OCALA | Blessed Trinity students are learning how the adage, “it is a blessing to receive, and more of a blessing to give,” is a true statement to incorporate in their daily lives.
“All blessings and gifts come from God, and we are only stewards of these gifts and blessings. We are responsible for what we do with those,” said Roselyn Smith, assistant principal of the Ocala Catholic school. “We give of our time, talent, and treasure back to his kingdom. This is what we stress to our students through stewardship.”
To give back to God what is God’s are more than just words to faculty, staff, students and the community of Blessed Trinity. For the past 25 years, Blessed Trinity has distinguished itself as a stewardship school and parish. Smith explained if families have tithed 10 percent of their income to the church, are active in church and school ministry, and “participate in the life of the church, then Catholic schooling is free for all of their children.” Although enrollment varies each year, the student body averages slightly more than 600 students and families.
The tithing initiative is just one way how Blessed Trinity school and parish get families to participate in stewardship. At the school, the student body and staff spent the feast of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6) to celebrate the school’s first Day of a Steward to encourage students that stewardship is a way of life. According to the school, students and families shared their time, talents, and treasures within their faith, their families, their school, their parish, their bodies, their community, and the world through different stewardship experiences.
The event began with a stewardship of faith with a Lovelight Tree Ceremony. This was a symbolic gesture, in which the students placed names of people, both living and dead, on pieces of paper that were placed in a basket and offered prayers for them. Father Patrick Sheedy, pastor of Blessed Trinity, led the students in song before prayers were offered.
“Stewardship is not about money, but rather spirituality. Stewardship reinforces what you’ve been born and raised with. It is a way of life,” Father Sheedy said. “It is developing God’s blessings and giving back to God. “To give God the first fruits of blessings.”
The students gathered around a large Christmas tree and offered prayer slips — “red prayer slips were for the living, and white prayer slips were for the deceased,” Smith said. The tree stayed lit all through the season, and prayers are offered continuously.
“This is where we were able to honor loved ones and remember family members who have passed away,” said Serena Coulton, a middle schooler at Blessed Trinity.
After the ceremony, the students worked with different activities that focused on different members of the local and global community. Smith said the program stressed how the students are stewards in “every aspect of their lives — of the community, of the nation.”
One of the activities was preparing food bags for the homeless, which fell under stewardship of their community and country. Kindergarten students made trail mix, combining Cheerios and nuts in Ziploc bags. Other grade levels prepared peanut butter sandwiches wrapped with Scripture passages that the students had hand-written. Students then helped load the food into a van for My Brothers Keeper, a social service program for the needy.
Eighth graders wrote letters to veterans and wounded soldiers as another way to show stewardship to their community and country. Some of the letters were to go to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., but the school found out that the letter program to soldiers there was no longer available because of the hospital being restructured, revamped, and relocated. So many letters were sent to a veteran’s hospital in Gainesville.
Blessed Trinity students were also elated to receive very nice replies from the veterans there. Many veterans wrote back their appreciation, and signed their names, branch of service, and dates they served. One veteran also did a very nice festive drawing of Santa Claus for them.
“This was actually a better situation because it was local,” Smith said.
The parish also has an outreach program in Uganda where there are a lot of small parishes in the surrounding hillside area. Some of the younger grades at Blessed Trinity wrote letters to the Blessed Trinity Nalweyo students, their sister school in Uganda. “I hope that our cards will make someone else happy and brighten their day,” said middle schooler Jacob Baes.
The kids also wrote letters and Christmas cards to people who spend the day in Elder Care, a program on the campus of Blessed Trinity for elderly people whose caregivers can’t be at home all day due to jobs and/or other commitments. Elder Care is more of a social and activity center, similar to an elder day care center. The center usually consists of approximately 15 to 20 people.
As part of stewardship of “our families,” students made an Advent calendar chain of prayers and things to do for and with their family each day, along with other Advent-centered crafts.
“This is something that we can do each day so that we can continue to grow in our faith and daily prayer life with our families,” said Rylee Ostanik, a middle schooler.
To focus on stewardship of their bodies, activities focused on health, nutrition and exercise is of importance. During physical education and recess time, students went through an exercise program generated by two teachers. Students also received a classroom program on nutrition where they were challenged to “rethink what you drink,” as they learned about sugar content in their favorite beverages.
“Our bodies are temples and we have to remember to take care of ourselves,” said middle schooler Daniela VillaGomez.
Another part of the day focused on how the students are stewards of their own school. They cleaned up their classrooms and other parts of the school. Middle schooler Aiden Chittum said they all learned “if each of us does a little part and takes care of our area, we can accomplish a lot.”
An afternoon session took place in the school gym, where the students watched a few video clips of how kids have started programs in colleges where they have served food to the homeless and helped them out through various means. They were also taught to be stewards of the school. The kids helped to clean up their classrooms and other areas of the school.
The school had someone taking pictures all day long of the different activities, and at the end of the day, students gathered in the church to view video clips of everything they accomplished. “They loved watching themselves,” Smith said. “We were all very, very pleased with the results, even though they were all exhausted by the end of the day. The kids were moving every 35 minutes to a different activity. Stewardship is our way of life. We’re teaching the students through everything we do here as our way of life. Stewardship is a disciple’s response.”