Brockton student among winners of national Christmas artwork contest

BROCKTON -- Over the past few years, the Archdiocese of Boston has had a streak of winners in the Missionary Childhood Association's annual Christmas artwork contest. In 2021, the streak continued as Niyala Chaperon, a fourth-grade student at Trinity Catholic Academy, was named one of the 24 national winners.

The artwork contest evolved out of an older tradition of having children sell envelope seals to raise money for the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA), formerly known as the Holy Childhood Association. Now, the national MCA office collects art from Catholic children in kindergarten through grade eight and turns winning entries into cards and electronic greetings.

Marcia Walkama, the coordinator of religious education for the Brockton Tri-Parish Collaborative, participated in the MCA when she was young. She introduced the art contest to her students last year as a remote activity during the pandemic, when they were unable to hold religious education in person.

She also told students at Trinity Catholic making their First Communion about the contest and was "very happy" when they submitted entries.

"I thought it was such a good bridge between parish life and Catholic school," Walkama said Jan. 13.

The MCA chooses two grand prize winners and turns their entries into the national director's Christmas cards. Another 24 national winners have their submissions made into e-greetings. The winning entries are also displayed at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., during Advent.

The winners of the 2021 contest were honored in a ceremony at the basilica on Dec. 3, 2021. Niyala was accompanied by her family and Maureen Heil, the director of programs and development for the Pontifical Mission Societies in the Archdiocese of Boston. National MCA director Msgr. Kieran Harrington was also present and celebrated a Mass in the shrine's crypt.

Heil said she is "always impressed" by the students and families who travel over long distances to attend the award ceremony.

"They were from all over the country, from L.A. to Philly to St. Louis to Boston. It was an impressive group," she said.

She noted that the previous year, the MCA had been unable to hold that kind of ceremony in person.

"We were disappointed last year because, even though we had a winner, the shrine wasn't open and we weren't able to gather for the Mass. So this was really special, to be able to come back," she said.

Most dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Boston, turn local winners' art into Christmas cards and send them to MCA donors and benefactors. At the shrine, Heil presented Niyala with a set of Christmas cards with her drawing, which depicted the Magi gazing up at the Star of Bethlehem.

Heil found the image of the three kings particularly well-connected to the MCA, since the Magi were among the first missionaries, "setting off to tell the Gentiles that the Christ child had been born."

In fact, she added, the feast of the Epiphany is International Missionary Childhood Day, and the pope addresses members of that Pontifical Mission Society each year on that day.

This year, Pope Francis gave them this message: "Epiphany in a special way is the feast of the Holy Child Missionaries, that is, of those children and boys and girls -- there are many in various countries of the world -- who dedicate themselves to pray and to donate their savings so that the Gospel might be proclaimed to those who do not know it. I want to say to them: 'Thank you, boys and girls: thank you!' and I would like to recall that mission begins with the daily witness of the Christian life."

Heil said she thought that was "a lovely encouragement to the kids," and an acknowledgement that the MCA is not simply wealthy children helping disadvantaged children, but rather all children supporting the missions.

"If they're learning to be Catholic, they're learning to be missionaries and they're sacrificing for other kids. So I think that was a really important point that he made," Heil said.

Walkama said she will definitely invite her religious education students to enter the contest in the future. The deadline for this year is Jan. 31.

Information about entering the Missionary Childhood Association's 2022 Christmas artwork contest can be found at