Last August, NORTHWEST CATHOLIC announced a student essay contest, open to students enrolled in any of Western Washington’s 74 Catholic schools. Students were asked to reflect on the theme of Catholic Schools Week 2014, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” and to share how faith, knowledge and service are related in their schools and in the rest of their lives.
We received submissions from more than 440 students from eight schools around the Archdiocese of Seattle, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The essays were judged by a panel drawn from the staffs of Northwest Catholic, the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Schools and the Fulcrum Foundation. We are proud to present the winning high school, middle school and elementary school essays.
From left: Denning Gillespie, Julianna Vidales and Katie Miller, the 2013 NORTHWEST CATHOLIC Student Essay Contest winners. Photo: Rachel Bauer
HIGH SCHOOL WINNER
The heavenly harmony of faith, knowledge and service
By Julianna Vidales
I was hot, I was tired, but I was happy. Sitting under a tree on lunch break, I looked at the shed walls and roofs that my youth group had been in the process of building. Those miscellaneous parts would soon be complete wood sheds of great value to families who wouldn’t run out of places to store firewood this winter. I looked to my other side and saw my friends conversing with a girl from the Indian reservation’s youth group, Mending Wings. It was beautiful how young people from different cultures could grow in faith and understanding together. Yes, I was happy.
It all came together on that weeklong mission trip. Faith, knowledge and service combined and made it an experience I will not forget. But, thanks to the environment that I immerse myself in every day at school, blending faith, knowledge and service comes easy to me now. I have experienced in many big and small ways how they are interconnected. Knowledge helps me grow in my faith, which leads me to desire service. Likewise, service gives me knowledge that solidifies my faith. And so on. It works every which way.
Going to a Catholic school has especially been a part in helping me realize the relationship between these aspects of life. It happens in the classroom. Our teachers, even as they teach us calculus or Spanish, are able to point us to the ultimate truth of God. It happens in the school community. We constantly present each other with opportunities to do service together, and our school assigns a minimum amount of hours for each student to complete each year. We come together every morning to pray before classes start. We take time in the middle of the week to celebrate Mass. Faith, knowledge and service are at the very root of our school experience.
Thanks to my experiences at school, I am able to relate my religious beliefs with my learning and work in all areas of my life. I know that having all three together is a lot more beneficial than working on only knowledge, only faith, or only service alone. They complement each other. This continued to be true on my mission trip to the Indian reservation over the summer. My youth group prayed together and asked others for prayer, just as we studied Native American culture and history in preparation for the service we were to do. With this multifaceted preparation, our week was heaven-blessed. But it didn’t surprise me how harmonious faith, knowledge and service were together. I already knew.
Julianna Vidales is a senior at Seton Catholic High School in Vancouver.
From top: Vidales, Gillespie and Miller. Photo: Rachel Bauer
MIDDLE SCHOOL WINNER
Finishing the race and keeping the faith
By Denning Gillespie
As I ran forward, I saw the finish line ahead of me. There was only one girl ahead of me, but I was gaining on her quickly. I was going to win the big race! As I caught up with her, a look of surprise crossed her face, and suddenly, she tripped and fell! I could have kept going, but my faith teaches me to serve others. So I stopped, helped her up, and we crossed the finish line together. Faith, knowledge and service were the basis of that decision, and many others throughout my life. In my life at school and at home, faith, knowledge and service have been tied together to inspire success.
One of the times that faith, knowledge and service are incorporated at St. Louise is during Mass. Students can attend Mass about once a month. Each eighth-grade student is assigned a ministry position and serves during Mass. We also learn about God, and his teachings. Another time that these three aspects are combined is during religion class. As with other classes at my school, we learn something new every day, about God, our faith and its history. We are also required to complete service hours and record them throughout the year.
I also demonstrate faith, knowledge and service in my life outside of school. I participate in Girl Scouts, where we learn the Girl Scout Law, and part of that is to support our faith. You can also go for the bronze, silver and gold awards, which require you to complete over 50 service hours. Lastly, I learn about faith, knowledge and service at home with my family. We pray as a family, learn as a family, and serve each other by helping out around the house.
I wonder how my life would be different if faith, knowledge and service weren’t a huge part of it. I certainly wouldn’t be the student, Catholic or family member I am today. Life isn’t just about sprinting to the finish line. It’s about doing worthwhile things along the way.
Denning Gillespie is an eighth-grader at St. Louise School in Bellevue.
Listen to Denning Gillespie being interviewed about her essay on Sacred Heart Radio's "Northwest Catholic" show.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WINNER
God all around me
By Katie Miller
I walked into the classroom, and automatically I could tell this year would be filled with faith, knowledge and service.
God was all around me. There were crosses and prayers on the wall, a prayer table in the front, and a statue of Jesus on a bookshelf. On our first day, we prayed together and went to an all-school Mass. We have one Mass each month and we pray at least three times a day. It really helps me with my faith. At home, my family goes to Mass each week. We pray at the dinner table and when something is wrong.
The school helps me with my knowledge of God as well. We have religion class every week, and study the Bible. We learn different prayers together. My family taught me who Mary, Jesus and God are. They read to me my first Bible stories. They were a big influence on my knowledge of God.
My school does a lot of service. My class supports an orphan named Kerry. We each earn a dollar from our parents each month and donate the $30 we make. In the older grades, they travel to places that need help with food, shelter, clothes, etc. Near Christmas we have a project called Toys for Tijuana. My family helps to serve; for instance, my sister went on a mission trip to Lynden. I hope we can do more.
My family and school are the reasons that I have a strong relationship with God.
Katie Miller is a fifth-grader at St. Louise School in Bellevue.
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC – January/February 2014