Parishes and schools stress reason for season
Kirsten Nelson remembers sitting in the back of her high school’s chapel during Advent last year, decompressing while reflecting on the busy holiday season and what Christmas is really all about.
"I was thinking about all the stress," said Nelson, now a junior at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, and a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion. "I thought about all that was going on. But if you give it all to him (God), you can relax a little bit."
Those quiet moments for busy students are a big reason Katie Grudle, campus minister, set up Advent prayer stations in the chapel last year and will again this year.
"It’s an opportunity to look at our interior lives," Grudle said. "Sometimes, we need to just sit in silence. Begin to relax and allow time for prayer and reflection."
Duchesne Academy, St. Wenceslaus School in Dodge and St. Joseph Parish in Pierce are among many Catholic schools and parish religious education programs offering prayer and quiet time during Advent. They also stress service to others and celebration, with parties, concerts and pageants. A list of events on this page outlines just some of the offerings to students across the archdiocese.
Kim Spieker, religious education coordinator at St. Joseph Parish, includes Advent wreath lighting and reflection at each of her Wednesday classes in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Students also process up to the altar during Sunday Masses and help light the Advent wreath in the church.
A special Advent gathering Dec. 7 with all 85 religious education and 35 youth ministry students will include parents and grandparents decorating a Christmas candle with Christmas cards and other material, remembering that Christ is at the center of the season, Spieker said.
"I think that’s a challenge for all of us," Spieker said of keeping Christ at the heart of the celebrations. "We have lots of distractions. We need to be purposeful about finding that time and finding that focus during Advent."
Leading up to Advent, Spieker’s students also participated in several service projects, including providing supplies for missionaries in Africa.
Duchesne Academy and St. Wenceslaus School also stress service.
Through donations, Duchesne Academy is providing household necessities for a newly-arrived refugee family in Omaha, including furniture, food, clothing, tooth brushes and shampoo. And the school is part of Operation Others, a food collection project for the needy led by Creighton Preparatory School that involves all of the other Catholic high schools in the Omaha area and some of the elementary schools.
Students at St. Wenceslaus School this year are collecting facial tissue, socks, lip balm, postage stamps, sugarless candy and other needs and treats for residents of a local nursing home. Gift items are placed under a Christmas tree in the school’s main hallway until delivery.
Parents and students at the school will bake more than 300 cookies one evening in the parish center of St. Wenceslaus Church and deliver them Dec. 21, the last day of school before holiday break, as "thank you" gifts to area businesses, such as a grocery store, accounting firm, beauty shops and gas station.
St. Wenceslaus School also makes it a season of celebrations, including a Christmas program at 2 p.m. Dec. 11 with a Nativity play and songs, cookies and punch for parents and families.
A birthday party for Jesus will be held at the school Dec. 21, with cupcakes topped by candy canes for the letter "J." The party begins with students singing "Happy Birthday" and ends with "Silent Night."
And that’s not all. A wooden Jesse tree set up outside of the school is the focus of daily, school-wide prayer, with a variety of wooden ornaments decorated with faith-based symbols and Bible scenes from Genesis to the Gospels placed each week on the tree.
Hannah Hinrichsen, a fifth-grader, said she enjoyed the Jesse tree last year.
"We put ornaments on it and we do a reading," Hinrichsen said. "From the way beginning, people were special to God."
Christ is at heart of the holidays
Advent prayers, food drives and Christmas pageants are among ways Catholic schools and parish religious education (PRE) programs keep Christ at the center of Christmas.
A sampling of events this year, as provided by schools and PRE programs across the archdiocese, with Christmas concerts at the school or nearby church unless noted:
St. Michael School
- Students make donations to a local food pantry, including canned and boxed food, diapers, shampoo and toothpaste.
- Classes play Advent Bingo games, make Advent Angel crafts and fill Jesus Stockings with lists of accomplished good deeds.
- Sing Christmas carols at local businesses.
Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School
- Dec. 6 and Dec. 8 seniors will read faith-based Christmas stories and sing carols with preschool to second-grade students at eight Omaha-area Catholic elementary schools.
- An all-school Advent Prayer Service will be held Dec. 6, and a candle-lit reconciliation service Dec. 13.
- Students will perform in a Christmas concert, with school band and choirs at 7 p.m. Dec. 14.
St. Bonaventure School
- All-school confessions will be held Dec. 2; Benediction Dec. 14; and reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke Dec. 21.
- Donations are being made for a local Birthright emergency pregnancy center.
- Fourth- and fifth-graders will perform at a Christmas concert 7 p.m. Dec. 4.
Sacred Heart Parish Religious Education
- Religious education students from Sacred Hart Parish at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Butte, St. Mary Church in Spencer and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Lynch will perform a living Nativity from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 11. The production, with about 20 students from kindergarten to seniors in high school, as well as a donkey and sheep, will be at the church in Lynch.
Mount Michael Benedictine High School
- Students will participate in morning prayers with a progression from Advent reflections to O Antiphons and into the Christmas season.
- After Christmas break, there will be an Epiphany blessing of the chapel and main school entrance doorways, with all-school prayer and marking with chalk above the doorways 20+C+B+M+17. The crosses represent the four seasons, the letters are initials of the three Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) and the numbers are the year, honoring the Benedictine value of hospitality.
- About 100 pounds of food and three dozen winter coats were donated to the Heart Ministry Center near Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha during Nov. 21 scrimmages between freshmen and sophomore, junior varsity and varsity basketball teams.
St. Charles Borromeo Parish
- Students in PRE will write on a strip of yellow paper each good deed they perform, lining the Nativity scene’s manger as they prepare for Christ’s birth at Christmas.
St. Francis School:
- Festivities include the fifth-graders’ Advent calendar, which holds slips of paper stating good deeds students are to accomplish each day. Students will add the paper as links on Advent chains leading up to Christmas. The fifth-graders also have a classroom Jesse Tree with symbolic ornaments and will hold daily discussions about what they mean. The class also will decorate a Christmas tree and students will read Scripture each day.
- Now through Dec. 25, third-graders will look at a name Jesus is known by in the Bible, read the passage where it appears and discuss its meaning and significance in their lives. The names will form a “Names of Jesus” chain at each student’s desk. Students also will discuss Christmas as celebrated around the world – from Mexico to Germany to Sweden.
Christ the King School
- The sacrament of reconciliation is offered during Advent.
- An “Advent Angel” statues is brought to different classrooms as a surprise visit, carrying a message of virtues to be practiced.
- Students form a living rosary in honor of Mary on the Dec. 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and they honor the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession of students for Mass, carrying roses and dressed as Juan Diego and the Blessed Mother.
- An Advent Festival at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 will include students in costumes, playing music and performing the story of the Nativity in Christ the King Church.
Creighton Preparatory School:
- Students and staff will pause before the last class each day during Advent while a teacher or staff member reads over the intercom reflections on the season from Pope Francis.
- A Christmas concert will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 14, with a freewill donation to Bethlehem House for at-risk pregnant women in Omaha.
- Creighton Prep also leads an annual Christmas food collection among Catholic high schools and some elementary schools in the Omaha area that will deliver food boxes Dec. 17 to about 1,200 needy families. Other high schools involved: Roncalli Catholic, Mercy, Marian, Duchense Academy of the Sacred Heart and V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic, all in Omaha; Daniel J. Gross Catholic in Bellevue and Mount Michael Benedictine in Elkhorn.
Holy Name School
- A student led food drive will benefit Holy Name Parish’s chapter of St. Vincent de Paul Society.
- Advent wreath ceremonies will be held in classrooms, and a crèche and tree will be placed in the school’s main hallway.
- The school will organize Christmas gifts for 25 needy families, and staff members will pray for one another as “Advent Angels.”
- Students will learn about the Latino “Las Posadas” celebration.
- Pre-kindergarten children will perform the Nativity story for parents, hang stockings on the feast day of St. Nicholas Dec. 6 and make ornaments for their Christmas trees at home.
Marian High School
- Students put together gift boxes of a toy, school supplies and hygiene items for North Carolina-based Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, which will be distributed to children all over the world. Second-graders from St. Stephen the Martyr School in Omaha helped wrap the gifts and write Christmas notes, and students prayed over the gifts for the children who will benefit.
- Students will participate in adoration of the Eucharist, a daily rosary and all-school Masses throughout Advent and Christmas.
- The school will put on Christmas concerts at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 4.
Mercy High School
- An all-school Advent prayer service was held Dec. 1.
- Students were encouraged to be “Advent Angels” for one another, giving secret gifts, performing acts of kindness and more. Advent Angels will be revealed at the last school assembly before the Christmas holiday.
- Mercy High Singers will perform at several events, including the Holy Cross Altar Society Christmas luncheon Dec. 7, Christmas dinner for the St. John Vianney Classy Seniors group Dec. 15 and New Cassel Retirement Center’s Franciscan Center Dec. 13.
- The school’s Christmas concert will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 14, with performances from the Mercy High Singers, Concert Choir and Guitar Class.
St. Leo the Great Parish Youth, Keenagers Senior Adults groups
- The groups will come together for a two-hour Christmas lights tour on Ollie the Trolley Dec. 11, with hot dogs, chips, cookies, hot cocoa and caroling.
St. Philip Neri School
- Students will hold a food drive for St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry in Omaha; pre-kindergarteners to fifth-graders will provide Angel Tree gifts of candy, soap, stamps, shampoo and other items for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging; sixth- through eighth-graders will forego a Christmas party to hold a “Baby Shower,” giving diapers and other items to Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha; and faculty and staff will donate money to buy Christmas gifts for families.
- Fourth-graders will participate in Secret Santa, doing kind things for classmates, and strive to do random acts of kindness throughout the school.
- All students and staff will have opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation, and all classes will be involved with Advent Masses and praying the rosary.
- All-school Christmas concerts will be offered at 1:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 15.
St. Stephen the Martyr School
- Activities include a food drive for St. Stephen the Martyr Parish’s food pantry that also involved placing the items near the altar at an all-school Thanksgiving Mass Nov. 21, and eighth-graders boxing up the items for delivery to the parish center.
St. Piux X/St. Leo School
- The annual Famous Scientists Wax Museum will be held Dec. 16, with students dressed as scientists and presenting 30-second biographies for a quarter; proceeds are donated to the school’s Adopt-A-Family Christmas assistance program. Last year, the event raised more than $1,000.
- First-graders rehearsed a Christmas play Dec. 1 for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade and second grade before a Dec. 2 performance for their parents and grandparents.
St. Thomas More School
- Students donate during Advent to a Bethlehem House fund, helping the Omaha home for at-risk pregnant women. The class with the most donations will celebrate with an ice cream party after Christmas break.
St. Vincent de Paul School
- Each classroom has a Jesse tree, and a tree is placed in the schools’ commons area. An eighth-grader reads over the intercom each day about that days’ symbolic ornament, and each classroom places the symbol on their tree. A saint of the day also is recognized
- Adoration of the Eucharist will be held Dec. 2.
- Sixth- through eighth-graders will donate goods for Essential Pregnancy Services emergency pregnancy center in Omaha.
- St. Nicholas Day will be celebrated Dec. 6, with stories about the saint and candy canes for students and staff.
- Third- through fifth-graders will perform a Christmas concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 15. Two rehearsals during the day will be open to grandparents and others.
St. Wenceslaus School
- The school is holding its 21st annual food drive for Catholic Charities’ St. Martin de Porres food pantry. Last year, the drive stocked the pantry’s shelves for more than seven months.
V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School
- An Advent drive for food, clothes, baby and hygiene items will be held with freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors competing as classes to collect the most items. Several organizations will benefit, including the Heart Ministry Center in Omaha.
- Reconciliation services will be offered in theology classes.
- A group of students requesting time to pray the rosary will launch during Advent a weekly gathering before Wednesday Masses.
St. Columbkille School
- Students will participate in Advent wreath, Jesse Tree, Christmas songs, Good Deed boxes, Christmas stories, arts and crafts.
- Three Christmas musical dramas will be performed: First and second grades at 7 p.m. Dec. 6, kindergarten at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12, and seventh and eighth grades at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14.
St. Columbkille Parish Religious Education
- The annual Advent Family Festival was held Nov. 28 and Nov. 30. The gatherings began with a prayer service, and participants made Christmas cards for residents of a local nursing home, as well as Advent wreaths, Christmas bulbs, other arts and crafts, while enjoying hot chocolate and caroling. Cakes, cookies and other treats were sold to raise money for Christmas gifts for needy families, and families were encouraged to take bags home that were labeled with items needed by the Child Saving Institute in Omaha.
St. Gerald Parish Youth Ministry
- A Living Nativity will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at Lakeview Chapel and Office in Ralston, with live animals, music, treats, hot drinks and a display of Nativity sets in nearby St. Gerald School gymnasium.
South Sioux City
St. Michael School
- The school includes a special Advent wreath blessing and weekly all-school Advent prayer. As one way to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, students and staff are encouraged to greet people with “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.”
- Students make Thanksgiving placemats, Christmas-themed door decorations and other small gifts for local nursing homes and the senior center.
- Inspired by the 1999 novel, “Pay it Forward,” students created an Advent calendar centered on things they will do for others each day to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Guardian Angels Central Catholic School
- Classroom doors in the elementary and high schools are decorated in wrapping paper and teachers are placing gift tags with good deeds to be performed for the Lord.
- Advent and Christmas are themes for daily prayer.
- High school students and teachers are ringing bells at stores for the Salvation Army.