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Draper Journal

St. John students’ bonds deepen through presenting Stations of the Cross

Mar 30, 2023 01:12PM ● By Julie Slama

This will be the 20th year St. John the Baptist students will hold their Stations of the Cross devotion. (Brandon Howland/SJBMS)

Eighth-grader Addy Hagen was looking forward to portraying Mary during St. John the Baptist Middle School’s Stations of the Cross.

“I hope to portray her as really humble, kind and willing to help others,” she said before the devotion. “She is gentle and calm. I’m at the station where Jesus meets his mother. It’s very special and this will be a good way for me to pray more and think about my faith in Jesus.”

Stations of the Cross is a tradition at the Catholic middle school. The eighth-graders are divided into 15 groups to represent Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man to his resurrection. The students decide classmates who demonstrate the qualities of kindness and humility of Jesus and Mary to present those roles at each appropriate station. 

Students and faculty at the Skaggs campus and surrounding community were invited to take part in the devotion, which this year, the 20th year at St. John, was slated for late March. An estimated 1,000 people attend annually.

Addy’s religion teacher, Maria Moynihan, said while Catholics walked the stations, students shared depictions of Christ’s journey, so “basically, they’re walking and praying along the way with Jesus.”

The students started learning about the tradition on Ash Wednesday. Over five weeks, they read the four gospels and watched the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” which Moynihan said sets the tone.

“I try to help them understand the historical part of it as we watch the movie,” she said.

Addy said that by putting herself in the Bible story, she feels “a lot more compassion and sympathy, and it helps me understand it more and what it was like to be at that time.”

Then in groups, the students start writing their script as well as an opening prayer, reflection questions and a closing prayer. Through the script writing, discussions and rehearsals, Moynihan said students evolve.

“We have them as their eighth-grade selves, which are goofy and awkward and very concerned about what other people are thinking of them, and through this process, they’re examining what happened to Jesus, what is his suffering in that station? They come up with an opening prayer and reflection questions to ask. It’s not just saying the words, it’s creating something and making their own. Through a lot of reflection and prayer, they, one by one, start to get to this place where they feel like they’re there with Jesus and let go of their eighth-grade selves,” she said, “It is truly amazing to see this powerful transformation that happens.”

They also develop research, written and oral communication and teamwork skills, Moynihan added.

Juan Diego Catholic High’s Peri Flanagan originated the school’s portrayal of Stations of the Cross when she taught at St. John. Moynihan has been directing students with it the past 13 years. 

“The first year, they didn’t have any big crosses. They went out and found sticks to form into a cross. Over the years it has grown. I think my husband has made these major crosses for many years now and every couple of years, he’ll need to make a couple of replacements as they may not be strong enough. It’s a special day for them when they pull those out,” Moynihan said. “We have some students who are raised Catholic and have been in our schools and are real familiar with the whole story of Jesus. Then, we have kids who are new to our schools and this may be the first experience they’ve had, and we also have a few students who aren’t even Christian. I’d say most of these students are questioning their faith. So, we’re all on a faith journey and we tell them, ‘no matter where you are on your journey, this is something that if you open your heart you’ll have a really beautiful experience from it. Even if it’s not deepening your faith, it deepens the bonds they have with their classmates. It’s broadening their friend group by working on this together.”