When Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades visited St. Anthony de Padua school in South Bend for his pastoral visit, he was amazed to hear about the third-grade class building replicas of church buildings from across the world for a class project. He said he had never heard of a project like it in all his years as a bishop. The third-grade students were thrilled to be able to tell him about the churches they were building, letting him know whether the churches were classified as Gothic or Romanesque.
Abby Stopczynski, the third-grade teacher, came up with the project idea last year, and this is her second year presenting the class project. When asked what inspired it, she said, “We talk so much about how the Catholic faith is the good, the true and the beautiful. As the Catholic Church in general, we’ve always done a great job talking about how the faith is true and why it’s good. However, we don’t dive into enough of the beauty. Where we experience true beauty, we can experience God. My hope is that the students make this connection and also realize that beauty, time, talent, and effort is never wasted on God.”
On Friday, Feb. 11, the third-graders brought their projects to St. Anthony de Padua Church and set them up in the vestibule. After morning Mass, they each stood by their projects and proudly told their fellow schoolmates, parents and parishioners about the churches they had chosen to replicate. These churches stayed on display through the weekend so that parishioners could view them after every Mass. One of the students, Johnny, built a replica of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. He said he hoped to visit the church one day and that he loved building it because “if you made a mistake, you just got to try again and at the end, you got to make it more beautiful.” Another student, Morgan, built St. John Cantius in Chicago and said she built it so that she and her mom could go visit the church. She specifically loved being able to see the altar.
Lori Divita, a parent of one of the students, said her daughter picked the Seville Cathedral and talked about how she constructed the stained glass rose window, a tower, and even attached a crocodile to the side of the tower because the Seville Cathedral has a stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling. She noted that her daughter was “amazed that it took over a hundred years for the cathedral to be built and that she loved learning about the history of the church and what it took to build these beautiful churches.”
Father Ben Muhlenkamp, the pastor and interim principal of St. Anthony de Padua, said of the project, “The third graders are so impressive! It is amazing the way they use their imagination and creativity to try and depict the beauty they see in these cathedrals. What an amazing way for children to learn.”
He affirmed the students’ efforts in learning about the church building and all the pieces of them and hoped the project inspired the youths to consider becoming church architects.
“The children are so proud to share with their peers what they have learned about their specific cathedral. I just love that we put these on display in the back of the church. Our parishioners love to see them after Mass,” he stated.
When asked about the impact of the project, Stopczynski said, “One student who chose Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal commented that the main church is rich and expensive-looking, while its chapel is made all of wood. He likened this to Jesus being born poor and a carpenter but is really more like the main church and worth so much more. Connections and thinking like this are why I love to do this project. I get to learn so much from my students. It’s truly been such a fruitful project.”
When Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame and an expert in sacred architecture, heard about the project, he remarked, “Where do people learn about their faith by seeing, touching and hearing the divine? In the house of God. So wonderful for young people to explore what it means to have a sacred place through making models of churches, which are all of our spiritual homes.”
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