Essay winners focus on family, life

This past spring, the Archdiocese of Omaha challenged Catholic middle and high school students to consider the role of the family in society today. 

In the annual pro-life essay contest, promoted by the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation, seventh- through 11th-graders were invited to write a 300- to 400-word essay on the significance of the family from a Catholic perspective.

First prize was awarded to one student at each grade level. Winning essays were written by seventh-grader June Mullen of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Omaha; eighth-grader Maddie Wiswell of St. Vincent de Paul School in Omaha; ninth-grader Clare Oberg of St. Barnabas Academy in Omaha; 10th-grader Brad Bennett of Mount Michael Benedictine School near Elkhorn; and 11th-grader Kolton Koubsky, also of Mount Michael.  

The contest had two sections, each with its own essay topic. Seventh- and eighth-graders were asked to write about the family as a “sanctuary of life,” as expressed by Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”). Ninth- through 11th-graders were asked to write about the family as “a school of deeper humanity” and “the foundation of society” as outlined in the Vatican II document “Gaudium et Spes” (“Joy and Hope”). 

Essays were judged based on the students’ understanding of the pro-life message, their clarity and persuasiveness in communicating that message, creativity, originality, grammar, spelling and organization. Winners from each grade level will go on to the statewide Knights of Columbus essay contest, to take place this fall. 

Here are the winning essays

June Mullen, St. Robert Bellarmine, 7th Grade 1st Place Winner

The word sanctuary has many meanings, but one definition that is meaningful to me is a place that provides peace, tranquility, and love. The Pope said family must be like a sanctuary. I believe that the Holy Father stresses that the family must be like a sanctuary because families should be at the center of all we do. Families provide us with all that we need for life. Not only does a family (parents) provide us with the basic needs including food and shelter, but more importantly, families give us our basic moral foundation, teaching us right from wrong, teaching us how to live like Christ, and teaching us how to be good and giving members of our community.

In my family, one of our "sanctuaries” is our dinner table. Family meals together bring us a lot of joy and laughter. We talk about our days and what was fun at school. One of my mom's favorite questions is: "Who was a good friend to you today?" At this sanctuary, my parents talk about things happening in the world with the purpose of teaching us good life lessons. At this sanctuary, we always pray before we eat. We want to thank God that we have healthy food and that He brought us together to share in the meal.

Not only are families there for the good things, but the bad ones too. If you are in tough situation or have a serious problem, families will be there to hold your hand and walk by your side.  Two of my grandparents have passed away in the last few years, and through the final years of their lives, they were surrounded by their children and grandchildren.   I was lucky enough to see my grandma hours before she passed, and in her final moments, it was only family who was there by her side as she left us to go and see God and grandpa in Heaven.

Families are sanctuaries who are with you in your early years helping and guiding you along the way.  They will be with you in good and difficult times, especially at death.  Families are a blessing to have and are a sanctuary that we can depend on from beginning to end.


Maddie Wiswell, St. Vincent de Paul, 8th Grade First Place Winner

One of St. John Paul ll's greatest contributions to the world was his teaching on the treasure of the family. He said that the family is "a school of deeper humanity" (Familiaris Consortia, 21). In spite of the many threats to the value of life that exist in our culture today, the family can be a true refuge for preserving and promoting the gift of life.

Pope John Paul clearly tells us that "The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort, and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish." (Familiaris Consortia) The family is in danger because of the many threats to the value of life. Our American society today is dismantling the family, centering instead upon individualism, secularism, and selfishness, all which does not promote the sanctity of life. The reality of these acts cause abortion, violent murder, school shootings, euthanasia and much more. Yet, the family can overrule these things if it is rooted in unselfishness, faith, love, and respect for life.

The church professes that the family is called to be a sanctuary, because it is the basic building block of life. It is the first community that a child experiences, where they discover how to truly love. The family is a reflection of love, starting with the parents, who are open to life. They model to their children how to be selfless with every sleepless night tending to their crying baby, by working two jobs to provide for the necessities of their family, reading with their kids, helping them with homework, and so much more.  A family exhibits forgiveness, seeing us at our worst and at our best, loyalty, support, and faith in Christ.  When you are with your family, you can be yourself, and you can feel accepted and loved. St. John Paul calls all of us to never take our families for granted and treasure it always.

A family who embraces the truth of the Catholic teachings on life, teaches their children to respect life from a tiny baby in the womb to the ailing elderly person in the hospital. God's presence is there in everyone and that is to be respected above all. Even in the midst of our secular society, a family is a firm pillar of unconditional love, faith, and respect for all areas of life.


Clare Oberg, St. Barnabas Academy, 9th Grade First Place Winner

"The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family." (GS n. 47) To change society, we must first change families because broken families mean a broken society. What do we need to do to transform our communities into a place that reflects God's love? Selfless love. Selfless love is forgiving unreservedly, denying self constantly, practicing self-control repeatedly, and committing to love unconditionally. Selfless love can strengthen society.

"The family is, as it were, the primary mother and nurse of this education. There, the children, in an atmosphere of love, more easily learn the correct order of things …" (GS n. 61) The first step to renewing society is to strengthen our own families. A family is where we should be our most authentic and real selves. Selfless love will help us reach the goal of a family where we are truly ourselves. Think of the difference between a house and home. A house is where we find shelter, but home is where we find belonging. Our families should be like homes instead of houses. A family is more than providing the necessities for life, rather it should be a spiritual home where we are loved, wanted, and uplifted. Once families have acquired selfless love, they can spread it to society. Society offers the opportunity to share what we learn in our family. It is the door to reaching others and helping them in their hardships. Finally, it is a challenge set by Christ to heal the nations to the full extent of our human abilities.

Selfless love is necessary for strengthening society. If we first teach ourselves to love selflessly in a family, then we can magnify that love in our communities.  A perfect role model for this is the Holy Family. Joseph sacrificed his pride. Mary sacrificed self-reliance. Jesus sacrificed everything. This matters to parents, that they may strive to teach their children the importance of selfless love. This matters to children, that they may practice selfless love towards their family and friends. Finally, this matters to the whole world, for the growth of selfless love won't cure the world of pain, but it will certainly make it a better place.


Brad Bennett, Mt. Michael Benedictine, 10th Grade First Place Winner

Being in a family has many benefits. Some people who are not a part of one wish they were. As Catholics, we should help those people find themselves a family so they can live a happier life. The three main things I will talk about in this essay are the Church teaching about how important families are, healthy families are able to help renew society, and it can be renewed by recognizing the role of the family.

The Church teaches that the family is a "school of deeper humanity" and "the foundation of society." The family is these things because when good families are formed and then those good people can influence others to form good families. If there are good parents present in the family then it will rub off on the children so they can grow up as good people.

Healthy families are able to help renew society in ways that are very easy. Every family that is stable and has good values can do many things to help society. Some of the things that can be done are volunteering at anything that helps the community in any way, donating any old items that the family doesn't use and food to the less fortunate, tutoring the kids who don't have healthy families and teach them the right way to live, and recognizing the role of the family.

Recognizing the role of the family is important to help renew society. If people see how happy people are with a stable and healthy family then everyone will want to have that. Anyone who wants to have a healthy lifestyle can and one of the ways to do that is to have good people around you. Once everyone in society has a healthy family, then it will cause less problems in the world today.

In conclusion, the Church teaches about how important families are in society, so as Catholics we should emphasize that to all people and try to get everyone in a healthy family so they can be happy.


Kolton Koubsky, Mt. Michael Benedictine, 11th Grade First Place Winner

Darkness, warmth, the soft, and rhythmic thump of a mother's heartbeat characterize the first nine months of a child's life. From the very second the child is conceived, the tender love of his mother enfolds him, protects him, and nurtures him. From the moment his spirit is kindled, he is entirely dependent, innocent, and impressionable. As air rushes to fill his lungs for the first time, he begins his earthly journey-saturated with a unique and hidden purpose from the beginning.

Life is ever changing and confusing like spiraling winds that draw up the very sediment on which we stand, scattering it off into the horizon. Spat out into such a world, a child-­  innocent and unsure– could just as easily be tossed about by the turbulent winds and nurtured by the besieging chaos. Only the constancy, love, and support of a family can provide the solid foundation on which a child can find his footing.

Surrounded by the life-giving love of his father and mother, he has the security to center himself and listen to the call, humming gently from the very burning point of his soul. Muffled are the winds calling from without, unable to fully distract the fickle, wandering human mind from its true call. In this sense, the family is a "school of deeper humanity" in that it provides us with the emotional and psychological shelter necessary to pursue the truth at the center of our being and in the end answer for ourselves: Who is God calling me to be?

Society would be infused with a renewed spirit of goodness should each individual have this opportunity to learn of God's goodness from parents firmly rooted in faith to God and one another. Sin, drugs, and the lures of the flesh would lose their grasp on citizens of the Kingdom of God, as children would be raised with a strong example of what it means to love wholly and truly.

General obliviousness to the true meaning of love is the greatest shortcoming of society, and it is only within the domestic church that children can tap the abundance of love present to each of us and unveil the fulfillment and purpose with which it flows. For this reason, a greater appreciation of the family's role must ring throughout society, lest the whistling winds continue to disorient the innocent and lead them astray.

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