Respect for, service to elders shines bright at St. Henry School

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The eighth-grade boys at St. Henry School spent the day serving the elders of the St. Henry Church community during the annual St. Henry Senior Luncheon on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the church’s fellowship hall. The boys set up the space, served the food, and cleaned up. Additionally, 4-year-old pre-kindergarten students surprised the guests with songs and carnations. Jude Whipple fills up beverages. Photos by Katie Peterson

St. Henry School showed off its commitment to serving others as the eighth-grade boys came together to serve the elders of St. Henry Church at the annual St. Henry Senior Luncheon on Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the church fellowship hall.

“It’s been a long-standing tradition for many, many years that, while the eighth-grade girls go on their high school visit to St. Cecilia Academy, the boys stay back and serve the senior luncheon,” said Katie Long, assistant principal of St. Henry. “The students don’t really spend a lot of time with the parishioners, especially the older parishioners, so it’s a great opportunity for us to partner with the parish.

“About 75 percent of our students here are parishioners of the church, so it’s important to see that these young men are interacting with the parish community,” she added. “It’s also a big part of our motto at St. Henry of service to others, so it’s a great opportunity for them to get to know some people and for them to learn to serve others and be part of the parish community as a student at the school.”

During the luncheon, which has been going on for more than 15 years, the eighth-grade boys are in charge of setting up the luncheon, serving the food to the guests, and clearing the tables. The meal was catered by the school’s cafeteria manager, Laurel Williams, and her catering business, with the boys and their families pitching in by providing the various desserts that were offered.

Luke Klein fills up drinks.

“It’s really nice that we’re looking at the whole family to get involved,” said Rachel Williams, director of stewardship at the church. “It’s just a really fun day of fellowship and food and song for our parishioners.”

The eighth-grade boys said they learned a lot in serving the luncheon.

“I think that it’s pretty valuable to be doing this because it’s just a great way to give back to the community, especially the church community,” said Patrick Weed, St. Henry Student Council secretary.

“I like it because it helps us get service around our community and allows us to help others,” added Marty Neswold, Student Council president. “We’ve never really done this before as eighth graders, so it has been a nice eye-opener to the service we can do.”

Those they served said they couldn’t have been more touched by all they did. 

“It’s encouraging in today’s world to see the product of Catholic schools and see how respectful these children are and how service to others is part of their education,” said Mary Margaret Lambert, a Tennessee Register columnist who has attended the senior lunch since its inception. “St. Henry is our second family. It’s not just a parish, so to see the future in these children gives me hope because this is such a screwed-up world that we live in.”

Barbie Baker, a first-time attendee and alumni of St. Henry School for the class of 1967, agreed.

“The eighth-grade boys were so respectful and polite from the moment I walked in when they greeted us,” Baker said, who noted that her husband of 45 years, Ken Baker, had attended previously. “My husband always talked about how much fun it was, and I thought it was a lovely idea, and I wanted to be part of it.”

This year, the seniors got an extra surprise as some of the 4-year-old pre-kindergarten students came in and sang songs for the group, like “Lord, I Need You” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It was followed by music provided by Kathy Quarto, St. Henry choir director, and Carol Ann Jones, the school music teacher.

Then, with the help of the eighth-grade boys, the pre-kindergarten students brought a red carnation to each of the seniors.

“It gave me chills when those little ones walked in,” Baker said, noting how she knows many in the room have grandchildren and great-grandchildren around the same age. “What a gift it was even being with the little ones.

“And then, when they gave out carnations to each of us, it was very sweet to see them walking between the tables and giving them to each of the older people,” she added. “It melts my heart. The God-given cycle of life was very evident in that room from pre-kindergarteners to middle-schoolers to great grandparents. It was just an awesome day.” 

“I noticed how the eighth-grade boys helped guide the pre-K around, and that was so touching to see, too,” Lambert added.

As the event came to a close, the eighth-grade boys reflected on how they hoped what they did for the seniors would become an example for the younger students at the school. 

“I hope little kids at our school can see us doing service and all the things that we’ve been doing and look up to us and think that they want to be doing what we’re doing,” Weed said. “I just hope that they see it and hope that they can be like us one day.”

“They might even go a little farther and make it bigger and help others in a different way,” Neswold added.

They also noted how service such as this is an example of what it means to be a Catholic in the community.

“It shows that being Catholic is more than just going to Mass,” Weed said. “It’s helping out the elderly people in the community and giving back to those who have given so much to us.”

“It’s an example of being Catholic because not only are you going to church, but you’re bringing people together as a community, and you don’t want to be spread apart,” Neswold said. “You want to get to know each other, so you can be a full community.”

All the while, they’re walking in the feet of Christ, Baker said.

“In this very difficult world that we’re living in now where respect, particularly respect for your elders, seems to have gone astray, to know that at St. Henry, and all Catholic schools, children are taught respect for their elders and it’s expected of them, is a beautiful thing,” Baker said. “These boys have been so polite in serving us and service is so important to get through life.”

“Jesus came to serve,” she concluded, “and they are learning that they are following in his footsteps.”

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