By Becky Aubut
NORTON, Mass. — St. Mary’s Parish in Norton created a unique Lenten project for the young members of its Religious Education classes as students in grades one-through-five took part in creating a 40-foot banner while embracing five Corporal Works of Mercy.
Laura Vergow, director of Religious Education classes, began her work as director seven years ago, and wanted to do an annual project that would involve the students on a visual level, and thus creating a banner was born.
The students do a banner every Lent, and last year’s banner was based on prayer: “Pray for someone they love; pray for someone in need; say a special prayer at night,” said Vergow. “We started with a big, blue banner and the theme was, ‘We grow God’s Garden of Love.’ They had stems, leaves and flowers; we just built that up and it was absolutely beautiful.”
Vergow said the finished project was so rich in layers and colors, that she didn’t think she would be able to top it.
She said she got the idea for this year’s banner from the Year of Mercy: “We wanted the kids to be involved in an organic way, a physical way, in the Year of Mercy,” said Vergow. “We looked at the Works of Mercy and it was something they could do. The proportions were way beyond what I expected, in terms of the response.”
The step-by-step creation of the banner began with each student being represented by a plain white cutout, essentially a blank slate. Each student was told that each figure showed they were children of God first; so 350 little figures went up. Each student drew a face on his or her figure “and they were just little white bodies on the banner at the start,” said Vergow.
Each week of Religious Education classes brought color and life to the banner as students added to the banner while simultaneously acting out a Corporal Work of Mercy.
The first week focused on “Clothe the Naked,” and each student brought in a piece of clothing for someone in need; donations that totaled 42 bags of mainly children’s clothes.
“Beautiful clothes, jackets and snowsuits, even new clothes on hangers with tags; from infants to adults,” said Vergow. “It was unbelievable the response.”
For each student who donated clothing, his or her figure on the banner then earned a piece of paper clothing that Vergow or her assistant glued on.
The following week “Feed the Hungry” resulted in 35 bags of groceries being donated and saw each class make a plate and have it added to the banner.
“Some of them drew the food as a meal, and some of them cut out food ads. Every class had a dinner plate on that banner,” said Vergow.
For the Corporal Work “Give Drink to the Thirsty” dozens of juice boxes and more than 20 cases of water were brought in by students. Pitchers were cut out with students each putting a glass in one of the pitchers.
For “Provide Shelter to the Homeless,” umbrellas were created by each class as a symbol for shelter, and students were asked to bring in cleaning supplies so that those in shelters could keep their space clean and nice, as well as personal care products, such as shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“Shelters in the area were very happy with what we brought in,” said Vergow. “People were very inventive with what they brought it, and it was very appreciated at the shelters.”
For “Visit the Imprisoned and Comfort the Sick,” each student made a heart for the banner, representing the love that they shared for people. Students brought in Easter cards and those were distributed to nursing homes and to a local halfway house in Norton.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Mary’s Parish in Norton, as well as at St. John’s Parish and St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift shop in Attleboro; New Hope in Attleboro; two nursing homes and a couple of other organizations that Vergow wished to remain anonymous, all benefitted from the students’ generosity.
“When we brought some of the things to St. Vincent de Paul’s store, they were overwhelmed,” said Vergow. “They were just so thankful because most of it was children’s clothes, and that’s their biggest clientele. We even had two First Communion dresses.”
The nursing homes were thrilled to get the cards and though no one has yet sent any thank you notes, “we don’t need them because it was all about giving,” said Vergow.
Even if a student missed a week, he or she would automatically make it up the following week. Due to a snowstorm that fell on a Monday, the biggest day for classes, said Vergow, more Easter cards will be coming in with students that will also be delivered, albeit late, to nursing homes.
As the banner was coming together with students doing most of the creative work, it was the participation of the whole family that Vergow said she appreciates the most.
“The kids couldn’t have brought all this stuff in without the parents, they were very involved,” she said. “Parents were very responsive. I have never seen so many parents get up and look at something in our building. [The banner] is hanging up where the kids come in for class, and the kids stop and show their mom or dad what they did, and on this 40-foot banner try to find their one little heart or person. One mom told me that every week it’s a different person their child says that they drew, but I like that because it doesn’t matter. They’re all God’s children.”
The banner will stay where it is until Pentecost, and though they would like to move the banner and hang it in the church, the logistics of moving a 40-foot banner and keeping it intact may make it impossible.
“A lot of pictures were taken and we’ll share it with the kids,” said Vergow.
So how will Vergow top this one?
“I’ve already been asked that,” said Vergow, laughing. “I have no clue, but the Holy Spirit will lead me.”
Regardless of what next year brings, Vergow knows this year’s project made an impact: “What we want the kids to understand is that God loves all the children of the world, whether they’re as rich as we are in family and community with the Church to support us, or if they’re just desperately looking for something to hold on to — we can help them.”