A bus filled with excited teens from John Paul II Catholic School in Okatie pulled into the parking lot of St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Bluffton for a Day of Service Oct. 21 to commemorate the feast of St. John Paul II.
Thirty-eight students clad in bright pink T-shirts filed out of the bus, and several boys carried cases of bottled water. They were all ready to work.
Chris Trott, parish manager, welcomed the students, divided them into three groups, explained their work details and gave them their marching orders. One group went into the school to help stock candles; others cleaned out the attic and made multiple trips to the dumpster. The second group marched outside to weed garden and flower beds, collect trash and sweep gravel off the parking lot; and the last group was tasked with moving pallets of pavers to an area behind the school garden.
“I think the Day of Service is a good idea and that we should do it more often,” said student worker Angelo Iskandar. “Saint John Paul II is our patron saint, and he had such a big mission of compassion and service. He is a role model for us, so we help people (in order) to follow his legacy. We go out to serve, and getting a little exercise is nice, too.”
In 1978, John Paul made history by becoming the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years. As the leader of the Catholic Church, he traveled the world, visiting more than 100 countries to spread his message of faith and peace.
A vocal advocate for human rights, John Paul often spoke out about suffering in the world and is credited with the fall of communism in his native Poland.
A number of chaperones accompanied the teams of students. Not only did they supervise the students, the adults pitched in and worked alongside them.
Karen Floyd was a religion teacher at St. Gregory the Great for 13 years and now teaches at St. John Paul II. She is also the girls basketball coach. Her children attend John Paul II Catholic School and are alumni of St. Gregory the Great.
“We are putting faith in action by serving others,” Floyd said. “Today they are living and doing it. We encourage them to be leaders and good stewards in the future.”
John McCarthy, president of John Paul II Catholic School, said their day began with a morning Mass, that the bright pink T-shirts represented unity and shared purpose, and all 332 students spread out into the community to perform all kinds of service projects.
The middle school students, grades 6-8, stayed on campus at John Paul II for “service to school” by washing windows and school buses, gardening, mulching, making cards for nursing home residents and setting up the athletic center for a robotics tournament.
For “service to parish,” students in grades 9 and 10 were also sent to St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Beaufort, where they cleaned out two large storage units and assisted the physical education teacher with fun activities.
Students in grades 11 and 12 provided “service to community” throughout Beaufort and Jasper counties. At the Port Royal Maritime Center, they cleared brush, cleaned up the nature trail and collected more than 14 bags of trash. They picked up litter along E. Hazzard Road in Jasper County and cleaned and landscaped the area at the Sister’s House in Hardeeville. At Mercy Mission, they stocked and organized shelves and displayed items and donated clothes.
The Feast of St. John Paul II is recognized every year on Oct. 22, and for the past three years has been honored as a Day of Service by the students.
McCarthy said that the students of John Paul II Catholic School had always done a lot of service projects, but their work wasn’t known in the community. “Service is one of our core values,” he said, “and we want to make it natural for them to carry this forward in their lives.”
Mcarthy also said that because of increased enrollment – more than 50% in the past two years – they want to reach out to the community to identify additional needs. Any organization in Beaufort or Jasper county that would like to benefit from the 2023 Day of Service can call McCarthy at 843-645-3838 to be added to the list of service projects for the next school year.
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.