When you enter the fourth-grade classroom at St. Joseph School in Edinburg, Texas, the first thing you’re likely to notice is a large sign that reads “Saints and Scholars Welcome.” This sign, along with the bunting around the room that is covered in images of canonized saints, serves as a reminder–a reminder not just to the nine-year-olds who arrive each morning, but also to me as their teacher: the purpose of this sacred place is greater than we realize, and we are not alone on our journey to fulfill this purpose. We look to the saints as role models throughout the year, and in religion class we learn their life stories: laughing at their misadventures, crying for their tragedies, and wincing at each lost limb.
At the beginning of October, the fourth-graders are given a specific task: choose a saint that you feel connected to, and then teach the rest of the school about your saint. The chosen saints become what we call our “patrons,” and October is dedicated to learning all we can about these saints: getting to know each trial and triumph on the saint’s road to Jesus. The students and I become quite attached to our patron saints, and it is not uncommon for them to be brought up in science, social studies, or reading classes throughout the day. By the time we make our posters, write our paragraphs with perfect capitalization, and rehearse our lines to perfection, our patron saints are far more than a research topic...they are our friends.
On the morning of November 1, the fourth-graders arrived dressed head-to-toe as their patrons. Many costumes were lovingly stitched by abuelas or tías in the days prior, and others were stapled at the seams and cinched with yarn. No matter how they were created, each student looks radiant, proud to portray their holy friend on this holy day. At 8:15 a.m., the Living Saints Museum opened its doors to adoring fans that include kindergarteners, middle schoolers, and endless family members. If you stand near the center of the room on this day, you would hear quips from over-excited saints as they share their stories. “I had my leg blown up by a cannon!” “The Romans plucked my eyes out, but you can ask me to help with your eye troubles so the same thing doesn’t happen to you.” “Don’t tell the other Apostles, but I was Jesus’ best friend!”
Joy radiated around the room, and I found myself tearing up at the sheer beauty of the scene. Noah, dressed at St. Ignatius, exclaims, “C’mon Miss H., I promise I wasn’t actually arrested- that was just my saint!” But it is not concern of incarceration that causes my tears; it’s the realization and the silent hope that one day, in a Catholic school just like this one, young students will be arriving to school dressed as the very members of this current fourth-grade class, the newest additions to our ever-expanding communion of saints.
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