Musician Matt Maher performs at the Locked in for Life Event during St. Vincent Pallotti Week at the high school in Laurel.
Musician Matt Maher performs at the Locked in for Life Event during St. Vincent Pallotti Week at the high school in Laurel. CS PHOTO BY RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO
Celebrating St. Vincent Pallotti Week is an annual tradition at the Prince George's County high school bearing the saint's name. The Laurel school comes together to promote vocations through many programs scheduled in the days around St. Vincent's feast day -- Jan. 22 -- which also coincides with the National March for Life.

This year's highlights included a jubilee celebration for the Pallotine Miss-ionary Sisters who have run the school for 75 years.

Pallotine Sister Karen, a teacher and tutor at the school since 1960, said Pallotti Week is very helpful in explaining St. Vincent's charisma to the students. "It has expanded," Sister Karen said, "it is much better, much more vibrant now."

She said teaching the students about their patron saint and his compassion is part of the school's mission. "The students are a caring people," she added.

Sister Lena May, vocations director for the order traveled from the order's American headquarters in West Virginia to the high school to celebrate Pallotti Week with the students. "I explained to the freshmen the broader mission (of the order) - to spread the Gospel message by any and all means and to empower the laity to look at their gifts and talents so they can carry out their vocation." The week provides students "a greater awareness of what's going on in their world," Sister Lena added. It helps them in "thinking ahead to the person they want to be."

Nancy Vawter, the school's campus minister, has helped organize St. Vincent Pallotti Week for nine years. "The week promotes our young people and reinforces how they lead their lives for the glory of God," Vawter said.

Last May, the Archdiocese of Washington's Office of Youth Ministry/ Catholic Youth Organization named Vawter the 2008 Outstanding Adult Leader. In addition to her work at Pallotti, Vawter also serves as part-time director of youth ministry at neighboring St. Mary of the Mills Parish.

Over the past couple of years the award-winning youth minister has added more interactive programs to the Pallotti Week celebration. The focus for each year may change, Vawter said, but - quoting the saint himself - it is always about how to "live out your faith in the political, social and cultural realities of today."

This year, the students at Pallotti lived out the mantra of "going green" with classroom presentations about the stewardship of the earth and caring for all life. Morning prayer focused on God's call to respect all creation. In addition there was a poster display using recycled materials and a mural created in the lunchroom made exclusively from discarded trash. A fashion show featuring clothing and accessories from area thrift shops was also scheduled.

Other events for the students included a student essay contest and a debate featuring a student playing the role of St. Vincent Pallotti. Born in Rome in the late 1790's St. Vincent MaryPallotti was ordained to the priesthood in 1820. He excelled in theological studies but preferred pastoral work dedicating his entire life to the poor. The future saint often returned home without a coat and shoes, having given them to the less fortunate.

Sister Karen said that St. Vincent Pallotti also struggled in school and was in danger of failing until he made a special novena to God. She said students can relate to St. Vincent Pallotti and take away an important message: "to anyone who struggles - don't give up, there's always an end."

On Jan. 21 the school hosted a Locked-In for Life event with 600 people visiting from different parts of the country for the National Right to Life March held the following day. Catholic recording artist Matt Maher performed at the lock-in. More than 100 students from Pallotti participated in the Rally and March for Life.

The week will culminate with a Mass celebrated by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley in honor of the work of the Pallotine Sisters. The religious order runs three schools in the world and Pallotti High School is the only one located in the United States.

At last year's Pallotti Week students, faculty and staff focused on tolerance. During a keynote lecture, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust urged juniors and seniors to count their own blessings while working to end hatred.

Other activities included a trip to the Holocaust Museum, a Mass and speakers addressing the Church's teaching on social justice. Students also participated in a project raising money and books for the Lubuto Library Project serving poor children in African nation of Zambia.

The library collection continued in this year's commemoration of Pallotti Week as well.

Last year during Pallotti Week students shared their own stories of intolerance, recalling times in their lives when they were made fun of, or when they may have hurt others, Vawter said.

At the end of the week students were urged to donate their lunch money to the Elizabeth House, a local ministry dedicated to feeding the poor.

Principal Steven Ed-munds joined the students at their simple meal and noted that St. Vincent Pallotti Week offers "a broad spectrum of what goes on in the world. It raises their awareness and gives them a sense of the greater world."

St. Vincent was very involved in reaching out to the community, said Edmunds, a former guidance counselor who has served at the high school in some capacity for over three decades.

"If you reach a small percent of students you've made a difference," the administrator added.