St. Augustine School classes adopt, celebrate new patron saints

ANDOVER -- It looked as though the saints had come marching in at St. Augustine Church on All Saints Day, Nov. 1, as students from the parish school, many of them dressed as saints, attended a Mass for the school community and their families. But the liturgy was not the only way the school celebrated All Saints Day this year, and their observance marked a change in the way the school honors various saints.

At the end of the Mass, students carried icons of their classrooms' new patron saints in a procession to the front of the church. The pastor, Augustinian Father Peter Gori, blessed the icons, which would later be hung by the entrances of different classrooms in St. Augustine School as a sign of their adoption as that class's patron.

Principal Mark Daley had the idea for each class to choose a patron saint last year.

"Kids will be able to learn about that saint, but also know there is a saint watching over their classroom specifically," Daley said, speaking to The Pilot after the Mass.

While St. Augustine is the patron of the whole school, he said, this will allow students to develop deeper relationships with other saints over the years.

"It's just another way of growing in our knowledge of the saints and in our faith that the saints can actually intercede for us and still do good works for us in heaven," Daley said.

Each teacher prayerfully selected their classroom's patron. Then, the art teacher, Debra Coppola, suggested having a contest in which each class would decorate their classroom's door in honor of their new patron.

Coppola said the contest started out slow, but in the last week of October, students came to her whenever they had free time, asking for supplies to finish their door.

"That was nice to hear them really (getting) into it," Coppola said.

The contest judges were Father Gori and two other parish priests, Father Arthur D. Johnson, OSA, and Father John DelloRusso, OSA. After the All Saints Day Mass, Daley accompanied the judges on a tour of the school to see the decorated doors. They asked the students questions about their new patrons, and Daley affixed the icons outside the classroom entrances.

The door-decorating contest not only gave students the opportunity to learn about a particular saint, but also to teach others about them. In addition to pictures and symbols, many of the doors featured quotes or written information about their patron -- particularly those renowned for writing, such as St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Teresa of Avila. Mary Ann Rex's eighth-grade students decorated her door in honor of St. Francis with pictures of their pets and a Nativity diorama, since St. Francis is credited with beginning the practice of setting up Nativity scenes.

Many of the middle school and specialist teachers chose patrons related to their subjects: St. Cecelia for music, St. Luke for art, St. Francis de Sales for English language arts. The gym was dedicated to St. Sebastian, patron of athletes; the computer lab to St. Patrick, patron of engineering; and the school counselor office to St. Dymphna, patron of mental health.

Michelle Grasso, the middle school math teacher, chose St. Barbara, one of the patrons of mathematics.

"There's a lot of story behind this door," Grasso said as she showed it to Daley and the judges.

According to hagiographies, St. Barbara's father, a pagan, kept her hidden in a tower. While he was away, she had three windows built to represent the Trinity. When her father found out she was a Christian, he had her tortured and executed, and he was subsequently struck by lightning.

To convey this narrative, Grasso's seventh-grade homeroom decorated her door to resemble St. Barbara's tower, with three different-colored windows and a lightning bolt. Additionally, one student found an app that recreates pictures using a range of numbers, and they used this to make a poster depicting St. Barbara with numbers.

When Daley delivered her classroom's icon, Grasso expressed appreciation for the fact that St. Barbara is depicted with geometric figures on her headdress. She said her class would celebrate St. Barbara's feast day on Dec. 4.

After seeing all of the creativity students demonstrated in decorating their doors, the priests picked one class as the winner: Amy Guillet's third-grade students, who dedicated their classroom to St. Michael as the patron of first responders. Their door included pictures of firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians.

"It combines the creativity in the door with motivating the children to always be grateful for the first responders in our lives and in our society and our country. That's very important," Father Gori said as the judges conferred after the tour.

The winning class received a dress-down day as a prize. But the entire school also received a gift from Father Gori, who had announced at the end of the Mass that he was granting them a day off from school later in November.