St. Monica Catholic School is committed to “learn, live and love through Jesus.” The school focuses on a holistic approach to education: education of mind, spirit and body. As part of this holistic approach, St. Monica makes it their mission to incorporate hands-on social justice into their schooling. Throughout the past year, eighty-eight 7th and 8th grade St. Monica students volunteered with the Gathering’s breakfast program. Each month, the school brought a group down to prepare food, serve the meal and clean up. In May of this year, St. Monica faculty will also be serving a meal.
The students participated in the breakfast program by organizing pastries, preparing toast, wrapping silverware, serving ham, juice, milk, vegetables, fruit, and cleaning up the St. James’ breakfast site after the meal. They are a committed and eager group of students who was not afraid to jump into the experience head first.
They were also not afraid to share their experience with me openly and honestly. We had the opportunity to sit down with six students from St. Monica: Maura (7th grade), Laney (8th grade), Madeline (8th grade), Blase (7th grade), Charlie (7th grade) and Matthew (7th grade). The students spoke with an impressive maturity and depth and had a lot of insight to share during our round table interview. Check out some of what they had to say:
What does The Gathering mean to St. Monica and the Milwaukee community?
Charlie: When we were serving there, there were UWM students, Marquette students, I feel like it brings a lot of the different communities together. It is cool to see how much the community responds and how much they want to pitch in.
Maura: It’s not solving the world hunger problem, but it’s the small things that make such a difference in Milwaukee.
Charlie: Yeah, I think it’s important because, you know, all the years we are at St. Monica you have the aspect of learning about community service and helping others. This gave us an opportunity to actually put it into real life – and thats important. A good learning experience as well as something good that we do in our faith.
Blase: Yeah, I agree – it’s something we should do as Catholics, as Christians, something that you should do more than once. It makes you appreciate everything that you have. Some people have to come to shelters and meal programs to get food, we get to go home and have dinner waiting for us on the table.
Matthew: We live in an area where we don’t really get the sense of poverty. There is really no one in our neighborhoods who is struggling to eat, or anything like that. It really gave you a sense that there are actually people out there, fairly close to home that are struggling.
So, what is the link between faith and serving at The Gathering?
Maura: We learn a lot about Catholic Social Teaching and one of the questions in our reflection was what different parts of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) apply to this experience – I was surprised at how many different components did relate.
Madeline: I think it was a good experience to learn what CST actually is instead of just reading about it. When you actually go and see how many people are doing it, it’s pretty different.
Laney: Yeah, I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve done so much service, we’ve always done it in school and never gone outside and done it, so it was cool to travel.
What is one thing you learned from your experience with The Gathering?
Laney: I learned that even though people don’t have as much, they can be so happy. We want the latest and newest technology, but some people don’t even have a phone, or a home, but they’re happy.
Charlie: I learned that they’re real people. Just like you and I. When you think of a “homeless person,” you sometimes think of someone so foreign from us, but they’re relatable and just humans like us.
Maura: I learned that I should be a lot more positive. It made me really happy to see people being happy.
Blase: I learned that happiness does not come from objects, or all the things we have, it comes from other people. We were serving those people and that brought happiness inside of all of us. They don’t have a lot of things in their possession and still, most of them are still positive and happy and liked to see us working there. They smiled at us and everything.
Madeline: I learned that even though people don’t have as much as us, they’re still like us. They want to be treated the same, they don’t want to be treated differently and they treat you the same way as they treat their friends. We’re all equals.
Matthew: I learned, when you go to big cities, on street corners you see people sleeping on park benches, you see that they’re living in poverty. You see that in big cities like Chicago or DC, but, once you serve at the Gathering it really shows you there is actual poverty in your hometown.
Laney, Charlie, Maura, Blase, Madeline, Matthew and all of the St. Monica students and faculty promote the Gathering’s mission of serving the hungry and homeless in community. Their desire to put faith into action is important and we are thankful that there is a school that teaches this practice, even at a young age. We look forward to continuing our work with St. Monica.