Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus Sister Jane Onyeneri teaches St. Augustine School students how to pray the rosary during a religion class on April 6.
Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus Sister Jane Onyeneri teaches St. Augustine School students how to pray the rosary during a religion class on April 6.
In a recent sacramental preparation class at St. Augustine School, students peppered Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus Sister Jane Onyeneri with questions like "Will you be closer to God than ever before?" and "Can a three-year-old receive communion?" They followed the sister as she showed them the proper way to hold their hands when receiving Communion for the first time.

"We need to reverence Christ. We need to respect Jesus when we are holding him," Sister Jane said in a warm tone. "Jesus is bigger than everybody. You are blessed that you are receiving Jesus."

Thanks to Sister Jane, who is the director of religious education at St. Augustine School in Northwest Washington, 18 students are tentatively set to be baptized, 17 are to receive First Holy Communion, and 12 are to be confirmed at the Easter Vigil this year. Last year a similarly large number received the sacraments of initiation at St. Augustine Church.

For her enthusiastic religious education efforts at the school, Sister Jane was recognized as one of 10 Golden Apple Award winners for the Archdiocese of Washington this year. St. Augustine principal Sister Gloria Agumagu said Sister Jane is "constantly reinforcing the value codes we have in the school."

"She asks the students, 'What's special about this sacrament? Why do you chose to be a part of this Christian community?'"
One of the students she's preparing for Baptism and First Holy Communion is Kairon Cunningham, who said, "I like the way sister tells us about God, and the way she tells stories about Jesus." He said he wants to be baptized "because I love sister and I want to be closer to Jesus."

Fourth grader Qasin Nur said Sister Jane "speaks with so much energy" and said he decided he wanted to be baptized to get to heaven. But he sweetly added that Sister Jane makes school "like being in heaven."

Sister Jane, who is originally from Nigeria and has been at St. Augustine since 2006, said that for many students, "the only word of God they hear is at school," so she wants them to feel they can talk to her about God whenever they want. She says students come to her office and ask her to pray for them and their families.

Besides her sacramental preparation of students, Sister Jane also teaches regular religion classes. She believes in using visual devices, interactive teaching and small rewards to encourage students. Sister Jane also makes sure that if a student can't make it to a religious education event because, say their parents are working on a Sunday when the Scrutinies are happening at Mass, the nun will go and pick students up and take them to church.

"These kids have the zeal, and I don't want to deprive them of getting in touch with God," she said.

Sister Jane's biggest reward is seeing the faith of the children. "I find joy in being around children and teaching them prayers," she said. "They now know how to pray more than me," she said.