By Jenelyn Russo     4/24/2020

In recent weeks, Orange County Catholic schools have embarked on a new method of delivering curriculum through distance learning. And while teachers, students and parents are all adapting to these changes in the midst of processing a global pandemic, acts of service have remained a steadfast way for school families to maintain connection, share their faith and support local communities. 

Alycia Beresford, principal at Mission Basilica School in San Juan Capistrano, has put forth challenges each week for her students as a way to keep spirits up and promote engagement. Some of the focus areas of these challenges have included prayer and placing crosses in windows for passersby to see. 

During Holy Week, Beresford presented an almsgiving challenge, a way for students and families to use the days leading up to Easter as a time to make the needs of others their own. 

“I tasked the students this week to do acts of charity or do things within their realm at home, and then share what they did with their classmates and the school,” says Beresford. 

Throughout the week, examples of service completed by the students ranged from caring for younger siblings to thanking those in the community who are working hard to keep people safe. 

After hearing about a need for supplies at Little Sisters of the Poor in San Pedro, Mission Basilica’s eighth grade class dropped off the requested supplies along with letters of hope for the residents at the senior facility. Other students left bottled water for delivery workers, wrote thank-you notes to healthcare workers and wished a Mission Basilica teacher happy birthday with a drive-by sign celebration. 

“I think that it takes the students’ minds off of what’s going on in their worlds and allows them to focus on doing positive things that bring hope and happiness to others,” says Beresford. “Especially during Holy Week, it’s important that we remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for our sins.” 

At Saint Norbert School in Orange, the school moved their Children’s Rosary Group monthly prayer meeting online, and through Google Hangouts, more than 50 people gathered at the beginning of April for the student-led praying of the Rosary, as well as the Pope’s prayer intentions for those affected by COVID-19. 

“By coming together to pray, our school family has been able to do something positive and meaningful to make a difference in a situation that feels so out of control,” says Saint Norbert Principal Joe Ciccoianni. 

Serving those in the community has been the focus at Our Lady of Fatima Academy in San Clemente, as TK through eighth-grade students participated in a letter-writing and picture-drawing campaign for those in their area who need support. 

“We were trying to do something that would bring our community together and we could give back,” says Our Lady of Fatima Academy Principal Elizabeth Gosnell. 

The 160-member student body produced more than 400 cards and letters and dropped them off in collections boxes at the school. After letting the cards sit in “quarantine” for a few days, Gosnell and her staff brought the handmade notes of encouragement to seniors, grocery store clerks, post office workers, firefighters, lifeguards and sheriff personnel. Additionally, letters were delivered to healthcare workers at Mission Hospital and Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas. 

“It’s something that we need to keep giving,” says Gosnell. “We have our faith to rely on, and it’s one way to share our faith with the community, that we have the message of hope, because God gives us that hope.”