April 17, 2017 • VOL. 55, NO. 8 • Oakland, CA
St. Jerome Parish, School welcome refugee family
St. Jerome School has always been a place where pupils take care of one another.
"Everybody learns responsibility for the welfare of the community," Barbara Cortese, parish council chairperson, said.
That tradition of service and care for others was manifested many times over in a Lenten project that was trimmed, in some cases, with lace.
Throughout Lent, the students collected baby goods, piling them on a table, with the words "Helping hands and caring hearts" on a sign above it, in the hallway. Clothes, toys, boxes of diapers and "lots and lots of baby wipes," as one second-grader put it, were donated.
Eighth-graders answered the call to muscle the goods to storage — taking up the pastor's garage, Cortese noted — to make room for more.
The El Cerrito parish, through Catholic Charities of the East Bay, has co-sponsored a family being resettled in the United States. The family is there right now: mother, father, a toddler girl and an expected baby daughter, who will be its first American citizen at birth.
The family, like most of the refugees resettled by Catholic Charities of the East Bay, came with few possessions.
That all changed when the St. Jerome community was notified, near Christmas, that their family was en route.
With two weeks to plan, the parish coalition got working. The St. Vincent de Paul Society conference at the parish gathered furniture, Cortese said. The cupboards were filled. The family welcomed.
The school took on the task of preparing for the new baby, as well as providing for her big sister.
The parish celebrated with a baby shower in March, presenting the gifts to the family.
"It felt happy" to help the family, said second-grader Maya.
Her classmate Sofia agreed. "It was important to the family so they can have a good life," she said.
"It felt good to help a family new to America," said eighth-grader Dominic. "We wanted to show St. Jerome's love, kindness and generosity to anyone who comes to America."
Principal Alison Wilkie said that a family had donated a double stroller to the newcomers.
Among the thoughtful gifts was the donation of quarters so the family could do its laundry. The quarters should come in handy.
Details about the refugee family were undisclosed.
In the second grade classroom, the students were sitting with their shiny Macbooks open, ready to publish their stories. Their drafts, carefully printed on lined paper, had been edited by their teacher, Nancy Wallis.
They stopped in the midst of their publishing work to talk about the Lenten project. Their comments reflected empathy for the refugee family.
One student offered that her mother had been an immigrant whose early attempts at English had not been well received; another said that her family had sent a gift to the refugee family reflecting their shared faith tradition. A third child said that his family, too, had moved from country to country before settling in the United States.
One comment showed the intersection of compassion and the practical: "My heart felt warm because I was giving them lots of quarters," he said.
Like the generosity of the givers, laundry knows no borders.
St. Jerome School, founded in 1955, will close at the end of the school year.
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