Prep school students send encouraging notes, prayers to First Nation youth following suicides
Just about two weeks ago, School Sister of Notre Dame Bridget Waldorf heard about a rash of more than 100 suicide attempts that wracked a rural area of Ontario, Canada, in a First Nation community called Attawapiskat.
When she learned the youth there were taking steps to build hope in their community by asking for prayers and notes of encouragement, she mentioned it to the students at St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville where she teaches theology and serves as a campus minister.
“Initially, my response was incredible disappointment that this is happening,” she said. “Since it was the youth themselves that were asking for prayers and support, I thought this is something we could do right here, right now.”
Since September, 101 suicide attempts were reported — 5 percent of the community’s population — according to an April 11 article in The New York Times. The chief and council of the poverty-stricken community of about 2,000 have declared a state of emergency in an effort to try to prevent further suicides among its youth.
Sister Bridget announced the request for prayers during the school’s weekly Monday morning meeting April 25 and set up a table and “mailbox” where students could write notes and messages to the youth of Attawapiskat.
Elise Miller, a senior at the prep school, said she felt “overwhelming sympathy” when she heard that so many young people were attempting to take their own lives in such a small community.
“That shows something is wrong in their lives,” Miller said. “I wanted to help them overcome those problems, and I understood why they might feel like they had no other option than to attempt suicide.
“I wanted to help them because I have a great life,” she said. “I have a fantastic family, great friends and an amazing school. Not everyone has that and I want to help people achieve that.”
Miller is hoping to take it a step further by offering to become ongoing pen pals with Attawapiskat youth.
“Instead of having just a few notes at one time, multiple letters [might] help,” she said. “I thought that if they had someone to continuously talk to and someone who they felt connected to, they might heal even more.”
Getting involved in an initiative like this helps students widen their view of the world and the global church, Sister Bridget said.
“I think doing an activity like this is an extension of our Catholic social teaching,” she said, noting that it directly relates to respect for human life and dignity as well as global solidarity.
“Our world is home to a variety of peoples and cultures. As much as we become aware of those peoples and cultures hurting, I think we have a ‘response-ability’ to reach out in relationship and pour forth love,” Sister Bridget added.