During her 40 years of teaching at All Saints Academy in St. Cloud, Mary Cheryl Opatz was passionate about finding ways for her students to serve others. Since retiring in 2021, she enjoys staying involved behind the scenes. So, when the opportunity arose to help plan an afternoon of “Faith in Action,” she was ready to help. But this time the effort was for teachers and principals.
About 125 Catholic Community Schools educators participated in the Dec. 2 event, which included 14 different projects at sites around the St. Cloud area. Projects ranged from cleaning pews at St. Benedict’s Monastery and baking cookies at Quiet Oaks Hospice House to packing weekend meal bags for kids and bell-ringing for the Salvation Army.
Opatz worked with Sara Michaelson, CCS director of learning and teaching, Denise Ludick, a second-grade teacher at St. Francis Xavier School in Sartell and Mary Krippner, director of volunteer engagement for the United Way of Central Minnesota, to plan the afternoon activities. The teachers gathered for professional development in the morning.
“Many of our teachers are already involved in service in their community and with their families,” Opatz said. “But Sara shared at our first planning meeting the importance of our teachers coming together as a CCS community and leading by example.”
The planners wanted an event that would give teachers ideas for engaging students and families in the community, Opatz said. They also wanted educators to experience the fulfillment that comes from giving your time and yourself to others.
“I hope it’s the beginning of the best Advent ever,” she said.
Teachers at all eight schools that are part of the CCS system were asked to choose a project and sign up using an online form.
Amy Kleinschmidt, a preschool teacher at St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud, chose to bake cookies at Quiet Oaks Hospice House in St. Augusta to honor a former co-worker who recently spent time there before she died.
“It was a way to honor her and her legacy,” Kleinschmidt said.
She also said it was important for the teachers to come together for this kind of service.
“As Catholic school teachers we have the blessing of being able to walk our faith with our students every day,” she said. “Being able to go out into the community and serve is such a part of what Jesus wanted us to do; and being able to it with our co-workers and share that experience and journey is so important.”
Jon Voss said he chose to be a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army because he wanted to do something outdoors. He spent the afternoon greeting people outside Walgreen’s on Division Street in Waite Park.
“I kind of always wanted to be a bell-ringer,” said Voss, a business teacher at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. “This is my first time and I’m really enjoying it.
“I think it’s putting your money where your mouth is,” he said. “We talk about having an active faith and doing things for others, and I think this shows that we as Catholic Community Schools are willing to do that and have some fun, too.”
Abby Thomas, a music teacher at All Saints Academy, was with Voss greeting people outside Walgreen’s. She emphasized the importance of being an example for students.
“I think it’s important that we get our faces out there, because if we’re going to be telling children the importance of volunteering, we need to practice what we preach,” she said. “We are showing that we are Christians by our actions.”
Julie Notsch, media specialist at Cathedral High School, noted the importance of modeling Catholic social teaching and social justice for students.
“It’s really hard to teach that when we don’t put that into action,” she said.
The Catholic Community Schools system includes: St. Katharine Drexel School, All Saints Academy, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School and Cathedral High School, all in St. Cloud, as well as St. Joseph Catholic School in St. Joseph, St. Francis Xavier School in Sartell, St. Mary Help of Christians School in St. Augusta and St. Wendelin School in Luxemburg.