Catholic schools focus on experiential service

Becky Terlea spoke to sixth-graders at St. Margaret Mary School on Jan. 26 about the impact their book donations made on her school in Liberia. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Catholic schools seek to set themselves apart in a variety of ways — from rigorous academic programs to emphasizing Gospel values. Their unique commitment to service, which flows from the Gospel, sparked this year’s theme: “Be Intentional in Walking with Jesus and Sharing the Gospel Message.”

At St. Margaret Mary School on Shelbyville Road, students learn about service and stewardship through the school’s Step by Step project, a program popular among local Catholic schools.

Last year’s fifth-grade class project — which focused on care for babies, children and moms — crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

The students, now in sixth grade, collected their outdated textbooks, notebooks and sports jerseys for a school in Liberia.

Sixth-graders at St. Margaret Mary School watched a video of Liberian students receiving textbook donations from the Louisville school. Many recognized books they had used before in class. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

“Usually we just put (the old books) in the trash because we don’t need them,” said Leo Conely, who participated in the donation drive last year. “But it’s all they can get.”

He has learned, he explained, that typically in Liberian schools, only the teacher has a book, which is shared with all their students.

“It means everything to see that they get to use the things that we don’t need anymore,” he said.

The donations were delivered in December.

Just before Catholic Schools Week kicked off this year, the local students learned how their donations helped. Becky Terlea, a Louisville resident who founded the school in Liberia, visited St. Margaret Mary to share a video of the Liberian students receiving the donations. Terlea is a native of the West African country and came to the U.S. as a refugee two decades ago.

A St. Margaret Mary School sixth-grader looked at a carved elephant statue Becky Terlea brought from Liberia. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

In the video, some of the children lifted 60-pound boxes of books, hoisted them onto their heads and walked through an open courtyard. Others sifted through the stacks and looked at all the covers.

Back in Louisville, those watching the video smiled affectionately when they recognized their textbooks.

Terlea, who owns the B&C Daycare and School in a small community near Monrovia, Liberia, with her husband George Phillips, answered questions and thanked the students for their generosity.

“I want to say thank you all for these books,” Terlea said. “You guys are really, really helping my school.”

Students of the B&C Daycare and School in Monrovia, Liberia, posed in the sports jerseys donated by St. Margaret Mary School students. (Photo Special to The Record by Becky Terlea)

Colleen Balderson, a St. Margaret Mary parent who connected the two schools, said it was cool to see how receptive the students were to the differences and challenges the Liberian students face.

Sixth-grader Stella Van Gansbeke said she found the excitement of the Liberian students heartwarming.

“It’s so weird to think that the things you take for granted, other people are so happy about,” she said. “I can’t use that book anymore, but they love it. It’s just really amazing.”

St. Margaret Mary’s project is one among a host of service activities in the Archdiocese of Louisville schools. They tend to have a common thread: They prioritize hands-on service and personal encounters.

Eighth-graders at St. Albert the Great School serve food to people who are hungry at the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Open Hand Kitchen and recently traveled to Auxier, Ky., to replace and repair a resident’s dilapidated floor, said teacher Carrie Early.

St. Margaret Mary School students smiled and laughed while watching a video of Liberian students receiving donated textbooks. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

“Students learned not only how to safely and properly use power tools but how to work together to plan and implement these projects,” she said. “We learned about the beautiful landscape, rich history and amazing people of Appalachia. I am immensely proud of our kids for going out on a limb to learn new skills and help others in need.”

At St. James School in Elizabethtown, Ky., students find service hours rewarding — not only for those they help but for themselves as well, according to Dominican Sister of St. Cecelia Mary Grace Watson, St. James’ principal. They recently made and donated 60 rosaries to an orphanage in Ethiopia.

“Receiving pictures of the orphans and the living conditions currently, the students realized their blessings and were inspired to make additional rosaries for our Catholic family to pray in Ethiopia,” Sister Watson said.

Students of the B&C Daycare and School in Monrovia, Liberia, posed in sports jerseys donated by St. Margaret Mary School students last year. (Photo Special to The Record by Becky Terlea)

Back at St. Margaret Mary, the sixth graders asked Terlea about the conditions in Liberia — how many classrooms are in the school, what do they have for lunch and is there air conditioning?

“Air conditioning?” Terlea said with a laugh. “No! There’s no electricity!”

Millie Harris, a sixth-grader, said she was glad to be able to help the Liberian students.

“It made me feel really good for them and also very grateful for what I have,” she said. “It just made me realize more that other people don’t have the same things that I have.”

St. Albert the Great students replaced a dilapidated floor for an Appalachian resident during a service project. (Photo Special to The Record)
Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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