By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Eighth-grader Jon Herrington won first prize in the inaugural St. Paul the Apostle Knights of Columbus Council 15725 Essay Contest, topping about 45 students in grades 8 through 12 to win the $75 dollar prize. The contest was open to Catholics in the Davenport and Bettendorf area.
“I was surprised,” said Herrington, a St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School student. “I didn’t think I would win.”
The essay contest theme was religious freedom, something Herrington said he expresses daily through words and actions and by wearing Catholic jewelry. However, he hadn’t considered the topic in detail prior to writing the article.
As he has an interest in the study of popes, he began his research by looking through papal encyclicals. He was intrigued by what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. He based his essay on the exhortation.
“From this excerpt … we are told that religious freedom is the most important of all rights, we are also taught that everyone must be able to openly and freely express and share one’s beliefs and faiths. …Freedom affects one’s dignity, way of life, and respect to fellow man,” Herrington wrote in his essay.
He connected this idea to recent events, sharing his lament for persons in the Middle East persecuted for their religious beliefs by terror regimes such as ISIS. He wrote, “These Catholics are not being protected by their countries’ laws, and are being slaughtered daily because of it.”
He expressed gratitude for having government protections on his own religious freedom, though with freedom comes responsibility and vulnerability toward scrutiny. “As Catholics, we must be evangelists that share the Word of God correctly and with great love. Also, we must be kind and gracious whenever our faith is attacked.”
Grand Deputy Knight Tom Heinold said competition in the essay contest was fierce. Although Herrington is four grades younger than some other entrants, his essay stood out based on its content. “The research he did and the tie to current events made it very pertinent. It included a personal touch with what he does to exercise his religious freedom.”
Matt Tjaden, a senior at Assumption High School in Davenport, won the $50 second prize for his great essay, Heinold said.
A majority of this year’s entrants — including Herrington — are in St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School’s eighth-grade class, Heinold said. English teacher Colleen Tallman turned the essay into a class assignment on persuasive writing. Writing the essay was required, but submitting it to the Knights’ contest was optional. “I wanted to give them the opportunity,” she said.
She was not surprised that Herrington turned to papal writings for inspiration, namely those of Pope Benedict XVI, with whom she feels Herrington shares a “studious” disposition. “He is into studying and what he can learn from it.”
She was likewise not surprised at how he spent part of his winnings — on a scholarly book about the rosary. Herrington said he put the rest in savings.
Herrington’s essay can be found on The Catholic Messenger website at www.catholicmessenger.net.