STURGEON BAY — On the last day of school, St. John Bosco students saw something few get to see: their own prayers rising up to heaven.
It began when teacher Monica Hilbert told her students that they give themselves as gifts, along with the bread and wine at Mass. She knew the words would mean little until the students had something concrete to make the teaching come alive. So, working with the other teachers, she made little “offering boxes” for each classroom, in which students could place slips of paper containing their joys, sorrows, worries, hopes and dreams.
Those slips were collected each Tuesday and put into a larger offering box — made by seventh-grader Alex Deuchert and his father — that was brought up, along with the usual gifts, at each Wednesday Mass.
“It told the kids, in a graphic way, that they were offering themselves to Jesus and that Jesus was telling them he would always walk with them,” Hilbert said.
Fr. Carl Schmitt and Fr. Bob Stegmann, who take turns celebrating the school Mass, always referenced the offering box during the Mass, and the students mentioned those offerings during prayer time in the classrooms.
“At first, I nudged them to remember to pray for those petitions, but my biggest joy was seeing them start to do it on their own,” Hilbert said.
As the school year wound to an end and the stack of petitions grew larger, Hilbert at first thought to recycle them.
“But that just didn’t seem right,” she said. Hilbert decided to combine a prayer service with a burning ceremony. She credited the Holy Spirit for urging her to find a more permanent and prayerful way to deal with the students’ heartfelt offerings.
“I talked with Fr. Carl about it, and he thought it was a great idea,” she said. Fr. Schmitt is pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, which is adjacent to the school that serves several area parishes.
On June 1, after attending Mass and watching a slide show review of their school year, students gathered in the church vestibule for readings, petitions and songs.
Everyone then went outside to see their collection of offerings set ablaze. Incense was added to the flames so that a fragrant smoke rose upwards, symbolizing the pleasing fragrance of prayers offered to God.
Hilbert said the ashes will be sprinkled in the area behind the church that is being developed into a prayer and reflection garden.