“A small wonder where minds soar and hearts touch.”
Just before you reach Saint Laurentius School's vibrant blue and yellow school door, these words greet you on a sign outside the school. A local school in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Saint Laurentius's 125-year history continues to fuel a changing and evolving geographical area with tradition, community, and faith-filled education.
In the heart of what Forbes recently called America’s “Hottest New Neighborhood,” you can grab your coffee and daily soft pretzel from the Fishtown market, drive past craft breweries and “row homes” (the Philly brownstone), and feel the buzz of the city before the sun rises over the church steeple. Many members of our faculty and staff attended the school, student families are actively involved and present, and the love for the school extends past students and families into the Fishtown neighborhood. As the school’s surroundings change by the day, SLS continues to gracefully adapt while simultaneously keeping its most beautiful traditions exactly the same. One of these particular traditions occurs annually during the advent season as the church prepares for the arrival of our own “small wonder.”
During my first year at Saint Laurentius, I approached the month of December with excitement for the anticipation, celebration, and all-around Christmas spirit that comes with entering the season with school children. I envisioned door decorating, festive read-alouds, and maybe even a visit from Old St. Nick himself. However, when the month of December came up in conversation, my fourth graders only wanted to talk about one thing—the annual Saint Laurentius Christmas pageant.
A Christmas pageant sounded right up my alley—one might say that I have a slight appreciation for performing. I can handle this, I thought. Again, I created an image in my mind—carols and festive attire and parents with video cameras. I racked my brain for a possible song choice for my students to share with the community. But, like many moments during my first year at SLS, I encountered the unexpected.
Fast forward to day one of pageant practice. I found myself standing in front of a group of ten middle schoolers, a suitcase full of handbells, a stack of sheet music, and the reminder that we were “only three weeks away from the pageant!” I quickly learned the reality of the production I was entering into. Think back to my image of a Christmas pageant, and add a traditional Living Nativity cast, a bell choir, ribbon dancers, full costumes, and almost every student in the school opting to participate.
Directed by eighth-grade teacher Duane Rutkowski, the Christmas pageant is intricately planned and choreographed from the minute the Pre-k 3 students strut through the church doors until “Silent Night” is proclaimed by the 10-person bell choir and sung by the 40-person student choir. As students grow older, their roles gradually increase in responsibility, as does their excitement and general leadership within the pageant. From a young age, students hold the utmost respect for this celebration, and the community flocks to the parish for the spectacular performance.
On the night of the pageant, every pew of the church was filled. Looking around on that sacred night, it seemed rather unexpected that such an extravagant celebration would stem forth from this small wonder of a school. And yet a small wonder seems to be the only explanation for this grace-filled evening, as such a celebration would only be explained by serving as the celebration of our church’s small wonder.
As ACE teachers, our faith is the only explanation for much of the work that we do. Waking up before the sun rises or driving home long after it sets, spending extra time with a student before completing our required coursework, cooking the community meal when you have report cards due the next day, or sharing the consistent loving smile with your most challenging student, the day-to-day can often seem senseless and without direction if we stray from our source of faith and hope—the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
What is the connecting thread (or should I say, ribbon?) between Saint Laurentius School, ACE teachers, and an awe-inspiring Christmas pageant? The faith that we place in a small wonder, an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and the understanding that all the work that we do is blessed and overseen by a love greater than we can ever imagine.
May we all keep Him as the center of our lives and our guiding light during the remainder of this blessed Advent season, and may we all take the time to appreciate the small wonders in our lives.
Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows by visiting ace.nd.edu/teach and requesting more information.