When the world is hurting, we are taught from a young age to
find a way to help. So when news of the devastating November
tornadoes reached the students of Cardinal Joseph Bernadine School
in Orland Hills recently, it didn't take long for the youngsters to
go into action.
"As we speak, our students are not only working to raise money
for some of our students' relatives who lost everything in the
tornadoes, but also for a family who recently lost their home due
to a fire," explains Religion Coordinator Mary Vlaming of Cardinal
Joseph Bernadine School. "It's just part of the nature of our
school's mission to help when we can."
Indeed, while changes in curriculums and requirements for
Illinois schools fill the news these days, it is the work of many
of Chicagoland's faith-based schools that deserves a bit more of
the attention. As teachers at many public schools frantically teach
through the fast-paced curriculums of subjects such as math and
science, the staff at faith-based schools throughout the area are
realizing the need to teach their students more.
"Many of us struggle to live a faith filled life by letting too
much of the secular world into our influence," Vlaming says.
"As a faith-based school, our teachers and staff model a
Christ-like attitude every day. We share in a community of faith at
our liturgies every week, we open every school day with prayer and
no matter what, social service is at the core of everything we
Sheryl Meyer, executive director of Luther North College Prep in
Chicago, says it's about living values.
"For example, our theme for this year has been service, so our
students will be spending much time looking at homelessness in
Chicago and seeing what they can do out within those neighborhoods.
In this school, we not only care about people out in the world, but
we also truly care about one another, and that can make quite a
difference within a student population."
In fact, Meyer says that this underlying principle of caring for
others can change the entire atmosphere of a school and cut down on
social difficulties such as lack of self-esteem or bullying amongst
students. Infusing these faith-based principles throughout a daily
curriculum is something that many teaching professionals say is
essential in the development of a student's overall wellbeing,
spiritual health and the often delicate religious formation.
"We meet the kids where they are at, and that does not mean just
academically," Meyer says. "Lots of kids come in here as
nonbelievers … and that's OK. We live through the Gospel rather
than insisting that it's something they should believe in. We give
them the space to learn and make the choice on their own."
And while making this choice can be challenging, young people
seem to thrive in being surrounded by supportive faculty, staff and
fellow students throughout this stage of life. To further help
support their students' faith lives, Immaculate Conception in
Elmhurst came up with the idea of "Faith Families" about three
"It's really about surrounding our students with people they can
count on," says Principal Cathy Linley of Immaculate Conception. "A
lot of schools talk about being a family, but we give our students
constant ways where they can not only be a faith family within
their own school, but also within their family, their community and
From pairing older students with younger students to help with
their reading studies or faith families joining together for
monthly meetings, relationships build stronger every day.
"I see the most difference in our older children and how they
act within the faith families we have set up," Linley says. "I
always stress to them how important they are to the younger kids
and how the choices they make and the behavior they demonstrate
Of course, this faith-based impact becomes even stronger in a
student's life when it is taken outside of the classroom. "The
sophomores are currently studying the Book of Kings, dealing
extensively with the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem,"
explains Rabbi Zachary Silver of Chicagoland Jewish High School
about a recent trip the class took to visit the Baha'i Temple. "The
underlying question during this year of study is, 'What defines
sacred space.' Seeing the masterpiece of the Baha'i Temple
continues to foster conversation in class and students are
encouraged to incorporate this experience into their own lives, as
they articulate their own understandings of sacred space."
Students at The Frances Xavier Warde School also thrive during
the time when they can take the ideals of faith to others within
the community. In fact, each student at the school is asked to
volunteer for at least three hours during the school year, with
seventh- and eighth-graders asked to volunteer 15 hours of service.
"Service to the community and beyond is part of our every day,"
explains Clare Hurrelbrink, religious coordinator at The Frances
Xavier Warde School's Old St. Patrick's campus. "We are committed
to our goal of reaching 5,000 service hours as a school."
Vlaming says, "It's time for a brand new day."
"It's about transforming from the perception of an "I" based
world to a "We" based world, where we can do all things through
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