Frank Marcantonio and Nina Bruno, fifth-graders in St. Jerome School, Long Branch, hold their award-winning artwork. Behind them are Father Daison Areepparampil, parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Red Bank, Father Peter James Alindogan, diocesan missions director, and Father Sheldon Amasa, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch.  Vic Mistretta photo
Frank Marcantonio and Nina Bruno, fifth-graders in St. Jerome School, Long Branch, hold their award-winning artwork. Behind them are Father Daison Areepparampil, parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Red Bank, Father Peter James Alindogan, diocesan missions director, and Father Sheldon Amasa, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch. Vic Mistretta photo
Students, teachers and staff in St. Jerome School, West Long Branch, had two good reasons to start their celebration of the Christmas season a little early when it was announced that fifth-graders Nina Bruno and Frank Marcantonio were named winners in the 2020 Missionary Childhood Association’s annual Christmas artwork contest.  

The MCA, one of four Pontifical Mission Societies, promotes mission and global awareness while encouraging children to share their faith through their prayers and generosity. Every year, the MCA invites children in Catholic schools and parishes nation-wide to submit their Christmas-themed drawings for the contest.

Marcantonio explained his entry, saying “The Three Kings caught my attention because it was a simple picture with a powerful meaning.  It shows compassion, love and generosity toward others. The Three Kings brought gifts to welcome Jesus into the world. I love giving gifts to others because it puts a smile on their faces.” 

Bruno shared that her Holy Family drawing was inspired by a beloved family tradition. Each year, once the Nativity is set up, she and her family pass the various figures around to each other and “we think about all that Jesus has done for us.” 

“I am overwhelmed and overjoyed with pride for the accomplishment of Nina and Frank’s outstanding, award-winning work,” said Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, principal, adding, “At St. Jerome School, we encourage each child to strive and achieve to the best of their ability.” 

Bruno shared her sentiments about the important work of the missions, saying, “Helping others to have what I have makes me feel like I am following in Jesus’ footsteps.”

Marcantonio also stressed the value of mission awareness within the school. “It helps me remember that we should contribute when we can because not everyone in the world is as lucky as I am to have a roof over my head, food on my table and receive a Catholic education,” he said.

Fourth grade teacher Janene Hubbard explained, “At SJS we try to help children become aware of the needs of people around the world. We want them to understand that many children do not live the same lifestyle as them. We teach them compassion, love and generosity daily and we explain and discuss children’s customs, traditions and cultures of other countries.” 

Sister Elizabeth noted that 90 percent of the students voluntarily contribute their snack money for the less fortunate. Students also learn about and raise money to support the work of the Religious Teachers Filippini serving in Ethiopia. Students have also become pen pals with their Ethiopian peers. 

Hubbard said she is “beyond grateful” to have two students recognized as first place winners in the MCA’s Christmas Artwork contest, acknowledging how proud she is of all of the students who submitted entries. 

Bruno and Marcantonio were honored at the World Mission Sunday Mass celebrated Oct. 18 in St. Jerome Church, part of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch.

While, traditionally, the 24 contest winners would have their artwork displayed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. during the coming Advent and Christmas seasons, with an awards ceremony at the Shrine for all finalists and their families, this year both events have been cancelled due to COVID. Plans are currently being considered for alternative opportunities to highlight the accomplishments of winners and afford them the recognition they deserve.

As in the past, the artwork of two grand prize winners will appear as the official Christmas card of the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Oblate Missionary of Mary Immaculate Father Andrew Small.

Every winner also receives a plaque and each of the winning art pieces will be available to view online at missio.org/resources. As Advent nears, a link will be available on the website which allows viewers to send any of the winning images as an e-greeting.