Each year, one of the initiatives of the Diocese of Venice Department of Education is the development of the devotional and prayer lives of its students through a Diocesan-wide devotional project.
For 2023-2024 the project is, “Cause of Our Joy: Marian Devotional Project” which focuses on teaching the more than 6,200 Diocesan Catholic school students about Our Lady, and the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary, all in a continued effort to grow closer to Jesus Christ.
The focus on the devotion to the Blessed Mother through the Most Holy Rosary was supported by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who has frequently cited the importance of praying the Rosary to grow closer to Jesus Christ.
Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, conducted a Junior Catechist Training session on Oct. 13, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. This brought together selected eighth grade leaders from each of the Diocese’s 12 elementary schools, who will in turn go into the classroom to teach their schoolmates about Our Lady, the Most Holy Rosary and how to grow closer to the Lord.
“We are all called to answer the invitation of the Lord in our hearts,” Father Belmonte told the Junior Catechists. “When Our Lord and Our Lady come and knock on the door to your heart, you should open the door. Your task as Junior Catechists is to knock on the doors of the hearts of your classmates, classroom-to-classroom, teaching them about Our Lady. This will help them answer the question: Are you committed to dedicating your life to God?”
The training stressed the importance for the Junior Catechists to be leaders in the faith, evangelization, and discipleship. The group met in Epiphany Cathedral for a prayer service in honor of Our Blessed Mother.
The student training session was led by Diocesan Curriculum Director, Jennifer Falestiny, while Father Belmonte spoke to the parents who brought their children to the meeting in a separate presentation on the devotional project.
Falestiny explained to the Junior Catechists what is expected of them and how a lesson was created for them to follow. This plan is a guideline for the students as there is a differentiation in learning based on the age of the student.
“We created two lessons. One geared toward the older students and the other toward the little kiddos,” Falestiny said. “The resources provided will help bring the students through learning about the Rosary and the individual prayers, as well as the decades and the Mysteries of the Rosary. This was set up so that it can be interactive and engaging for students of all ages.”
Several teachers were present for the Junior Catechist Training and each school was also provided additional digital resources, including suggested devotional projects and lesson plans to reinforce what the Junior Catechists will teach. The students were also provided prayer cards with The Memorare prayer to Our Lady. This prayer will be said to open each lesson.
The introduction of the devotional project at each school will depend on the available schedule. The Junior Catechists will work closely with teacher advisors to make sure each classroom is visited and that all necessary resources are available to ensure success. The goal is to begin the in-classroom lessons as soon as possible and continuing the project and its supporting elements throughout the balance of the academic year.
In addition, Falestiny said there is a Digital Rosary Prayer Tracker, a website where teachers can track each time the children pray the Rosary in class, as well as if they pray it at home. The school with the most prayed Rosaries will be recognized at the end of the devotional project.
Finally, there is an art competition. As in previous years, students will be encouraged to produce artwork based on our Catholic artistic tradition around the Most Holy Rosary. The Junior Catechists and art contest winners will gather at Epiphany Cathedral in the spring for a Mass with Bishop Dewane.
The Junior Catechist Training was timed to coincide with the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady of Fatima first appeared to three shepherd children – Venerable Lucia, and Ss. Jacinta and Francisco – on May 13, 1917, as a radiant light in a bush. Our Lady told the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. Our Lady also stressed the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary to bring peace to the world.
Many refused to believe the children, but Our Lady promised to perform a miracle on Oct. 13, 1917. On that day, during Our Lady’s sixth and final appearance, more than 70,000 witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” as the sun danced in the sky and changed colors. The Blessed Virgin then identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary.”
This is the fourth year Diocesan Catholic schools have had a devotional project, with 2022-2023 focused on the Most Holy Eucharist, 2021-2022 on the Saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Saints, and 2020-2021 on St. Joseph.