Love of others through charity and justice is a core value at Holy Spirit School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Each year the parish school selects a social justice focus to encourage students to think beyond the community and act on behalf of those in need. One year they supported Heifer International, another they built a well in Uganda. In supporting one cause all year, principal Dr. Mary Adrian says the school is able to develop a real connection, focus their philanthropic efforts more effectively, and help their students see that they can make a difference.

“They see how important it is as a people and society to be generous with our time, talent, and our money,” she said.

Holy Spirit students washing each other's feet on Holy Thursday

Holy Spirit students washing each other’s feet on Holy Thursday

The year-long, school-wide effort led to a generous collection of $5,000. How did 325 kids, kindergarten through eighth grade, raise so much money?For the 2013-2014 year, the school chose to support the work of one of its own alums: Annemarie Barrett, an FMS lay missioner serving in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In addition to attending the school, Annemarie made all of her sacraments at the adjoining parish, where the Barrett family remains active today.

“It was a really easy, easy thing to do because it is a part of the culture of our school,” said English teacher Deb Townley, who herself donates to FMS on behalf of her former student and dear friend’s daughter. She recommended Annemarie as the school’s project for the year because she thought it would be great if Holy Spirit saw what one of their own was doing to change the world. In addition to fundraising, students have watched videos of Annemarie working in the garden and learned about Cochabamba, Bolivia.

HolySpiritFotos_annemarie_eigth_townley

Young Annemarie with her teacher Mrs. Townley

Townley says that the students really took pride in finding different ways to contribute. For instance, the third, fourth, and fifth graders thought to put together jars of muffin ingredients to sell during the holidays.

Three times during the year they had the opportunity to pay $1 to not wear their uniform to school that day. Money also came in through collections at school Masses. About $1,000 came from a collection at the middle school interdisciplinary performance in which students traced the history of media from the ’40s to the present.

The “coin wars” were the kids’ favorite fundraising activity. During the competition, the students took the first five minutes of the day to go around and put money in jars labeled by class. Classes gained points for each penny in their jar, but lost points for any other currency put in their jar by other classes, based on the value of the currency. “They all learned the word ‘sabotage,’ really quickly,” said Dr. Adrian with a chuckle.

Fun competitions aside, the school’s encouragement of leadership, service, and commitment to Catholic Social Teaching has, not surprisingly, produced several alumni who have gone on to volunteer around the world. Dr. Adrian says this fuels Holy Spirit’s desire to continue working with their students to help them understand their Gospel call.

Annnemarie (right) on her First Communion day at Holy Spirit with her second grade teacher Mrs. Gerber

Annnemarie (right) on her First Communion day at Holy Spirit with her second grade teacher Mrs. Gerber

“Both at school and at church I was empowered as a young Catholic lay person to participate in the community,” Annemarie said. “Learning at a young age at Holy Spirit that our Catholic Church is a church of lay leaders, including myself, formed me into the Franciscan lay missioner I am today.”As for Annemarie, she is grateful for the solid foundation the Holy Spirit community gave her and for the support she still receives.

“Thank you for continuing to embrace me as a part of your community and for your decision to extend your community internationally as well, to now include these resilient families with whom we share work in Cochabamba, Bolivia.”