OSHKOSH — At St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, the religious education coordinators want to make learning about the saints a fun time for the children and their families. Last year, they started a tradition by holding a party focused on the story of St. Nicholas.
This year, a Mary Party was held on Dec. 9. Fifty-five children in grades Pre-K through 5 attended, along with their families. The focus was on St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“It was a way for kids to celebrate Mary,” said Jessie Adrians, coordinator of religious education. “It was a lot of fun and the children loved it. We had positive parent feedback and there were just a lot of smiles as families spent time together learning about their faith.”
The Mary Party offered three stations for the children to attend. The first station featured Fr. Edward Looney, parochial vicar, in the character of St. Juan Diego, a native of Mexico, who received an apparition of the Virgin Mary on four separate occasions in December 1531.
“My specialty in theology is Mariology, the study of Mary, and I am attuned with all things Marian,” Fr. Looney said. “I think the story of Juan Diego is all about how Mary won the country of Mexico for her son through a miraculous image. People are always enamored with the miraculous.”
When they were asked what they had learned after hearing the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the children were able to repeat the key parts of the story, including the flowers in his tilma, or cloak, that fell out to reveal the miraculous image of the Blessed Mother.
The children also learned a song in Spanish; made their own tilmas out of paper bags, which bore the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe; played Marian-themed games to earn small prizes; and enjoyed cookies decorated like sombreros.
“It was a grand success in that the young people learned more about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and its meaning and significance,” Adrians said. “Everyone took away something from the event, and it was a community-building experience.
Even the attending parents said they got a lot out of the evening and learned something new, Adrians said.
“It was a fun activity for the kids and helped them to have positive feelings about being involved in their faith,” she said. “That is one of the most important things: that children feel welcome and excited about being at church. If they have that from a very early age, that just continues to build.”
She said activities such as the Mary Party allow children in the parish to know who the saints are, model their lives after them and gain a greater sense of our faith community.
“It helps them to know who their friends in Christ are,” she said. “We’re so blessed in the diocese to have families who desire to know and follow Christ. Bishop David Ricken asks that we make households of prayer, and I really think that that’s happening.”