One of my favorite activities with my third graders is a simple retreat designed to help them recognize and appreciate the saints, not only those in heaven, but those in our homes and those we are called to be. It is great for family catechesis as well. We include children from both the school and the parish religious education program and require at least one parent to attend. The retreat usually takes place on the Saturday before All Saints Day.
Preparation and Set-Up
I start advertising in our bulletin and parish website six weeks before the retreat and offer online registration. I also send invitation letters home with the children. The invitation includes an option for parents to indicate, “Yes, we will come,” or, “Sorry, we cannot make it.” This forces parents to make a choice, and most parents who return the registration form usually select, “Yes, we will come.” The invitation letter encourages families to bring pictures of deceased loved ones so we can pray for them at the retreat. I do whatever it takes to make sure families attend, including sending reminder e-mails and making phone calls during the final week before the retreat.
I also prepare for some of the activities in the weeks leading up to the retreat. One activity is making paper chains with images of saints. I take legal-size sheets of paper of various colors and cut them into three strips of paper. Then I take pictures of saints and cut them into sizes small enough to fit on the strips. I also make a worship aid for the opening and closing prayers so everyone can participate.
On the day before the retreat, I set up the room. I designate one corner of the room as our prayer space, using room dividers to set the prayer space apart. I display large posters of saints to remind us that we are part of the Communion of Saints. I put a simple rectangular table in front of the posters, and I cover it with a white tablecloth and a purple runner. I then place a crucifix, a Bible, two candles, several small statues of saints, and a small bell. I also set up an additional poster board for the families’ pictures. Finally, I spell out the word S-A-I-N-T-S in front of the table using synthetic flowers.
When the children and their parents arrive, I have a volunteer collect the pictures of the deceased family members, and we tape them on the poster near the altar. If we run out of space on the poster, we simply place them wherever we have space on the altar.
The retreat then proceeds according to the following schedule:
9:00 a.m. to 9:25 a.m. Registration and Light Breakfast
9:25 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Welcome
9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Opening Prayer
We open with prayer, and then I invite the parish priest to say a few words to the group.
9:45 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Saints Presentation
I do a short presentation about the saints. In the presentation, I like to explain why the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints and how Halloween is connected to All Saints Day. I also explain what the Communion of Saints is and how we are called to be saints.
10:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Saints Activity 1
The first activity centers around the life of a particular saint. I will pick a famous saint like St. Nicholas or St. Mary and distribute handouts of the saint for children to decorate. Sometimes, instead of a famous saint, I will ask the children to recognize a saint in their lives. I hand out a piece of paper and an envelope to each child and parent. Then we go over the attributes or the attitudes of saints. Then I ask the families to think of someone they think is a role model of faith. After a moment of reflection, I ask them to write a letter to that person that shares how he or she has been a living saint. They put the saint letter in the envelope, write the person’s name and address on it, and then seal the envelope. I mail the letters after the retreat.
10:15 a.m. to 10:40 a.m. Saints Activity 2
Using the strips of paper and pictures of saints I prepared beforehand, the children create a paper chain. They glue a picture of a saint and/or a picture of the deceased relative to a strip of paper. They can do more than one saint. They decorate the paper or write attributes about that saint and sign it. When everyone is done, they connect their papers with each other to form a chain. The chain is then hung in the entrance doorway of our church with a sign that reads “Saints Among Us.” We leave this up for the entire month of November. Every year it gets the parishioners curious and talking about the saints.
10:40 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Closing Prayer
For the closing prayer, we remember our loved ones who have died. We form a circle around the altar, and I hand each person a battery-powered tea light. With soft, reflective music playing in the background, I invite each person to say the name of the loved one he or she is remembering and then place the light on the altar. After each name is called out, I ring the bell that is on the altar. We then pray together the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.
This short retreat is a great way for children and families to recognize that they are part of the Communion of Saints. How might you adapt this retreat for your school or parish?
The Finding God Together Intergenerational Events Kit includes complete plans for five events, with saint station posters and more.