On a frigid January day, a class full of St. Vincent de Paul School students bundled up to cross the street and make their way to the Oratory of St. Mary Magdalene in Fort Wayne. They knew the temperature and were aware of the wind chill, but nevertheless were excited to brave the elements to spend time in the presence of Christ.
Despite the number of students in the oratory, those in the building could hear a pin drop. Some students knelt to pray, others journaled, some read prayers, a few simply sat and took in the peace. One young man made his way to the front and knelt, gazing at the Eucharist.
This isn’t the image of youth to which society has become accustomed. Second grade teacher Amy Johnson explained, “they actually crave the silence. Their whole life, their whole world is full of so much noise that they have found they look forward to this. They need this.”
The Oratory of St. Mary Magdalene is a perpetual adoration chapel located on the campus of St. Vincent de Paul Parish. It is a short walk across the street for students and staff who want to spend some time in quiet prayer and rest in the presence of Christ. The building maintains the practice of complete silence. There is no singing, no spoken prayer, or instruments. The only exception to this is a weekly Mass offered on Friday evenings.
While accessible to anyone at any time, there is a list of adorers who sign up for a holy hour so someone is always present. One need not be signed up to walk in, and those who drop by can stay for however long they choose.
Adoration is open to all people, parishioners or not, Catholic or not. Even those with no faith affiliation at all are welcomed and encouraged to walk in and feel the peaceful presence. In a world full of noise and distractions, this in itself is a powerful conversion tool.
Beyond the adoration of the Eucharist, Johnson said she has noticed her students observing and appreciating other aspects of the oratory. “We have had conversations in which they have shared that they also ‘adore the art,’” she explained.
According to Johnson, Father Daniel Scheidt had an active and passionate role in selecting the art for the space. He spent a lot of time mindfully and prayerfully choosing what to display. Among her students’ favorite works to look at is the Tree of Life, a striking carving held aloft in the center of the oratory that depicts the crucified Christ, not on a traditional cross, but on the Tree of Life. In addition to the carving, stained glass windows with images of saints familiar to the children are beginning to be inserted.
Parish advancement director Regina Zedaker shared that the students of St. Vincent feel such a connection to the oratory in large part because they have played a significant role in the construction of it.
“We had the students write their names on the tresses as it was being built. They were able to take a tour of it while it was under construction, and the workers took the time to explain some of the pieces. The students also wrote on the back of the floor tiles before they were installed. They could share prayers, verses or just their names and know that they were always going to be in the presence of Christ.”
Johnson affirmed the tie her students have to the oratory. “They know it is a holy place,” she said. “They know it is special.”
While it might not always be an easy task to get a class full of second graders to sit in silence, Johnson said she has noticed that the consistent practice of adoration has been a key component of their faith formation as she prepares them to receive their first Communion this spring. She has diligently and faithfully incorporated this experience into their sacramental education to prepare them not only for the big day itself, but for their faith life in the future. Johnson is striving to shape a generation of Catholics who, even for a few moments, remember to stop and listen so they can refocus their daily lives to center on what really matters. These lessons are not only sinking in, but they are also being shared by the children.
When asked what her favorite thing about going across the street to adoration is, student Elsie Tippmann summed it up clearly and without hesitation, saying, “I just like to sit and listen to Jesus.” In a complicated and noisy society full of anxiety and distractions, anyone would benefit from pausing, even briefly, and learning a lesson from a second grader.
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