In the month of January, my third and fourth grade students learned about the history of faithful men and women who joined Religious orders. We as a grade level decided that it would be much more exciting for students to see the ways that key church figures have shaped history INSTEAD of focusing primarily on the knitty-gritty roles and responsibilities of church structure. I am confident that my students will eventually be able to distinguish what makes certain roles like Bishop or Cardinal unique within the Catholic church, especially since students at our school have been able to host a conversation with the newly-elected Cardinal Gregory over Zoom. As students get used to seeing these church leaders as friendly faces, focusing on religious orders’ impact on the world allows students to appreciate the legacy of the community of saints they’ve been born into.
For better and worse, Religious orders were designed to respond to allow people to seek God as they responded to the unique challenges of their day. From the first first monastic communities in the deserts of Egypt (313-400 AD) to the evolution of the today’s universities from the monasteries of the Middle Ages, Religious orders have shaped Western culture in indelible ways. Throughout centuries, religious orders have developed schools, hospitals, guest houses, farms, and programs for the poor that eventually gave birth to the modern Nonprofit sector. Check out this timeline to see how religious orders have changed Western culture.
Prior to starting this project, I also spent time talking with students about Disability rights within the church, and the faith of my friends at L’Arche DC. We discussed how people can love and pursue God’s call on their lives regardless of their physical or cognitive ability. We loved learning about The Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb Convent in LeBlanc, France, and how many religious sisters there with Down Syndrome are passionately following the Lord Jesus.
Challenge: Designing a Religious Order
My colleague took the lead on the facilitation of this project! Similar to our Holy Trinity Action Cards project, students studied and compared religious orders to understand their unique differences. THEN, students were challenged to design their own religious order, based on their own interests and pressing needs they see in our world.
For their religious order, 3rd and 4th grade students had to include and explain their orders’:
- Habit (clothing)
- 3 Values
- Coat of Arms
My colleague also designed this handy rubric for students to use to self-evaluate!
After students completed their projects, they spent about 45 minutes of class time presenting their projects to one another in Zoom Breakout rooms.
As a teacher, this project was especially meaningful to me, because it was a chance to see how the Holy Spirit was moving on students’ hearts to highlight particular concerns. I was impressed by how deeply the projects connected their personal values to their faith. While I was focusing elsewhere, the Holy Spirit had snuck in to teach them a variety of things about the topics already on their hearts.
Unsurprisingly, several common themes and values emerged. Check them out below!
Stewardship of Animals
In projects related to the stewardship of animals, many students suggested members should do service at animal shelters.
Some students connected their passion to the teachings of Saint Francis:
Humorous and easily-washed Habits (clothing) were vital:
Students took our many conversations about human’s Genesis 1 mandate to steward the Earth very seriously:
Children United in Jesus
Kids’ Authority as Sons and Daughters of God
The importance of Community
Obedience and Love for Family
Love for our Enemies
Other specific Causes
It was such a beautiful thing to see our 3rd and 4th graders connect their passions to the history of passionate believers of the past. I am excited to see how God will continue to guide students through their interests, and give them wisdom and courage to pursue their own callings. This month, I will be reading a book called, Water from a Deep Well by Gerald L. Sittser, to deepen my own understanding of the many ways Christians have shaped the world from Jesus to the present AND how religious life has changed over time. You are more than welcome to join me!