Four diocesan students win awards in national prayer contest

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

EASTON, Mass. — Four students in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fall River were named winners in Family Rosary’s 19th annual “Try Prayer! It Works!” contest, a nationwide competition where students are asked to express their faith through art, poetry and prose. Family Rosary is a part of Holy Cross Family Ministries headquartered in Easton.

This year, nearly 3,000 students across the country took part. Sean Hurteau, a third-grader at All Saints Catholic School in New Bedford, placed first in the grade three category. Fourth-grader Aiden Guay, also from All Saints Catholic, placed third in the grade four category. Fifth-grader Mary Skordas from St. Pius X School in South Yarmouth placed second, and fifth-grader Rachel Costello at St. Mary’s School in Mansfield, placed third in their grade’s classification.

Each of the students won for essays they submitted.

“This is a great year for Fall River,” Holy Cross Family Ministry mission director Beth Mahoney, told The Anchor. “I’m grateful for the schools that participated. I would like to see more schools and parishes in the diocese participate.”

The annual contest is open to children and teens from Catholic schools, parishes and other Catholic organizations. This year’s theme was “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

“I hear from schools and parishes around the country how their students learn about the Rosary, about Jesus and Mary, and how this contest helps them with praying as a family,” added Mahoney. “This is exciting to hear as our founder, Servant of God Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton believed that ‘the family that prays together stays together.’”

Patricia Olejarz, the language arts teacher for grades three through five at All Saints Catholic School told The Anchor, “I asked Sean [Hurteau]when he feels closest to God and he told me that at night, when his brother goes down for his final snack, and he is alone in his room lying in bed, that is when he feels closest to God. He says he feels peaceful and calm and that’s when he says his prayers. When I asked Sean how it felt to win the contest he said, ‘I felt really happy and proud of myself because I have never won anything like this before. It was very enjoyable and it made my family happy also.’”

Speaking to Aiden Guay, Olejarz said he told her, “When he is in bed, he is alone and he can tell God his problems, concerns, and what he needs help with and he knows that God is listening. When I asked Aiden what this contest meant to him he said, ‘It meant a lot to me because there was competition from across the country and when I get older I would like to be a script or book writer. I also feel that this contest has brought me closer to God because I was able to express my feelings.’”

Cristina Castellano-McCumber, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Mary’s School in Mansfield told The Anchor, “All of my students were deeply inspired by the Holy Spirit in the composition of their poems. Rachel speaks from the heart. She combined her personal experience, in-class lessons and requirements, and her faith, into a work of art.”

“When I won the contest, I felt happy, surprised and proud,” Rachel Costello told her teacher. “It means a lot to me to win the ‘Try Prayer! It Works!’ contest, because I love writing and hope to become an author when I grow up. So winning a contest combining two of my favorite things, religion and writing, was just amazing and means a lot to me.”

Anne B. Dailey, principal at St. Pius X School in South Yarmouth told The Anchor, “Incorporating prayer into the daily lives of our students is a part of everyday experience at St. Pius X School. Our mission statement expresses our goal of developing young men and women who live ‘lives of faith, service, and integrity,’ leading a prayerful life that extends beyond school experience, enriches the lives of our students, and guides them as Christians and as citizens. Mary Skordas, from our grade five class, expresses her understanding of prayer as essential to our lives, and recognizes the different forms of prayer.”

Skordas herself perhaps summed it up best, “If you truly seek forgiveness, or you truly want to help someone, why don’t you try prayer. It works.”

Mahoney told The Anchor that the judges for the contest come from various areas. “We have teachers from high schools, elementary schools, special education programs, catechists, parish ministries, parents, and grandparents,” she said. 

“We are grateful for the schools and parishes who participate,” she added. “I would like to see the contest increase. The contest is a great activity for the students to express their faith.

“The young people who participate are inspiring, their insights are awesome and full of life. They are creative, and they have belief in God, trust in God, and an incredible understanding of Jesus.”

In addition to the “Try Prayer! It Works!” contest in the United States, separate competitions are conducted in Mexico, East Africa, West Africa, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Ireland, France, Chile, Peru and the Philippines.

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