Stations of the Cross bring reflection to school children on Christ’s Passion
By Lisa Kochanowski
During the Lenten season, Catholics of all ages will be spending the 40 days reflecting on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. One of the ways that communities relive the path of the Lord to His final hours on earth is through the Stations of the Cross.
Schools throughout the diocese will not only keep their academic curriculum lessons going but have also planned ways to introduce the path of Jesus to their grade school students.
“St. Anthony students (in South Bend) will be working on being present to the Lord on His journey to the cross. This Lenten season we hope to have more frequent encounters with the Stations of the Cross with weekly prayer services dedicated to The Way,” said St. Anthony Principal Chad Barwick. This will happen in large groups with kindergarten through fourth students and fifth- through eighth- grade Stations of the Cross.
“We will also encourage teachers to take their classes into the sanctuary to lead them through in a more intimate setting. We are blessed that Father Mark Gurtner will lead us through stations many times throughout Lent. His leadership, along with our veteran faculty have really created a spirit of reverence and excitement about Stations of the Cross among our students.”
Barwick said they will also have the sixth-grade class present a living Stations of the Cross to the parish and school communities. Teachers Tracy Taelman and Sister Mary Vianney have been working to prepare students for their lines and roles, as well as costumes, props and sets.
“The students’ preparation helps them to have a deeper appreciation for the rich tradition of Stations, and, more importantly, the journey Christ took to the cross,” said Barwick.
St. Jude Grade School will observe the “Way of the Cross” on Fridays in Lent that the school is in session.
“We also do an annual Holy Thursday luncheon, which is a series of prayers relating the Jewish seder tradition to the Last Supper. It is not a seder meal in and of itself, but uses many of the same prayers, mixed with Scripture readings, designed to help students make the connection between the Passover and the Last Supper. We conclude with a full lunch for teachers and students and the sharing of ‘lamb cakes,’ as a foretaste of Easter celebration,” said Stephen Donndelinger, principal of St. Jude Grade School.
Christopher Kolakovich, the principal of St. Thomas the Apostle School in Elkhart, said the entire student body will participate in Stations of the Cross on three different Fridays during Lent.
“The first two services are led by students at the pulpit. All students are given a prayer card with appropriate responses so that they can follow along. Music is incorporated as we sing ‘Were you There?’ throughout the service. The third Station of the Cross is very special because it is a ‘Living Station.’ Our eighth graders, in full costume and attire, act out the 14 stations for our students and then again for parishioners in the evening,” said Kolakovich. “It is a powerful experience not only to pray the stations, but to see them happening at the same time. The stations offer a valuable time for prayer and reflection. They serve as a reminder of all that Christ went through for us.”
According to Maggie Mackowiak, the principal at Corpus Christi School in South Bend, during Lent, the Catholic Identity Committee plans activities that the school does every day during Lent. They participate in things like school-wide prayer services, morning readings over the intercom system, and each individual classroom does age appropriate activities.
“The Stations of the Cross are prayed once per week by grade levels. Father Daryl Rybicki leads them using age appropriate books. Grades one through five go together and then six through eight. It is important that the children understand what they are reading and praying while in church for the Stations of the Cross. Our parish also has evening Stations of the Cross and I believe our students, having prayed them with their classes during the day, attend with their families in the evenings,” said Mackowiak.
“The goal is to give students the opportunity to reflect on the suffering and passion of Jesus in the way that is most meaningful for them. I talk to the teachers about making sure that they pre-teach the Stations of the Cross. Students should come into the church knowing what the Stations are and how they tell the story of the Passion. I do hope that our older students take the time to reflect on the prayers and mediations, which can often be deep and very meaningful,” Donndelinger said.
“It is also important to remember that the Stations of the Cross originated primarily as a visual experience, so I also tell the teachers, especially in the younger grades, that it is okay to teach kids to follow the stations visually and to use the depictions in their booklets as a point of meditation. It’s not all about the words. We usually sing a very simple opening and closing hymn or versus of the ‘Stabat Mater,’ so there is also a way for those who are musically inclined to learn from that as well,” added Donndelinger.
Schools try to keep things age appropriate with their various activities and help the child understand the journey of Jesus in a way they can relate.
“Our goal is to help them understand how we pray them, leading to why we pray them, and ultimately guiding them to see the importance of praying the Stations of the Cross. Children today need images of hope, the journey of Jesus and his ultimate Resurrection, can be the beginning of the message of hope,” said Mackowiak.
Helping children understand the values of prayer and reflection are a major goal of enhancing the spiritual journey of students for educators.
“Students need to understand that Lent, like Advent, is a different time of year. Building in different prayer experiences and devotions helps remind the students that we are not just in ordinary time,” said Donndelinger.
“Ultimately, we hope the time our students spend walking with Jesus during Stations of the Cross will bring them closer to the Lord. Like all prayerful experiences, we hope it becomes habit and that our students encourage their families to attend both Stations of the Cross and Mass at St. Anthony School. We’ve been blessed by this renewed sense of families exploring their faith together among our school families,” said Barwick.