By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — All aboard the Vatican Express!
Students in preschool through fifth grade took an adventure to the Vatican through Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Vacation Bible School (VBS) titled “Vatican Express.”
Despite hot, humid conditions and most rooms lacking air conditioning, nearly 40 youths participated in weeklong evening sessions in the parish hall.
Susan Stanforth, the cathedral’s pastoral associate, said the Vatican Express made stops each day at Vatican Central Station (check in), Vatican University (which offered information about the Catholic Church), St. Jerome’s Cave (Bible lessons), Vatican Gardens (games), Michelangelo’s Art Studio (crafts), St. Peter’s Square Café (snacks) and the Pontifical Academy of Music (singing and cheers).
“We have learned about St. Peter’s Square and about who Pope Benedict XVI is. We explored St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Got to know St. Peter and find out how the Church started. We have also enjoyed reading about St. Jerome and his friend, the lion,” Stanforth said.
Eighteen middle school students performed skits and assisted volunteers in various rooms. That was more than double the number of teen helpers last year.
Stanforth said Vacation Bible School is a way for children to meet other children within their parish while learning more about their Catholic faith. “I think it is important for parents to get involved as well,” she said. “Parents are the main catechists for their children — leading by example is most important.”
Bishop Martin Amos visited the students July 17. He sat in on a “university” class about the popes with first- through fifth-graders. He then visited with kindergarteners and first-graders before their university class started.
Father Rich Adam, pastor of the cathedral, also visited students July 17.
Laurie Bribriesco has been involved in VBS for 13 years and helped coordinate this year’s program. Sister Mary Schmidt, former religious education coordinator for the parish, “talked me into doing it. I have been with it ever since.”
Bribriesco said Sacred Heart’s VBS is held in July after baseball season, during the evenings, because that’s when volunteers said they could come. “It’s always hot, but they come.”
Attendance more than doubled this year, she noted. This is the first year a solely Catholic-themed VBS program was found. Many other programs are Christian based and have a Catholic version. But the Vatican Express program even enlightened the adult volunteers, she said.
Stanforth said when Bribriesco found the Vatican Express theme, “I immediately loved having a program that was Catholic instead of one that we would have to adjust to try to make Catholic. We all knew right away it was the program for Sacred Heart this year.”
And she plans to use the theme throughout the upcoming religious education school year and children’s Lenten program.
Preparation for VBS begins in March, Stanforth said. By May registration went out. And throughout May and June parishioners were asked to take a “bus tag” and purchase items on the list for Vacation Bible School. The donations collected were used for crafts, snacks and decorations.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s how to make something out of nothing,” Bribriesco laughed, referring to the VBS’s limited budget.
Volunteer Colleen Goebel has been teaching religious education at the cathedral for about 16 years and has helped with VBS for more than 10 years, beginning when her children were young. “I started out feeling obligated to help. Now I do it because I want to help.”
This year she led Bible lessons for all age levels and classes about the Catholic Church for first- through fifth-graders. “They tapped me to teach those because I have been teaching for so long.” Her travels to the actual Vatican City helped when she taught students about St. Peter’s Basilica. She brought in items from her trips to show to the children.
One evening she took the students in shifts to the cathedral’s adoration chapel. She spoke to them about prayer and adoration before leading them into the chapel for prayer time.
“It feels good to instill faith, reverence and holiness. We just hope all the kids walk away with something each day.”
Volunteer Jill Jurgena coordinated games this year. She has been teaching religious education for 18 years and assisting with VBS for 12 years. She began when her kids attended VBS.
“As my youngest got into seventh grade and aged out of VBS, I continued to help. At Sacred Heart there is always something to help with. And it’s fun to see kids grow from year to year and see new ones come in,” Jurgena said. “The Vatican Express has been exciting and I’ve even learned a few things.”
During the 5 p.m. Mass on July 21 the Vacation Bible School students sang two songs for the parishioners and took home their crafts and other projects.