By Beth Donze
Although it’s been 11 years since Kids’ Clarion debuted as the Clarion Herald’s monthly publication for and by Catholic children in grades K-8, I will never forget the beaming little faces that graced the cover of our very first issue back in September 2000.
Justin Favorite Watson, Kyron Smith and Matthew Moore, then first-graders at St. Joseph the Worker School in Marrero, are pictured smiling from ear to ear on their first day of school, wearing the construction-paper watermelon necklaces they had made in art and holding a real watermelon that their teacher would later cut for snack.
Patricia Smith, St. Joseph’s principal, had decided to treat her students to one final slice of summer by organizing an interdisciplinary day of instruction in which they examined the life cycle of watermelon seeds in science, computed watermelon facts and figures in math, and wrote stories about the fruit in language arts.
The photo reappeared in December 2000, when my Clarion Herald colleague, sports editor Ron Brocato, reproduced the front page of Kids’ Clarion’s debut issue on a T-shirt as his “Kris Kringle” gift to me.
Ron’s present is now full of holes, but the memories of those early assignments are amazingly intact.
Kids’ Clarion marked my first out-of-the-home job since the 1993 birth of my first child. Although I had kept up my writing skills during my 7 and ½ years at home, I felt a bit rusty and more than a little daunted when I was presented with a camera for the first time in my career (“You mean we write the stories and take the pictures?”). Imagine my surprise when I, a New Orleans native, learned there were more than 60 Catholic elementary schools spread out over eight civil parishes. It’s one thing to know that Reserve, Bogalusa and Belle Chasse are cities in your local area, but it’s another thing altogether to master the best routes to those places and their wonderful Catholic schools.
Anyway, I digress. The last 11 years have flown by at an alarming rate. When you start working the K-through-eighth-grade beat, you quickly learn that many of the most Christ-like people in your midst are pint-sized, with wisdom and poise far beyond their years, intellects that are off the charts, and a pureness and generosity of spirit of the sort Jesus repeatedly asks us adults to strive for.
Looking back, there are too many inspirational stories to list: Marianne Gosciniak, the St. Pius X sixth grader whose physical challenges didn’t stop her from using her feet to play complex piano pieces and to paint more beautifully than most of us who are blessed with perfectly functioning hands (An update: Marianne graduated last May as the salutatorian of her St. Mary’s Dominican class).
The list goes on: Christ the King’s Brandon Dellucky, the 11-year-old who lobbied makers of above-ground pools to redesign their ladders following the accidental drowning of his friend; the American flag, composed of red, white and blue cups, inserted into the chain-link fence at St. Louis King of France School after 9/11; the CCD classes for special children taught so lovingly at Our Lady of Divine Providence; the Mary Queen of Peace seventh graders who accompanied parish ministers on their rounds to distribute holy Communion to the elderly and home-bound.
We are a Church of countless young and gifted prayer-writers, musicians, singers, poets, artists, athletes and humorists. Those who lead our young people never flinch when they are called on to guide students though Living Nativities, rosaries, Stations of the Cross, liturgies and service projects.
Students from St. Dominic and St. Charles Borromeo – just to name two elementary schools – remind us that one is never too young to enter into fellowship with the homeless and serve them a meal. At Holy Name of Jesus, I once interviewed a child who had invented a special walker so seniors could more easily transport food from the stove to the kitchen table.
I hope you recall some of these stories, too, and keep Kids’ Clarion in mind when you hear of other talented, spirit-filled youngsters from our Catholic elementary schools and CCD programs. The easiest way to reach me is by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, I decided to look up that trio of young men pictured in our debut issue, who are now high school seniors. Kyron Smith attends Archbishop Shaw and Justin Favorite Watson is at John Ehret. If anyone knows the whereabouts of Matthew Moore, I would love to hear from you!
I also hope you will help me find the next 11 years of Kids’ Clarion stories, so that when today’s first-graders graduate from high school, their toothy smiles can also be immortalized in our pages and in our hearts.