ELSMERE — Students at many elementary schools in the diocese have prayer partners throughout the year, but chances are few are like those of the fifth grade at All Saints Catholic School.
Students at All Saints, continuing a tradition built up for 19 years by the fifth grades at Corpus Christi School, have been corresponding with and praying for senior citizens from the four parishes that sponsor the school since the academic year began. The relationships that have been built up culminated May 10 when the students and their senior partners met at a Mass at Corpus Christi Church. It was the first face-to-face encounter between the 60 fifth-grade students and their senior prayer partners.
The Mass included the laying on of hands for all participants and anointing of the seniors by the four priests present.
Many of the seniors, such as John Panico, have participated in the program for several years. His partner this school year has been Kelsey Pogonyi.
“She picked me out of a hat,” Panico said.
Panico said he and Kelsey wrote letters to each other about their lives. They corresponded about five or six times.
“This is wonderful. It’s a nice tradition,” he said.
Kelsey said they tried to introduce themselves through their letters. She talked about school and a family trip to Colorado, while Panico wrote about his grandchildren, some of whom attended Corpus Christi School. She said she knew about the program from her days at Corpus Christi and was excited to get to take part.
“I thought I would like to have a prayer buddy to write to and it would make me feel good,” she said. “I was excited to see my prayer buddy.”
Kelsey’s classmate, Brady Dalton, had two prayer buddies, Patricia Bullen and Marguerite Kane. Brady said the program allowed him to meet some new people, which he likes to do. “It’s fun to write people you don’t know.”
Bullen and Kane, both of whom have participated in the initiative in past years, were impressed by Brady when they finally got to meet him. They said they could tell from his letters that he is very mature and that he asked great questions.
Fifth-grade teacher Rosemary Deery made the program a part of All Saints after it opened this year. She had been a teacher at Corpus Christi when a sister on the faculty started the prayer partnership as a Lenten program. Until this year, the senior citizens had been from Corpus Christi and St. Mary of the Assumption parishes, which sponsored Corpus Christi School, but this year it expanded to include St. Matthew’s and St. Catherine of Siena, incorporating the four parishes that make up All Saints.
“The first year we had five people anointed,” Deery said. This year, that number was closer to 60, which is the number of students in All Saints’ fifth grade.
Deery said the partnership enhances the students’ faith education.
“Faith education becomes so much more enriched when it is taken out of the classroom,” she said.
In addition to the letters, the students and seniors pray for each other. The few minutes taken out of each day in the classroom for that prayer is the most important part of the program, Deery said.
Pastors from three of the sponsoring parishes – Fathers Tim Nolan of Corpus Christi, Joe Drobinski of St. Matthew’s and John Hynes of St. Catherine of Siena – concelebrated the Mass. They, along with Father Idongesit Etim of Our Lady of Fatima Church in New Castle, laid hands on the students and seniors, then anointed the seniors.
One of the seniors, Joan Moroney, recently returned to New Castle County after living downstate for several years. Even the distance couldn’t keep her away.
“I love it,” she said. “I had moved away from here, but I continued to come.”