For The Dialog
SALISBURY, Md. — St. Nicholas helped religious education students at St. Francis de Sales Parish learn about Advent while providing them an example of how they can prepare for the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day by following his example.
St. Nicholas, portrayed by Mike Hooks, gave a brief account of his life to about 100 people, most of them students from pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade. He moved throughout the parish hall to various stations where students learned more about Advent; colored church liturgical calendars with the colors for each season — Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, etc. — constructed pipe-stem-cleaner Advent wreaths for their bedrooms; made St. Nicholas popsicle-stick ornaments; and developed artwork for a Knights of Columbus “Keep Christ in Christmas” contest.
“The intent is to make them aware that we are waiting for someone very special, someone we have to open our hearts to, and that is Jesus,” said Pat Burbage, director of religious education for children. “We are all waiting for God to come, and that will come at Christmas.”
One goal was to help the children learn ways they can open their hearts to God, Burbage said. That’s where St. Nicholas’ visit became a vital part of the program.
“We want them to experience a sense of feeling, of caring and of doing for others,” she said. “St. Nicholas is the epitome of doing good things for others.”
She called St. Nicholas “the true Santa Claus/Father Christmas” whose life “points to Jesus, the heart of Christmas.”
The tie-in between Advent and St. Nicholas’ life became more apparent when he walked in on a discussion led by Matt Maciarello for 15 middle school students. Advent, Maciarello said, is a time “to ready your hearts [for the coming of Jesus] and look for signs in your community. This is the time to open your heart, as a Catholic, to the needs of the community.”
He asked the students what signs of needs they saw in the Salisbury area. Answers included hunger, homelessness and loneliness, especially among some elderly residents of nursing homes who have no nearby family to visit them.
St. Nicholas picked up in that vein, noting that he came from a wealthy family and was orphaned at a young age. He decided early on to use his money to help others, especially the poor of his area.
He told of a man he knew who could not afford a dowry for his three daughters, so they could marry. Unmarried women at the time often were forced into slavery, akin to human trafficking today.
St. Nicholas decided that would not happen to those girls. It was customary for that time — the fourth century — to place their shoes outside while they slept, he told the children. He began placing coins in the daughters’ shoes until they had enough for their dowry. Today, he is the patron saint of brides.
“That’s how I got started,” he said.
He also used his money to help the poor in other ways. He became bishop of Myra, located in what today is Turkey.
St. Nicholas carried a crozier on his rounds at St. Francis, using it as another means to teach. Every bishop has a crozier, which represents the Good Shepherd in one of Jesus’s parables, he said. The crozier is the church name for a shepherd’s staff that was used to help tend sheep in the field.
He also carried a bag of candy canes, noting that the Christmas candy looks like his crozier — or any shepherd’s staff — as he handed them out to the children.
St. Nicholas’ story seemed to make an impression especially on girls.
“I learned the stories of St. Nicholas and what he did to help girls get married,” said fifth-grader Claire Moreno.
Eighth-grader Leianna Jones said she did not know of St. Nicholas’ background. “The most surprising thing to me is that he gave women money in their shoes at night, so they didn’t get sold into slavery.”
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Parish Catholic gift shop offers new seasonal option
SALISBURY, Md. — There’s a new option for a Christmas gift with a difference in Salisbury: The Little Catholic Gift Shop, in the library of St. Francis de Sales parish center.
The store is open one day a week, from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Ten volunteers staff the store on a rotating basis. It will remain open year-round.
“We’re concentrating on Christmas ornaments, snow globes, and smaller Nativity sets” for the shop’s first Christmas season, said Maria Gitten. Also available are a variety of other gift and stocking stuffer possibilities, such as rosaries, medals of saints and holy cards.
Besides Christmas, the shop will concentrate on baptism, First Communion and confirmation gifts, and items for Easter.
While the store provides Catholic items that Gitten said were previously unavailable in Salisbury, parish officials had another reason for opening it.
“We’re exposing [customers] to all the beautiful Catholic literature we have, and giving them the opportunity to buy religious goods,” she said.