St. Mary’s School morning prayer and ‘AAAY-MEN’ reach wider flock

Since the pandemic hit, Tom Haire, principal of St. Mary’s School in Breckenridge, has found a new way to share morning prayer with his students. It started schoolwide and now encompasses the community and more.

“This is my first year as principal at St. Mary’s, and I’d start each morning with prayer,” Haire said. “We’d gather in the gym and at 8:15 a.m. I’d read a Scripture passage from ‘Jesus Calling,’ a book by Sarah Young with devotions for kids. I’d add a short reflection, and we’d pray together. I’d end with ‘AAAY-MEN’ and an air-punch, and they’d join in. If it wasn’t loud enough, we’d repeat the ‘AAAY-MEN.’ Prayer time helped all of us to start the day right.”

Haire’s daily reflection focused on whatever was meaningful to the kids — holidays, events in the community, even weather. In the prayer intentions, he included special blessings for children on their birthdays.

It changed when St. Mary’s School closed due to the pandemic.

While the classroom teachers kept in contact with their students, Haire said he missed the normalcy of weekday morning prayer. Using technology, he chose a new way to connect with students and their families and bring a bright spot to their day.

“I’d never used Facebook Live before, but churches were using it for Masses. I started by broadcasting a devotion from each classroom at 8:15 a.m. Because the first-graders were very concerned about Eugene, their pet guinea pig, on the day I was in their classroom, I made sure they could see him. After I broadcasted from each classroom, I went to other locations within the school.”

He gradually widened the locations where he offered prayer, moving around to various businesses and other places in Breckenridge connected to St. Mary’s students. Not everyone was awake or available that early in the day, Haire said, so families checked Facebook to pray whenever it worked for them.

As the school year ended, Haire expected to stop the broadcast. But families told him that they’d miss his daily prayer time. Enough members of the community also expressed interest that he decided to continue during the summer.

“It gives me purpose and I enjoy it,” he said. “I mention kids with summer birthdays, thanking God for the day they were born. Parents say their children get excited to hear their names in the video. This summer I’ve been asked to offer the prayer before meals at some events, like at a wedding. I end with ‘AAAY-MEN’ and the air-punch. And the kids, and now others, join in.”

Tom Haire, principal of St. Mary’s School in Breckenridge, finishes a recent Facebook Live prayer with ‘AAAY-MEN’ and an air-punch. (Photo: Facebook screen shot)

Haire saw how the community was hurting during this struggling time. “Now every day I pick a different place in Breckenridge, adding prayers for all the community services, businesses and other churches,” he said. “They are important to our families and huge supporters of our school. I plan to include every single place in Breckenridge.

“After a while I realized that community members were also joining us for weekday morning prayer. Even people who no longer live in the area are following us.”

As soon as he’s offered devotions at all the locations in Breckenridge, he’ll cross the river to include the community services, businesses and churches of their neighbors in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

“St. Mary’s is reaching out, praying for our whole community every weekday morning, praying for the employees and their livelihoods in any troubling situation. What a great way to bring the outside community, all the parents and businesses, into our school.”

Whenever and however school reopens this fall, Haire won’t end his commitment to a wider weekday morning prayer.

“It helps me and I plan to continue. All are welcome to join us in our prayers for our school, community and world.”

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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