FORT SMITH -- When Patty O'Brien, Immaculate Conception School's religion teacher, was trying to think of ways to encourage prayer among her students and their families, she remembered two, 10-inch pine crucifixes, affixed to pedestals, that Msgr. William Galvin, their former pastor, used to circulate to encourage families throughout the parish to pray for vocations.
O'Brien decided to restart the traveling cross project during the 2009-2010 school year. One cross would be used by students and their families and another one by faculty and staff.
"The faculty started circulating the cross during teacher in-service in August," Ann Cannon, who teaches gifted and talented education and works in curriculum and professional development, said. "I kept it on my bed stand to pray for personal and faculty intentions. We have witnessed as a faculty the power of our collective prayer many, many times over."
O'Brien announced the family prayer cross project at the Sept. 14 PTO meeting.
"We have all experienced the power of prayer," she said. "This year we would like to support each other and lift up all special intentions and praises our school family has together as one. A small crucifix and journal will be traveling to different families from our school community for one week at a time. The journal will be with the crucifix for each family to join their own prayer requests and praises with others from our community for the growth and strength of Immaculate Conception School and all its members past and present."
PTO officers and other parents, both Catholic and non-Catholic, signed up to participate. O'Brien designed the prayer journals to be used with each of the crosses, composing a list of suggestions for general intentions for the school, students and families, and leaving plenty of room for families and faculty members to add their own intentions and petitions while using the prayer cross.
Kellie and Leonard Schmitz, parents of Justin, 16, a 10th-grader at Southside High School, Michelle, 13, an eighth-grader at Trinity Junior High School, and Andrew, 9, a fourth-grader at Immaculate Conception School, said that using the cross has helped them keep their commitment to praying the family rosary each evening. They set up the crucifix on an end table and placed the prayer journal and their brightly colored string rosaries in a basket beside it.
"Most of the prayers in the journal are prayers of thanksgiving and petition," Kellie Schmitz said. "We pray for the people in the parish who are on the prayer list. We get together to pray the rosary as a family after dinner. We mean to say the rosary every night, but it doesn't always happen. Having the cross this week is encouraging us."
"Praying as a family is a powerful prayer," Andrew Schmitz said, adding that he would encourage his friends to ask their families to sign up for the traveling cross, too.
While the Schmitz family hasn't read every family's handwritten prayer entries, the journal's presence on their table is a testimony to their commitment to pray for one another. Their own entries have been short reflections on their experiences using the traveling cross and prayer journal.
O'Brien has been pleased with the positive effects the use of the traveling cross has had in building community within the faculty and families of all faiths at Immaculate Conception School, where about 20 percent of the student body is non-Catholic.
Kellie Schmitz said, "I'm so glad the school is doing this. It reminds people to practice their faith in their home."
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