We’ve all heard of Mother Teresa … but Motor Teresa?
The children at Queen of Apostles School and Christian formation program in Pewaukee have heard of Motor Teresa. In fact, they named her.
She is an integral part of the Salt and Light program which encourages children and their families to learn about topics such as the Beatitudes, one’s call to be the salt and light of the world, and the Lord’s Prayer through educational activities and hands-on service opportunities.
The Salt and Light program, developed four years ago by parish volunteers, has a different theme each year to teach children about an aspect of the Catholic Church. This year the theme is “Blessed Be the Children.” Through this theme, students learn about children throughout the world.
Since September, all Queen of Apostles’ students had a turn taking home a Traveling Missions bag that features family activities that help them learn about charity and gratitude. Inside the Traveling Missions bag is the animated nun, Motor Teresa. The image, created by Poor Clare Sister Chiara Amata, is used with the permission of Fr. Sereno Baiardi of the Franciscan Missions headquartered in Waterford. The original can be found in several books about St. Francis and Sr. Clare, written by Julie Hanna and illustrated by Sr. Chiara.
Children are instructed to take Motor Teresa along as they’re doing service, such as donating supplies to an underprivileged school, or contributing their time to a charity. Children and parents then each write a reflection on their service in Motor Teresa’s “Travel Log” and take a picture of themselves with Motor Teresa while they do their act of charity. They also include a Scripture passage to relate to their service.
Children can also send Motor Teresa to those they know in faraway places to learn about other cultures.
When the children bring the Traveling Missions bag that contains Motor Teresa back to class, they are invited do a presentation to discuss what they did and learned.
Each picture and reflection about Motor Teresa and the children’s service is kept in the Traveling Missions bag so the next child can reflect on the lessons from which other students learned.
When the year concludes, a display will be made so the parish can view where Motor Teresa went and what children learned.
The “traveling nun” got her name last year through a contest at the school. One second grade boy submitted “Motor Teresa.” Though it is believed the child was hoping to spell “Mother Teresa,” the name stuck, said Lynn Famularo, coordinator of Christian formation at Queen of Apostles.
“Kids weren’t getting out there,” said Keeci Sjoberg, member of and volunteer at Queen of Apostles Parish, explaining the origins of the project. “They were not learning about the needs of the world and the community.”
Sjoberg was among members of the Salt and Light program to develop the Motor Teresa project to fill that need.
Sjoberg hopes the project will teach gratitude to children.
“We’re trying to get kids to learn a little more about their world and the world in need,” she said.
Sjoberg, who also has children in the Queen of Apostles Christian formation program, said that teachers have embraced the program.
“They seem to be really excited about it,” she said.
Famularo said the children also seem to be interested in hearing about Motor Teresa’s latest travels. Though she admitted that the youngest children probably do not understand the goal of the project, first graders and older seem to be enjoying and learning from it.
“They really buy into it,” agreed Maddalena Kass who, along with Mary-Lynne Lukenda, implements the Salt and Light lessons in the parish school classroom.
Members of the parish, which comprises more than 1,300 families, have been excited about the project as well. Parishioners who are traveling are invited to take a copy of Motor Teresa on their trip. One couple took the traveling nun to Arizona and took pictures with her along with the beautiful landscape.
Motor Teresa is not just for younger children. The parish school, with approximately 140 children and the Christian formation program with 230 K3-8th grade children, is welcome to participate with help from their families. Yet, the project is not mandatory.
“It’s a chance to learn service in a very structured way that they’ll hopefully continue throughout their life,” said Famularo.
So where has Motor Teresa been? One second grader in the Christian formation program and her family took homemade blankets and pajamas to the Hebron House in Waukesha.
Another second grade student wrote, “I felt good helping people have a good holiday. I love helping kids out.” She decorated and packed healthy breakfast and snack bags for the Salvation Army during the holidays.
Motor Teresa has also traveled to southern Germany to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi and attended one boy’s first Communion.
The traveling nun has been to New Zealand, West Point, and has helped students learn about what it’s like to be a nun.