By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
The quality of entries for this year’s Catholic Messenger Christmas Card contest inspired our staff, who served as judges relying on Zoom video conference and smartphones to complete this treasured task during the ongoing pandemic.
Caroline Livorsi, 9, a fourth-grader at Regina Elementary School in Iowa City, won the top honor. I called Principal Celeste Vincent to share the good news with her. She called Caroline into the office and placed the call on speakerphone. Caroline reacted with silence, at first. Her principal told me that even though Caroline was wearing a mask, “you can see a big smile in her eyes.”
Caroline said she was very happy to learn she won the contest, especially since she entered it for the first time this year. When she heard about the contest, which was not a class requirement, she said she was “really excited to do it.” She chose to focus on the Holy Family and used colored pencils, her favorite medium for her artwork. “It’s easier to control the color,” she said. “And if you need to erase, too.”
This year we received 325 entries, fewer than half of what the Messenger usually receives, which may be the result of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting upheaval in families’ lives.
The pandemic also required creative judging on the part of the Messenger staff, working primarily from their homes and with limited, in-person office time.
Typically, as entries arrive, two staffers sort through entries to ensure fulfillment of contest requirements. We select winners in grades K-2, 3-4 and 5-6 and an overall winner and runners-up. One of our staffers tallies and marks the entries.
After deadline this year, I took the entries home and invited my son, Andrew Amacher, 14, to help judge the first round. Andrew kept tally and was quite vocal about the artwork he viewed. When he came to Caroline’s entry, he stopped and predicted it would be the winner. We narrowed the entries to about 25 per division.
Following our Tuesday press deadline earlier this month, several of us viewed the entries, by division, on the front counter of the Messenger office. Since all six staff “judges” could not be in the office at the same time, we turned to Zoom video conference, and invited guest judge Andrew to join us.
Diocesan reporter Lindsay Steele logged in with her smartphone to display each contest entry on Zoom. The virtual judges entered their responses in the Zoom chat box. Those of us in the office shared our responses verbally and added them to the chat box tally. We continued this narrowing process to select the final winners. We believe that all of the students who entered the contest are winners who understand the true meaning of Christmas while trying to deal with a pandemic.
The unconventional judging provided our staff — Barb Arland-Fye, Phil Hart, Jill Henderson, Tony Forlini, Lindsay and myself — with a break from work and the pandemic and brought a smile to our faces. We hope our 2021 Catholic Messenger Christmas Card Contest will bring an abundance of entries and that we will be able to judge them in person!
(Anne Marie Amacher is assistant editor of The Catholic Messenger.)