By Debbie Shelley
The Catholic Commentator
Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant’s Love and Mercy Academy on June 3-14 was an intense immersion of middle school youth in the love, knowledge and service of Jesus.
Youth leave Holy Rosary church after a day of catechesis and fun. Photo provided by Jenny Morales | Holy Rosary Church
When Holy Rosary pastor Father Joshua Johnson was parochial vicar at St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, he had many opportunities to connect with children through St. Aloysius School.
“I noticed the kids were telling their parents what they were learning and they were bringing the parents back to Mass,” said Father Johnson.
When he became pastor at Holy Rosary, the parish school of religion (PSR) classes were scheduled during the week and didn’t seem to be working. Father Johnson’s schedule was also “swamped” during those times and he could not spend much time with the children.
“I didn’t like that,” said Father Johnson.
He talked with Father Mark Beard, pastor at St. Helena Church in Amite, which has a successful summer PSR model. Father Johnson also remembered how successful the summer PSR program was at St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge when he served as a transitional deacon there. By having the classes during the summer morning hours, Father Johnson was able to spend more time with the children, including celebrating Mass at the beginning of each day and leading eucharistic adoration at the end.
Youth kneel as Father Joshua Johnson, pastor of Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant, passes by with the blessed sacrament during eucharistic adoration. Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator
Father Johnson and the Holy Rosary staff met with Stephanie Clouatre-Davis, spiritual director, who has experience in working with youth ministry, and she wrote the program.
According to Davis, the framework of the Love and Mercy Academy was interactive and focused on catechesis and encountering Jesus.
“We not only gave them important information about their faith, but let them experience Jesus Christ and not just talk about him,” said Davis.
She said the curriculum was “simple and comprehensive.”
“The brains of this age group can hold on to information in a unique way and they are much more open,” said Davis.
Her favorite topic, as well as for many of the youth, was the foundation and history of the church, which included stories from the Bible and of the prophets.
“One of the students said, ‘I finally understand it,’ ” beamed Davis.
She said the academy showed that youth are capable of praying in deeper ways as they embraced lectio divina, adoration and the Mass.
“They easily came into the prayer forms,” said Davis. “As we did things over and over again, it became part of them. It’s something they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
Along with Mass and adoration there were informational classes and service projects based out of the Holy Rosary’s Full of Grace Café.
The social service emphasis was a favorite part of the academy for Davis’ nephew Abram Clouatre.
“Father Josh talked about how each of us brings gifts to the community,” said Clouatre as he straightened a small American flag next to a grave as the youth cleaned the Holy Rosary Cemetery. “I like taking care of the saints in our cemetery.”
Participants in Holy Rosary’s Love and Mercy Academy pose for a photo. Photo provided by Jenny Morales | Holy Rosary Church
There were also fun activities such as scavenger hunts and a snow cone social. There were also religious who helped and shared their vocation stories.
One day was focused on the saints. Using the wall of saints in the church as an illustration, Father Johnson emphasized in one of his Mass homilies that even though they are not able to physically see the saints, they are present and interceding for them in heaven. In the classroom the students also had a chance to learn about and see some relics of the saints and played “saints Bingo.”
“I didn’t know about the saints and that God works through the saints,” said youth Jake Folse. He connected with St. Martin de Porres, who worked for racial harmony and whose portrait is on the wall of saints.
Youth had the opportunity to learn a little about the history of the parish as they cleaned Holy Rosary Cemetery.
Parish administrator Jenny Morales said the youth’s “one on one” opportunity to learn how to serve at the altar and read at the Mass was an instrumental part in their growth in faith.
Youth Reese Fisher, who was serving for the first time at the altar during the academy, said, “I felt close to Jesus,” and wants to continue altar serving during the year.
Likewise, participant Ethan Oubre said, “I felt like I was sitting next to Jesus.”
Oubre also enjoyed hearing about the relics of the saints and how some saints have incorruptible bodies.
Morales said as the youth were having first time experiences and learning new things they were telling their parents about “the cool things” they were doing.
Morales and Jessica Lambert, assistant director of religious education, said the children’s enthusiasm “rubbed off” on the adult volunteers.
“I had a lot of positive comments from the parents and the adult volunteers. They said say they were learning as much as the kids,” said Lambert.
Father Johnson also saw, once again, the children evangelizing their parents and brining them back to the church, transforming both young and older.
“It is bearing supernatural fruit,” said Father Johnson.
Snow cones were a cold summer treat enjoyed at the Love and Mercy Academy. Photo provided by Jenny Morales | Holy Rosary Church
Youth had the opportunity to see saints’ relics at the Love and Mercy Academy.
Abram Clouatre straightens an American flag next to a grave at Holy Rosary Cemetery.
Cleaning up around the cemetery was a way of way of “honoring the saints among us.”