By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Students at Catholic schools often see religious Sisters participating at Mass or read about them in the newspaper but may not know what they are like as individuals, said Prince of Peace Catholic School fifth-grade teacher Allison Schultz.
“So many of them taught in Catholic schools, and we don’t have any religious as teachers at Prince of Peace,” said Schultz. Through her annual pen pal project, the students get to learn about religious life, and the Sisters learn more about the next generation.
“It’s fun,” said Sister Paschal Hocum, OSF, who is tickled to have a twin as her pen pal this year. “It helps keep us younger, I think!”
Schultz said she started the program five years ago as a way to teach the students the art of writing handwritten letters. “Our society is so focused on technology that the art of writing a letter has just kind of been pushed aside. … I thought it would be a good idea to find them a pen pal, and since we are a Catholic school l thought maybe the Sisters of St. Francis would be interested.”
Since then, she said the project has taken on a life of its own. Each year, students ask to do the pen pal project. “They expect and look forward to that in fifth grade.”
Sr. Hocum said the Sisters look forward to the letters each year, too. The students typically send letters every other week from November to May, and the Sisters respond by mailing their letters to the school.
Some of the Sisters had an opportunity to meet their pen pals when Schultz invited them this fall to join the students’ families in watching the fifth-graders’ All Saints Day presentations. “They are so fun to watch and such gracious hosts,” Sr. Hocum said.
Along with being a fun project, the pen pal experience over the past five years has also been encouraging. As she nears 85, Sr. Hocum said it can be depressing to see the ills of the world in the news each day. “What helps me is knowing there are these wonderful young people coming up and that maybe there is some hope (for the future).”
Sometimes, the friendships between the students and the Sisters extend beyond the classroom. Schulz said some students have continued writing after the school year or talk to the Sisters at school Masses.
Sister Jeanne d’Arc Untz, OSF, experienced the joy of seeing her 2013 pen pal, Aleigha, start attending Mass at The Canticle — home of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton — with her mother.
For Schultz, watching the women religious and students build relationships “is just neat!”