KIEL —Lent kicked off with lots of prayers and songs by students at Divine Savior School on Ash Wednesday, March 1. Not only did students receive their ashes during an all-school Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Church, they gathered at the end of Mass to bless classmate and friend, Grace Hunsader, a third grader who was diagnosed with cancer last fall.
“Grace’s struggle this year has been a real rallying point for the school community and in many ways has been a year-long Lenten experience,” said Kerry Sievert, Divine Savior School principal, as Grace, her parents, Kelly and Jason, and brothers, Grant and Reed, were called up to the sanctuary.
“Through all these months, Grace has truly been an inspiration to our school community,” continued Sievert. “She traveled to Chicago many, many mornings for radiation and was back in school around 10 a.m. Only when the chemotherapy dropped her blood counts did she miss any school. Yet through all that, she did her school work and never complained.”
Fellow classmates and teachers, standing near the side altars in front of the church, wore coats or jackets. In unison they removed their outerwear to reveal special T-shirts made for the occasion.
“Grace, the school community and your family and friends want to show our support for you in yet another way and we wanted to do it in front of the parish community,” said Sievert. “We are all proudly wearing shirts that say ‘Hands Up for Gracie.’ We raise our hands in tribute to the example you have been to all of us and we raise up our hands in celebration for your having completed a long, hard-fought journey.”
After Grace and her family were presented with lavender T-shirts that also featured handprints with hearts in the center, the congregation stood, raised their hands in a blessing, and joined in singing “Song of Blessing.”
Deacon Pat Knier, who assisted Franciscan Fr. Finian Zaucha during the Ash Wednesday Mass, then stood and offered a special prayer and blessing for Grace.
Following Mass, Deacon Knier said Grace has been an inspiration to her classmates and teachers. “Even in the midst of her going through a lot of treatments and the effects of the treatments, she’s been a very good model for us in her suffering,” he told The Compass.
“It’s really united the school and the parish — and to see that courage that she has,” added Deacon Knier, his voice trailing off, before adding that Grace’s poise has served as a personal example to him.
According to Kelly Hunsader, Grace was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a cancer of the soft tissue of the eye, on Sept. 28, 2016. She began chemotherapy on Oct. 7 at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay. She has also received radiation treatment in Chicago. Her final radiation treatment took place Feb. 3 and her last chemotherapy treatment was March 3.
“It was her last chemo, so now she’s going to have follow-up MRI and PET scans next week to find out how everything worked,” Hunsader said Feb. 6. “The prognosis is good. They are expecting a full recovery.”
She is thankful for all that the parish and school have done for Grace.
“It’s been incredible. Everybody has been so supportive — Gracie’s teachers, the students and clergy,” said Hunsader. “We’ve stayed very strong as a family. Faith has really, truly helped us through this. We’ve had lots of family, friends and community praying for us.”
As part of Divine Savior School’s Lenten focus on prayer and almsgiving, the students are participating in Coins of Compassion. Each day, students will bring coins to school and, during their prayer service, place them in a jar. “The money will be joined with the parish almsgiving project in support of childhood cancer,” said Sievert.
In addition, members of the school’s graphics club created “Hands Up For Gracie” buttons and the Christian Leadership Council ordered rubber bracelets. Both items were sold as fund-raisers for childhood cancer.