At Belmar parish, little Works of Mercy make for big lessons in faith and life
By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
In January, a group of first and second graders in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, began a quest to put all 14 Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy into practice during this Holy Year of Mercy.
Since then, in a monthly collaboration known as the Mercy Club, students of St. Rose School and the parish religious education program – have succeeded admirably.
The parish-based group is dedicated to performing all the Works Mercy before the year ends on Nov. 20. The purpose is threefold: to educate the kids in their faith and have them grow closer to Jesus; to have them use their own talents and money to help others so they develop life-long habits of helping those in need, and to have them form spiritual friendships with their peers.
In pursuit of these goals, the “Works of Mercy that we do are always rooted in the Church,” said Jean Reilly, who guides the club along with other parents.
Alternating the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, the Mercy Club's first effort in January saw the kids feeding the hungry by contributing 210 cans of soup to a local food bank. The soup was purchased with quarters they earned – often with assistance from younger brothers and sisters – by doing good deeds around the home.
In a Spiritual Work of Mercy in February, the youngsters prayed for the living and dead using lists of people for whom they felt called to pray. In March, comforting prisoners was the focus, with the kids writing letters and making drawings were blessed by their pastor, Msgr. Edward J. Arnister, at the 8:30 a.m. Palm Sunday Mass, March 20.
The letters were delivered to Trenton State Prison in time for Easter by Reilly, a New Jersey Deputy Attorney General, with help from Vincentian Father Martin McGeough, coordinator of Prison Ministries in the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care.
As this article was being written, the Mercy Club kids were “Bear-ing wrongs patiently,” by drawing up a list of annoyances they have borne patiently – younger siblings grabbing toys; big sister getting the best seat at the dinner table, etc. – which were to be presented to the celebrant at the 10 a.m. Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3.
Reilly said the inspiration for this club came from her daughter, Teresa, 8, who was very moved by Pope Francis' declaration of the Holy Year of Mercy.
During an interview after this year's Respect Life Mass in St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, March 5, where the youngster received an honorable mention in the Diocesan Respect Life Poster, Essay and Video Contest, mother and daughter talked about how Teresa wanted to answer the call sent out by Francis.
“Teresa was so fascinated by [the Holy Father’s] call,” Reilly said. As the second grader began to learn more about the Works of Mercy, “she told us, 'if the Pope is asking us to do this, then we should do this.'”
At first answering that call began seemed like a good family project, one that would involve Teresa and her mother, three-year-old brother Jack, and Dad, Patrick Ross, who teaches at Red Bank Catholic High School.
Then word got out about the family's plan and other youngsters and their parents expressed interest in what has become widely known as “The Mercy Club.” It wasn't long before Jean and Patrick and other parents were coordinating Mercy Club activities for eager first and second graders from both the grade school and the religious education program.
Reilly then decided to invite the younger siblings of the children to join the club so as to emphasize that “these were family events.”
“But I didn't really have an idea whether the little ones would get anything out of it other than being exposed to it,” said Reilly.
Son Jack wanted in and demonstrated that it was also a learning experience for the littlest kids. “He would run around the house helping us and being super nice to his sister and then say: 'Money for poor kids?' He constantly wanted me to tell him about how some kids didn't have enough to eat and he'd hold imaginary conversations with the poor kids saying, 'I help you poor kids.'”
When the Mercy Club attended the special Stations of the Cross on Feb. 26 that Msgr. Arnister set up for them, Jack and the other siblings played an active part.
The first and second graders brought the lists of people they were praying for and placed them into a giant basket that the smaller children, including Jack, carried from Station to Station.
Jack seemed oblivious to the solemnity of the event, his mother said, but, after Msgr. Arnister had blessed parents and children and they all were heading out to a parish fish fry, Jack confided to his mother: “MaMa, Jesus sad. I help him.' So I realized it is never too young to start.”