Early this school year, teachers and administrators at St. Mary Mother of God Parish School in Menomonee Falls brainstormed ideas, hoping to come up with a way to give back to the community and let isolated parishioners know that they were loved.
With the help of office staff, the teachers compiled a list of all the senior St. Mary parishioners. Individual lists were handed out to each class. and working their way down it, starting with the oldest first, they had every student in the school write a letter to a senior parishioner. In all, 255 letters went out.
“The response was phenomenal,” said Emily Perret, the director of communication for St. Mary School. “Our seniors have loved it; they’ve called and told us they’ve hung the letters on their refrigerators. It’s been a beautiful bonding thing in our community.”
What the school didn’t expect, though, was the dialogue that began when responses came back into the school in the weeks after the letters went out. More than 25 seniors wrote their pen pals back and students began asking if they could make writing them a regular part of their routine. They asked if they could send letters during holidays and mark down their senior pen pal’s birthday on the calendar.
“We didn’t expect it,” Perret said, “but with COVID, it’s been such a bright spot.”
She went on to say that because so many parishioners are unable to mingle with the community that they love, or see their family, writing letters to children from their parish has been wonderful. They’ve been sharing stories and favorite movies, and the children have kept them updated on their weekend plans and how they’re being formed for communion.
The oldest to write back was 103 years old. Her student buddy was thrilled to open up the envelope and read, “Thank you for your letter. I am 103 years old. I am a Catholic and love God, too. I have some great advice for you. Love God first, family second, and all other people after that. Study hard! And work hard! Be thankful to God for everything!”
Barb Muth is a St. Mary’s parishioner who was particularly touched when she heard about the program and was excited to get a letter from her second grader, Everett Prosser. With the first letter, she only received his first name, so she sent a response care of his teacher. “I was so touched,” she said, “especially during COVID, for them to write to people they don’t know or see; it was delightful. I was glad to send it back.”
She was surprised when a few weeks later, she received a letter in the mail from the Prosser family. Inside a bigger envelope was a small one with a child’s handwriting scrawled across the front. Inside, there was a heart colored beautifully like a rainbow with a note that said, “I wish I could see you, but instead I sent a note to you. Love, Stella.” on the back, was a note that Everett had been so excited to receive the letter back from Barb that his little sister Stella had to send something, too.
“Children see everything,” Barb said. “How lucky for those little ones at St. Mary that they’re being shown the most important lesson of all: how to love.”