EUCHARISTIC adoration is reconnecting students and staff of a Brisbane Catholic school to the true purpose and meaning of Catholic education.
Students and staff at St Finbarr’s Primary School, Ashgrove, completed a second year of 24-hour Adoration after receiving many beautiful responses from children who experienced the program last year.
Adore for 24 takes children out of the classroom to the nearby St Finbarr’s Church, which is part of the Jubilee parish, for 30 minutes of Eucharistic adoration over the course of one school day.
Parishioners, staff and parents of children are also invited to pray before the Blessed Sacrament during and after school, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed for 24 hours.
Year 3 teacher Niamh Healy co-ordinated the Adore for 24 program last year, proving to both principal Ann Hall and parish priest Fr Peter Brannelly that children can have profound experiences of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
“I’m just lost for words – to sit in the church and watch the children’s faces, it’s God’s presence and it’s so inspiring,” Ms Hall said.
“It brings you back to what we’re all about as a Catholic school.
“At the core of Catholic schools is to connect us to our Catholic identity, and Niamh has nurtured the faith with the teachers and children in ordinary ways.”
In preparation for the program this year, Ms Healy ran formation sessions for each classroom to explain the Road to Emmaus scripture, which was explored during the adoration sessions.
“We were focusing on the difference between what it means to talk about God, because we do learn a lot and that’s essential to teach children about God and about Jesus,” Ms Healy said.
“Facts such as where he was born and all those things are necessary, but this was more helping them to understand and to participate in what it means to talk to God.”
The formation also taught the children that Christ wanted to transform their lives in the way he transformed the disciples on the road to Emmaus when they recognised him in the breaking of bread.
In written feedback to the staff, several students said being before the Blessed Sacrament inspired them to pray, gave them a sense of calm from their worries and even even gave them an understanding that God does forgive their sins.
One student wrote, “for the first time ever, I actually felt like God was really with me”.
“I felt like his hand was resting on my shoulder,” the student wrote.
Another student said after approaching the Blessed Sacrament they “felt God’s love in my heart”.
“During Adore for 24, I felt relaxed and I had an image in my head of Jesus helping me and caring for me,” the student wrote.
“It was a really relaxing time and when I left I had a smile on my mind.
“Just being in the church made me happy.”
The immense joy of being before Christ was also obvious for one student, who felt “like Jesus was right there hugging me” as the Scripture was being explained.
“After the session was over, I was very aware of how lucky I am, to be going off to such a good school, having a loving family and living in a safe country,” they wrote.
“I was also very aware that wherever I go, Jesus and God will always be with me.”
Ms Healy said the responses from students were inspiring.
“I learned from these responses that many students had a special experience; a moment with God,” Ms Healy said.
“Knowing that a little eight-year-old now believes that she will always feel loved by God and hearing that another student believes that Jesus can open his eyes to the truth, completely inspires me.
“I believe it is so important to take the children physically close to God, to break open the Scriptures in a tangible way and allow Jesus to do the rest.
“Listening to my students, children really felt Jesus’ true presence, they discovered that Jesus is real, not just a concept or an idea, and they simply loved spending time with Him.
“This in itself shows me that providing children with an opportunity to have some time in Adoration, allows that beautiful relationship to be fostered.
“To have had this opportunity has been a special blessing and I feel very grateful.”
It’s also a program St Finbarr’s principal deems worthy of repeating every year.
“It’s just part of us now, it’s part of our religious life,” Ms Hall said.
The success of the program and the spiritual zeal felt by both students and staff has also impressed St Finbarr’s parish priest.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Fr Brannelly said. “It’s not a matter of dragging kids across to the church and making them sit there quiet for an hour – it’s doing the preparation.
“That Road to Emmaus (formation) provides the foundation for them to understand about opening their eyes to what they are experiencing over there.”
As well as ensuring students in his Catholic schools are receiving formation in the faith, Fr Brannelly said Adore for 24 made sure the church was always open.
“Once before, all our churches were always open, and there was a tradition of, if you went by a church, stopping in to ‘pay a visit’, as the old line would go,” he said.
“These days most churches are locked up and they’re only open for small portions of the week.
“There’s nothing more unwelcoming than driving by a church and seeing everything bolted up.
“St Finbarr’s at Ashgrove is our church in a village, literally, and one of the great challenges is to open the church up and let it be a place of welcome.
“Let’s not be afraid, terribly afraid, of something happening (but) open the church, and by this Adore for 24 is just one of those opportunities to open the church up, open the doors up.”