Catholic Schools Week Guide

Four ways to celebrate Catholic education

By Lori Hadacek Chaplin

Catholic Schools Week (CSW) is January 27 – February 2, 2019, and centers on the theme of “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” In honor of those four hallmarks of Catholic education, Today’s Catholic Teacher offers four ways to make your celebration enjoyable and memorable.


Saint peg doll project

With a saint peg doll project, the sky’s the limit for student creativity. This project is easy to tailor to different ages. Choose your school’s patron saint or encourage students to pick their favorite saints. In addition to painting the peg dolls, ask students to do some research on their saints in advance. Studying the saints’ history will help students to know which distinctive details to add to embellish their saint dolls. For example, St. Francis and St. Gertrude are two saints associated with animals, so some students may want to paint a wolf or tiny bird somewhere on St. Francis and a mouse or cat on their St. Gertrude dolls.

Eight painting steps

  • Lightly sand peg doll in the direction of the wood with fine-grain sandpaper until it’s smooth. This should take around five minutes.
  • In pencil, outline the doll’s clothes, hands, and facial features. For younger and artistically shy students, teachers or an able student can draw out the outlines in advance. The facial features can be simple — circles for eyes, a dash for a nose, and a curved line for a mouth — or more realistic. Visit Pinterest for different versions of saint peg dolls.
  • Paint a light coat of flesh color on face and hands. Let the paint dry in between each of the steps; it only takes a few minutes for acrylic paint to set if it’s not applied too thickly.
  • Paint the base color of the clothing.
  • Paint the hair and/or veil.
  • Paint facial features with a fine-detail brush. A large brush will make this task difficult and the face messy looking.
  • Paint details and symbols on the doll with a detail brush. For example, the Blessed Virgin Mary is often pictured with roses or a crown, St. Joseph with lilies, St. Paul with a sword, and St. Padre Pio with the wounds of Christ.
  • When the paint is completely dry to the touch, use a larger brush to seal the doll with Mod Podge.

Jump to our supply list for this project.

Gemma Chaplin, 12, paints St. Margaret and the Dragon. Image credit: Lori Hadacek Chaplin. All rights reserved.


“Flower It Forward” to nursing-home residents

Patricia C. Gallagher, of Worcester, Pennsylvania, has given away more than 28,000 bouquets of fresh flowers to residents of senior living communities, nursing homes, halfway houses, hospices, chemo waiting rooms, and more. She told TCT, “People enjoy the element of surprise.”

Gallagher, the founder of Happy Flower Day (, says in her book Start Your Own Free and Fun “Happy Flower Day Project” in Your Community!, “Many days, I have close to a hundred bouquets to pass out to strangers. And from the joyful looks on people’s faces, their problems seem to melt, if only for the moment.”

Where does she get all of these flowers? Florists, grocery stores, and big-box stores will often donate flowers that are still good, but no longer salable.

Gallagher recommends a “Flower It Forward” project for CSW. She hopes that Catholic schools will enjoy doing this so much that they will make it a tradition.

How to?

Gallagher suggests that a few volunteers from the school contact several stores to explain that their school is doing a flower service project and ask whether the store would donate discarded but still viable flowers.

Stores like Trader Joe’s — which Gallagher works closely with — have flowers in bunches, and those bunches can be divided out into smaller bouquets.

More than one class — or a small school — could work on the project. “Flower It Forward” involves collecting vases, writing greeting notes or letters to attach to the bouquet, re-bundling the flowers, tying the bows — with notes — around the vases, and delivering the flowers. Perhaps, the First Communion class would get the honor of delivering the flowers to nursing-home residents and other grades could do the behind-the-scenes work.


Conduct a vase recycling event before CSW. “Most people have a bunch of vases sitting in a cabinet under the kitchen sink. Advertise a few convenient drop-off points,” Gallagher says.

To prepare the students for refreshing and arranging flowers, have a demonstration ahead of time. If a rose isn’t drooping, removing the outer layer of petals will make it look like new. Different varieties of flowers don’t die at the same rate, so show the students what a salvageable flower looks like and how to snip off the ends of the stems so the flowers last longer.

Jump to our supply list for this project.

Image credit:


The Living Rosary

Bring the rosary to life by organizing a Living Rosary. In a Living Rosary, students — holding candles or flashlights — represent each of the 59 beads of the devotion.

With the lights turned off, students stand in a circle around the perimeter of the church — or gym — with a tail of the Glory Be, three Hail Marys, and the crucifix (the one carried in Mass) trailing down the center aisle.

A leader, perhaps your principal or parish priest, will go around to light each of the candles, held by students, as each prayer is recited aloud. If you choose to use flashlights, then the light is switched on at the beginning of the prayer and this continues. On completion of the rosary, all the candles or flashlights are illuminated.

The student representing a bead leads the first part of the prayer, using a handheld mic, and the rest of the students answer the second part of the prayer.

Those students not representing a bead sit “inside” the rosary and answer the second half of the prayer.

Choose older students to represent the Our Father beads since they will also lead the Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer and announce the mystery before handing off the microphone.

Finally, choose two well-known Marian hymns to sing before and after the rosary, such as “Immaculate Mary” and “Gentle Mother,” to encourage a holy atmosphere.

Another version

Another way to do a Living Rosary is with helium-filled balloons. Beth Cotell, a Catholic mom and blogger at A Mom’s Life, has been a part of the Living Rosary at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the past three years. Cotell was a member of the PTO until her youngest daughter graduated this past spring.

During CSW 2018, the school decided to do a balloon rosary. Cotell told TCT, “We had done Living Rosaries in the past but wanted to shake things up and make things a little more exciting for the kids. After some research online, I found that other schools had done the balloon rosary, and we decided to give it a try.”

She adds, “Every year parents tell us how much their kids enjoy it. We do it at the end of the school day, so parents are invited to participate, as well.”

How they do it

Cotell says the balloon rosary comes together quickly, but it’s important to use balloons with links on the end.  She explains that this makes tying them together easier.

“After we put the balloon rosary together, we place it in the center of the gym floor using balloon weights. Grades K-8 then reverently come into the gym. The lower grades are seated in the bleachers, while the middle-school kids take their places around the beads and balloons. Then the principal, Sr. Geri, asks the kids to pray for their special intentions, and she starts the rosary. She has a microphone and goes to each student so they can lead the school with the prayer for that bead, and the school responds accordingly.”

Our Lady of Mercy then has their eighth-graders release the rosary into the sky while Sr. Geri recites Revelations 8:4: “The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel.”

To make it more ecological and bird-friendly, TCT suggests putting a long rope on the rosary so it floats like a kite but is not released.

Another option is to let it float to the gym’s ceiling since it will eventually fall.

Get balloon rosary directions.

Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School’s Balloon Rosary. Photo credit: Beth Cotell. All rights reserved.


Talent showcase

A talent showcase is an excellent way for students to put their talents on display. St. Mary’s Catholic School in Big Rapids, Michigan, has a talent showcase each year on the Thursday of CSW. Principal JB Watters told TCT, “Our mission is academic excellence, but what we were missing was an artistic outlet for the kids. We’re a small school, so we don’t have drama or a big music program. I wanted to give the students an outlet for the arts to tie in with CSW.”

At St. Mary’s, first- through eighth-grade students submit visual art projects for display alongside the talent show. The talent might be singing, dancing, a piano performance, or even Hula-Hooping or jumping rope.

“The whole idea is to encourage our student body to display their talents,” Watters adds. “We’ve had class projects where the whole class has gotten up there to sing a song. There’s not 100 percent participation, but the whole idea is to get kids out there and used to being in front of people.”

Watters has interested students audition in January so that he knows that acts are appropriate and performance-ready. “The whole idea is to make sure kids are ready and they don’t get embarrassed,” he explains.

The visual art or projects are submitted a week in advance. Watters says the students practice for the showcase on their own time or during recess.

Community affair

St. Mary’s sets up round table seating for the parents and grandparents. The students usually sit on the floor in front of the performers. “They cheer on their peers,” he says.

A showcase could be a great time to fundraise, but St. Mary’s chooses not to because they don’t want to discourage anyone from coming.

Easy to put together

Watters has organized the Talent Showcase for last six years. He says it doesn’t take much effort to plan this kind of event. He typically allows students one performance, conducts the auditions, and has his secretary type up a program.

“I try to split up the talent, so there are not three Hula-Hoop acts in a row. I usually put one of the stronger performers at the beginning of the show to get everybody pumped up and a strong one at the end to top off the show.”

He notes, “The showcase is a real confidence builder.”

Two students right before performing in a talent showcase. Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s Catholic School, Big Rapids, Michigan.

Flower checklist

Make contacts with florists and store managers in advance to create a relationship.
Plan with the nursing home activity director in advance to arrange your visit sometime during Catholic Schools Week.
Collect vases.
Pick up flowers, refresh, and re-bundle them into attractive bouquets.
Tie a bow around each flower and attach a note saying, “You’re special,” “God bless you,” or “Thinking of you.” Short letters or small drawings are also ways to make the bouquets extra special and will make more involvement possible for the student body. If you don’t have enough flowers for every resident, then at least everyone will have a letter and/or drawing.
For delivery, make sure you have boxes to hold the flowers and a vehicle. Choose one class to give the bouquets away.
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Supply checklist

Blank peg dolls (size 3-1/2 inch) are about 74 cents per 50 dolls or around 60 cents per 300 dolls from
Fine-grain sandpaper
Acrylic paint — Liquitex BASICS® Acrylic Paint is a good, student-priced paint for this project, but cheaper paints are available if the budget is tight. The difference is that cheaper paints don’t cover as well
Palette paper
Small paint brushes and detail paint brushes
Recycled jars for water to clean brushes
Mod Podge (gloss) for sealing the dolls after they’re painted
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Lori Hadacek Chaplin is a senior writer and columnist for Catholic Digest magazine. Her articles appear regularly in Today’s Catholic Teacher, National Catholic Register, Celebrate Life magazine, and OSV Weekly. She lives in Idaho with her husband, David, and their four children.

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