Sister Schools — From San Antonio to Greentown
By Mary Ann Lovett
My work as the coordinator of extended day programs at Rolling Hills Catholic School and Antonian Middle School in San Antonio is a position to love and for which you have permission to envy. Since I see it as an adjunct curriculum to enrich students, foster apostolic fervor and an opportunity to investigate cultures and people that are different from what we know, it holds challenges and results that create winning for students. The principal, Jonathan Kiesler, who previously taught religion in our all-boys Catholic high school in the city and had an exchange for his boys with Muslim boys in residence here, didn’t require persuading that we could be a sister school. His objective had been to help each other get to know someone very different from what was familiar. So he already understood the advantage in person-to-person interaction with students of different backgrounds and cultures.
When I returned from Assembly in July and was meeting with him regarding our coming school year, I inquired about the possibility of our school in San Antonio becoming a sister school with St. Anthony in Greentown outside of Lahore, Pakistan. After all, we both have the same saint working on our behalf, St. Anthony! He asked a few questions about how this would work and was excited about the opportunities of pen pals; Skype messaging, which can be viewed when it is class time in each of our time zones; exchanging pictures and activities; making a wall in our school to capture pivotal moments and correspondence; and discovering how we might assist the school with some of their physical needs.
This was the positive response for which I had hoped. I contacted Nasreen Daniel to see if it were possible for her to come to San Antonio and meet Kiesler, view the school, give a presentation to students and serve a traditional Pakistan meal to some teachers and parents/families. The dates that would work also included an evening lecture at Oblate School of Theology, which Nasreen had attended previously. The speaker was Father Ronald Rolheiser, with whom she had a class when she was in attendance at Oblate. They were able to savor a few minutes together following the lecture.
Every Wednesday we have a whole school Mass where there are many parents in attendance with the students and teachers. Kiesler had arranged with the celebrant to provide a special blessing for Nasreen at the conclusion of the Mass. This was an amazing moment for all of us with our arms outstretched over/toward Nasreen as the priest prayed the blessing. Following this, Nasreen gave her PowerPoint presentation to introduce the students, faculty and remaining parents to Pakistan and St. Anthony School. We promised (she and I) would visit all the classrooms over the next couple of days so the students could make the inquiries their curiosity was insisting on and provide them with an opportunity to introduce themselves to the classmates at St. Anthony in Greentown.
Nasreen said she was willing to cook a meal for 10 people so invitations were extended to a few faculty members, the Campus Ministry team and two families to join us for Pakistan fare Thursday evening. Nasreen outdid herself with amazing taste treats. Of course there were rice and lentils, tandoori chicken, spinach/onion pakoras and a mango/carrot, raisin pudding for dessert. The dinner took place at the school, but our cafeteria was turned into a delightful space with flowers, candles, fancy tablecloths and decorations. It was a comfortable evening, and everyone, the children, parents and staff, all recognized what an ideal situation it would be to become sister schools.
The Middle School students each wrote individual letters to an unknown student at St. Anthony’s. We scanned and emailed them to Maria Daniel to distribute to the upper grades at St. Anthony. When our class photos are taken this year, we will do the same with those photos and send them to matching classes at St. Anthony. Our goal is to create siblings halfway around the world. We hope that they will invest in each other’s well-being as well as become “family.”