Catholic Herald Staff
“We need good heroes, and lasting ones.”
So wholeheartedly does Deacon Joe Stefancin believe this that he designed a program to teach young Catholics about the saints.
The deacon serves Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, Medford, where he is a pastoral associate and director of religious education for preschool through sixth grade.
During the school year, Catholic children in grades one through four are bused from the public school to the after-school program once a week for an hour of faith formation.
“We only have 20 to 24 classes a year, from September to April, and it’s hard for the teachers to cover everything they need to cover,” he said.
A desire to help catechists, all of whom volunteer, motivated Deacon Stefancin to begin introducing students to the saints during break time. Soon he developed a printed version – hero cards – and a program to get kids excited about saints.
Before or after class, students may politely ask the deacon or a teacher for a hero card. Anyone who collects all of the cards for the school year wins an icon of his or her favorite saint.
Besides aiding teachers and guiding children to solid role models, the program also helps students prepare for a future sacrament.
Confirmandi always struggle to choose their saint names, he explained. The deacon figured if students started early enough, they might have saints already chosen.
“So far, it’s taken off,” he said of the program.
This year, six students were awarded icons. One girl, Emmalee Clarkson, was supposed to receive her second icon, but instead gave the 8- by 10-inch plaque to her friend, Autumn Krause, who chose St. Gabriel the Archangel.
Deacon Stefancin was “blown away” by Clarkson’s unprompted generosity.
“I think the greatest gift I got from the program was Emmalee Clarkson,” he added. “All the kids that got the icons are very excited.”
“Every Wednesday for CCD my teacher, Pam Gebert, helped me learn most of the patron saints on the hero cards,” Clarkson said. “Last year, I picked St. Kateri Tekakwitha because she was a new saint and I wanted to learn more about her. My grandma is also a CCD teacher so she helps me learn more about the saints, Ten Commandments and more.”
Other winners of saint plaques were Abbi Potocnik, Peyton Spor, Martha Miller, Oscar Hinderliter and Hailey Fischer.
“I started collecting them because I wanted to see what would happen if I collected them all,” explained Spor. “I chose St. Joseph because he was one of the most important saints, because he was the adopted father of Jesus.”
Students learned about patron saints last year. This year, the deacon plans to put martyred saints on the hero cards; in the years to come, they’ll feature faces of the blessed, then the venerable.
Deacon Stefancin creates the cards with Googled images, birth and death dates, patron information and a brief bio.
He’s trying to pick martyrs with less gruesome deaths, but he said most kids at Holy Rosary understand the concept because a son of the parish, Capuchin Fr. Casimir (Michael) Cypher, was martyred while serving in Honduras in 1975.
Fr. Cyper is a parish hero, and the deacon has his own heroes on his walls at home.
Icons of Mary and Joseph are already hanging there, and he hopes to someday own an icon of St. Francis.
“Maybe if I’m a good boy, Santa Claus will bring me one,” he joked.