April 29, 2021 // Diocese

Pandemic doesn’t mask joy at Saint Joseph High School

By Kathy Kershner

“It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. It made me feel like part of a good, faithful community.”
  — Luke Kaufold  

What is it called when 52 charitable organizations, 932 students, 120 faculty and staff and 23 yellow school buses plan to come together on one scheduled day smack-dab at the beginning of a global pandemic? Joy deferred, maybe?

Like so many excitedly anticipated events of 2020, last year’s “Joy of Saint Joe” annual day of Christian service at Saint Joseph High School, South Bend, had to send regrets of cancellation. Joining their entire global family, the students and staff sacrificed their intended works of service for the act of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus instead.

But true to the spirit of their mission, that joy deferred emerged merely as joy delayed because this past April 20, the high school community found its way through the complications of viral mitigation to joyfully serve other local schools and the wider community. 

Provided by Abigail Fink
Saint Joseph High School students in theology teacher Abigail Fink’s class show off their in-class service project of “blessing bags” for individuals experiencing homelessness. They filled the bags as part of the “Joy of Saint Joe” annual day of service April 20. “It was a privilege to pray for and support members of our community,” Fink shared. “In receiving these blessing bags, we hope these individuals can experience the love of God and our Saint Joe family.”

Little did the service event’s planners imagine when they went home that fateful day last March that a day scheduled for mid-April would prove to still be a bridge too far for their annual day of service.  But, using an in-school modified schedule, individual classrooms became like family by choosing for themselves a customized Christian service project that could be done in the safety of their classroom, or in some cases, in the streets of the surrounding neighborhood.

“For my Joy of Saint Joe project, I went around the blocks surrounding Saint Joe and picked up trash. We walked throughout the street and open yards finding rubbish that people had left behind,” recounted senior Olivia Agostino. “When picking up trash I felt like I was making a difference. It made me feel full inside [and] inspired me to continue to do similar activities throughout the local community.”

The students heartily braved the surprise April freeze and snow, filling over a dozen bags of trash found in the streets and yards surrounding the high school. They returned wet, cold, but happy.

In other classrooms throughout the school, students delighted in preparing first holy Communion packets, confirmation packets, prayer blankets, hygiene “blessing” bags for men and women experiencing homelessness and myriad other acts and works of mercy and joy.

A scan of the artifacts of the day shows an array of beauty in the artwork and the genuine expressions of prayers and thanks in the form of homemade greeting cards prepared for the retired religious and clergy at Holy Cross Village, as well as cards of congratulations for Catholic grade school children approaching the celebration of the sacraments of holy Communion and confirmation.

Students also created and hung posters of encouragement and affirmation for the Saint Joseph community at large, as well as chalked the sidewalks with such messages as, “Joy!” “Be Happy!” “Thank You Teachers!” “Our Strength is in the Lord,” and “We Got This!”

Discussing the need for a day of joy and service, John Kennedy, principal, explained, “Serving others is a way of living our faith and doing God’s will as a community. It brings powerful feelings of togetherness, purpose and joy, and is one of my favorite days of the year. “ 

Echoing Kennedy’s sentiment, freshman Luke Kaufhold described his experience. 

“It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. Working together on projects like this can help build a society by sharing joy and prayers throughout the community which will help people recognize God in their lives. It made me feel like part of a good, faithful community.”

Though the annual Joy of Saint Joe service day was abbreviated from its typical full school day to a 90-minute block period, athletic director Deb Brown found it to be of great value, nevertheless.

“I think it’s always a necessary good, modified or not. Any opportunities we have to model the joy of service should be encouraged and continued,” she explained. “While obviously not the same as a whole day devoted to service, the overall lesson is still realized: There is more joy in giving than receiving.”

With the ongoing nature of the pandemic, the uncertainties, the delays and the complete out-and-out cancellations of the some of the most important moments in students’ lives and education, Saint Joseph High School reached higher to help faculty and students alike to discover their gifts in the service of their wider community. The music that flowed from the classrooms, the silly dancing videos that preceded and built anticipation for the day and the very act of joyful collaboration between students and their teachers was a welcome springtime gift to the entire community. 

Summarized most succinctly by freshman Luke Kaufhold, “performing acts of mercy and joy can help heal and redeem a suffering world by being united in Christ to do His will, which is love and mercy. I think it was easier to ‘serve with joy’ because I was surrounded by people with the same goal of service.”

“When something as important as ‘service’ is at the core of your mission,” contemplated Mary Gallagher, vice principal of academics, “you find time and a way to make it happen.” For the Saint Joseph High School community and the recipients of their works of mercy, a joy delayed was transformed to a joy realized and shared. 

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