The Western Association’s Growing the Faith Program was originally conceived to be a response to Pope John Paul’s call for the new Evangelization, preparing children to meet and recognize Our Lord in their lives. Its mission is to bring to the children the Word of God (as revealed in the Holy Scriptures) and teach them the meaning and practice the mysteries of Jesus's life, through praying the Holy Rosary.

day_sick Through its educational process, Growing the Faith seeks to impact children’s lives. For example, one little girl, Paulina, emigrated with her family from Mexico a year and a half ago. They moved into an apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco. Although Paulina knew no English, she had high scores in math and was accepted at St. Peter’s School. Like most of the schools chosen for the Growing the Faith program, St. Peter’s serves a community with a large immigrant population, where, at best, English is a second language. Often both parents have full-time jobs yet their income is below the poverty line. Enrolling a child in a Catholic elementary school requires a substantial financial sacrifice. Yet the benefits are clear. Within a year, Paulina had moved from knowing no English to having learned English and is now receiving mostly As and Bs in her subjects. At the Growing the Faith liturgy at St Peter’s in 2011, it was Paulina’s impressive presentation on the life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous that stole the show. It was a wonderful example confirming that our small effort of support to these centers of Catholic learning is important to our Church and our community.

Would that we could increase the program to reach all who have need! The vast majority of children attending Catholic elementary schools attend Catholic high schools. Of those children, most go on to earn a college degree. Compared to the statistics of public school children, where often little more than half the children get a high school diploma and often only a small percentage attend college, the value for students at a Catholic school becomes enormous. These students become leaders, not only of their parishes but of their communities, their cities, and their country.

day_sickIn 2011, the Growing the Faith Program supported twelve Catholic elementary schools: St. Columbkille (Los Angeles), St. Elizabeth (Oakland), St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Palo Alto), St. Agnes (Phoenix), St. Joseph (Santa Ana), St. Martin de Porres (Oakland), St. Matthew’s School (Phoenix), St. Peter’s (San Francisco), Saints Peter and Paul School (Wilmington, CA), St. Philomena Catholic School (Carson, CA), St. Rafael (San Rafael), and the School of Our Lady (Santa Ana). These Catholic schools offer their children a challenging education, connections to Gospel and Christian values, and an antidote to the influence of gangs in our cities.

The annual grants received from the Western Association assist these schools in purchasing textbooks from an approved syllabus list. The materials include Bibles, catechetical pamphlets, and books on the lives of the saints. At a school in Phoenix, the Association’s grant is partly used to help develop the school’s DVD and CD library, thereby supplementing religious instruction with interactive materials. At least once a year, members of the Order meet with the students and teachers at each participating school. It is during these visits that Rosaries are given to the students and a member of the Order talks about the Order’s history. The children are also given instruction in praying the Rosary. As with Paulina last year, there might be a pageant or a presentation that focuses on the lives of the saints or on a biblical theme.

The common thread in the reports that the schools provide to the Association’s Growing the Faith Program is that the supplemental materials, needed building blocks for Catholic formation and education, are generally not in the schools’ budgets. Through the Western Association’s program, some of these materials become affordable and available for student formation.

Surveying the Growing the Faith Program, one can see that the patron saints of the parish and schools currently involved in the program are a microcosm of the Order’s work with the poor and sick. The names of these schools read like a litany of the saints about which Growing the Faith students are learning. The Association’s work is but a drop in the bucket of what is needed, but it is an important drop. With each school visit, our members strive to share the grace and mercy each receives through the Order with the children of God, whom each member of the Order is called to serve.

One can expect great things from Paulina and the thousands of other children touched by the Growing the Faith Program. Our prayer is that the program will continue to grow and our members and others will become even more deeply involved. In the Gospels, the Lord invites each of us to send the “little children” to Him.