introduced by a mutual friend during a prospective student visit to Cardinal O’Hara High School (COHS) in Springfield about a year ago.

They bonded over their experiences at Religion Bees over the years, their love of the Catholic faith, and their excitement for being future O’Hara students.

The two stayed in touch afterwards, and even met up at the Sacred Heart CYO Christmas Basketball Tournament last December.

Both girls say pasta is their favorite food, and English Language Arts is their favorite subject in school. Both say they have an interest in being nurses who work with children someday.

Kohlenberg says that she loves the sacraments, especially “being able to receive the Eucharist every Sunday” and that the Sacrament of Reconciliation helps “strengthen my bond with the Church.”

Griffin says she loves “having the comfort that God and Jesus will always be there for me, and I never have to stress out about anything, because I can just put it in God’s hands and it’ll all work out.”

Through this budding friendship, the girls started encouraging one another in their studies and preparation for the upcoming Religion Bee tournament earlier this year.

“We didn’t really go over [to] each other’s houses to study together, but we were resources for one another.  We’d be like, ‘Do you have this packet?’ or ‘Did you study this?’”

The girls also often texted one another, sharing their feelings of excitement and nervousness for the upcoming competition. Both girls progressed through the early rounds of competition. In that phase, Religion Bees were held at 63 Catholic elementary schools throughout the five-county region. Students in grades five through eight were eligible to participate.

Kohlenberg and Griffin qualified for the Religion Bee’s semi-final round held at COHS on Feb. 22, where they were top finalists and continued to the final round in March.

“The genuine support and happiness they had for each other making it to the final round was evident,” said Karen Tomasetti, principal at St. Dorothy School.

Kohlenberg and Griffin continued collaborating and preparing for the final competition. Then at the final championship round — held at the Saint John Neumann Center in Philadelphia on March 13 — they ended up winning 1st and 2nd place, respectively.

The top winner was decided by a final question about the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters of Philadelphia, known affectionately by many as the “Pink Sisters” due to the rose-colored tunics, which are a part of their habits.

The question asked if the Pink Sisters are considered to be sisters or nun, with a follow up question asking why.  Kohlenberg correctly answered that the cloistered Pink Sisters are nuns, not sisters, because nuns’ lives are spent in prayer and work within their convent or monastery, whereas sisters are more active in the world, engaging in many kinds of work.

Both girls said they were surprised to win the top two spots in the competition, and they were happy for each other’s accomplishment.

“It wasn’t like we were against each other, so we were happy for each other,” said Kohlenberg.

“I didn’t expect myself to make it that far,” said Griffin of her second-place finish.  “I was happy Cecilia won.”

“Opportunities such as the Religion Bee and other extracurricular activities open doors to friendships outside the school building,” says Tomasetti. “As educators we recognize the need for students to be socially equipped as well as academically sound for their futures. Peer collaboration is paramount for this outcome.”

Both girls will be attending COHS next academic year, where they look forward to growing their friendship and perhaps have some classes together.