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Inspiring a Culture of Devotion

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A student crowns a statue of Our Lady at St Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School, Regents Park. Photo: Supplied
A student crowns a statue of Our Lady at St Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School, Regents Park. Photo: Supplied

By Sr Cecilia Joseph OP

At the beginning of May we were preparing for our first (in recent memory) May Crowning. The teachers explained to their students the meaning of this tradition in honouring Mary as Queen of Heaven and Queen of our Hearts. Further, as part of our afternoon assembly, we were planning a procession to her newly created grotto which stands at the entrance to the school. Students were asked to bring in a flower from home to offer as a sign of their love and devotion.

One practically minded Year 3 boy raised his hand and asked his teacher, “Miss, if we move this event to the spring, it would make a lot more sense because I could get a flower from my garden much more easily!” Very good point, Lachlan. His eight-year-old senses noticed the seasonal discrepancy of devotions brought to Australia by early Catholic settlers and missionaries arriving from the northern hemisphere. I feel the same way as I sing about snow and cold during the Advent and Christmas seasons!

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As the big day arrived, I underestimated the gardens in the Cumberland Council. Children and parents, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, came to school with a plethora of hand-picked and store-bought flowers. I came with ten bunches to make up for what I thought would be lacking. One teacher had a semi-miraculous multiplication of chrysanthemums in her garden which brought forth a few hundred flowers. Before school even began for the day, students were eager to tell me that they shared their flowers with those who didn’t bring any. As unconventional as it might seem — to find beautiful flowers in May — we were by no means short on this Autumn day. Our Lady had an extraordinary plan in mind for us and the campus was tangibly alive with Marian devotion.

Students with the crowned statue of Our Lady at St Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School, Regents Park. Photo: Supplied
Students with the crowned statue of Our Lady at St Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School, Regents Park. Photo: Supplied

Many of the Church documents that focus on Catholic education discuss the importance of school ‘climate’. Yes, in a general sense we share a similar goal with our climate activist friends: fostering a place where individual parts work together to support healthy growth, and in our case, the process of human formation. In The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, we read,

From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics.

We are very aware of the physical expressions of our Catholic faith. Jesus’ Incarnation shows us that the created world is filled with the divine and reveals to us the Creator. We love our devotional items: crucifixes, statues, scapulars, holy water, and rosaries. We love our devotional practices: the Stations of the Cross, May Crowning, common prayers, the Angelus, novenas, and feast days. These items and practices are not the object of our worship but lead us to the One whom we worship. Our school environment bespeaks the sacramental. These expressions of faith create a culture of devotion and assist us in the larger task of evangelisation.  These time-honoured traditions engage body and soul and create that unique school climate so essential for distinguishing our schools from independent and secular schools.

In the end, I underestimated the time it would take for 450 children and parents to present Our Lady with their floral offerings. Everyone wanted to have their moment with Mary. As the bell was ringing for the end of the day, students didn’t want to leave the line before they got their turn. Let’s just say, I know what needs to be improved for next year! As the weeks have passed I have seen children stopping to pray with their friends at the grotto and parents lovingly reaching out to touch her hand as they pass by. It has been a glorious month of Marian devotion at our school.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, and patroness of Australia, pray for us.

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