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Winning young hearts for Jesus through Mary: rosary apostolate in the schools.

The big year-end celebration of the Crowning of Mary by the school rosary apostolate is about to begin. In St. Mary's School gym, Bathurst St., Toronto, dozens of chattering, nervous little girls in long white cotton gowns with blue sashes gather together with a smattering of boys in varied costumes. Amidst giggles and nervous agitation, the organized confusion flows in and out of a myriad of mini-rehearsals: the story of the Miraculous Medal, the five Luminous Mysteries narrated and acted, a dance for Our Lady.

"I can't believe I'm doing this!!" a stoic-faced girl moans pitifully. "Pray to Our Lady," I whisper, trying to help. "It's not time to pray yet!" she replies emphatically with mild distrust. The boy playing the part of Jesus is so serene and priestly it is enough to flood your heart with high hope.

"Dancers out!!" the voice of Faye Santos, school apostolate leader, barks sweetly, and the scene empties in a flap of flowered garlands and flying bare feet. The whole school population files into the gym, each child receiving a rose and a rosary. Bodies wiggle into rows. "Sit down everyone. Take your flower for Mary, Say thank you. This is like church," the principal intones kindly. "Ave Maria" in Latin begins to play as a grand procession with costumed participants and others carrying banners proclaiming the "Year of the Rosary" processes around the expectant crowd. At the close of the celebration the stoic-face girl grins at me trustingly, "Pretty good, huh?" Various versions of this celebration are enacted with thousands of students across southern Ontario each May through the direction of the apostolate.

The rosary apostolate is an apostolate of prayer. Beginning as a parish Jubilee project five years ago, it presently reaches over 180 schools in the Toronto area, is also in the dioceses of London, Ottawa, and Peterborough and now branching out across the country. The volunteer teachers, "Rosary Visitors", witness to their faith by teaching school children to love Jesus with the Heart of Mary by praying the rosary and making an Act of Consecration.

The Visitors are given themes and meditations for each monthly visit and obliged to observe strict guidelines to ensure continuity and accountability. Ideally, every class in the school will have a session on the same day once a month, over an eight-month period. Each year has a different thematic approach. Themes for the coming year are based on me virtues or Mary. The culminating activity is the May Crowning involving the whole school.

Sr. Marilina Cinelli, a Passionist sister, directs the apostolate with regional directors, co-directors, and school leaders as well as the Visitors/team members. Msgr. John Murphy of the Toronto chancery office is on standby as adviser. Prayer committees that intercede, especially on the day of prayer in the schools, are encouraged. Initial orientation, lesson plans, regular in-service, and rehearsal of lessons are all arranged for Visitors.

For this Year of the Rosary, a generous expansion is planned for the fall of 2003, with a high school, parish, and home visitation program all geared up ready to be implemented with trained volunteers.

The goals? The apostolate seeks to communicate to the thousands of students in their care that Mary's heart is a refuge, in difficult times a safe shelter of protection from every danger. Secondly, Mary's heart is the Way to God, a road called love. Mary gives her children the capacity to love more and more, making it pure and perfect like hers. Finally. the apostolate seeks to give children and youth the Holy Rosary, a vehicle that will transport them to their heavenly destination .

The apostolate invites more volunteers to go into the schools once a month. The Toronto Catholic District School Board has kindly donated office space. Fund raising is in progress to meet expenses; donations and prayers are needed and appreciated. Cheques can be made to: Rosary Apostolate in the Schools.
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Title Annotation:Lay Movement XXIV
Author:Wilson, Ann
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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