Sept. 11-17, 2003
He is in he House
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Proctor House Faith Center offers students respite during their busy school day
UTICA — It’s only a stone’s throw away from the school, but the atmosphere at Proctor House Faith Center is worlds away from the crowded, noisy hallways of Proctor High School. The faith center is a welcoming home-like place of faith and acceptance where tolerance and diversity are taught and practiced on a daily basis. Last school year over 100 students chose to leave their study halls and lunch periods to attend credit-bearing classes that are part of a unique curriculum. Although it is a Catholic catechetical program, Proctor House is open to people of all faiths. Registered students gather there to pray, to discuss current events in light of their faith and to deepen their understanding of what it means to be Catholic. At the same time, students of other faiths are taught a greater respect for Catholic beliefs.
In addition to learning the commandments, beatitudes and lessons from Scripture, the students also learn mutual respect, tolerance of other religions and cultures, and life skills. “Our mission is to sow the seeds of peace in the soil of their souls in order for the students to learn to deal with confrontations in school and in their everyday lives,“ said Cathy Cornue, director of the religious education programs for the Eastern Region of the diocese. There are many confrontations taking place at the high school. “There are approximately 122 different cultures at the high school,” said Rochelle Wolkowicz, former director of Proctor House. “There is also a lot of animosity and hostility over there because the students don’t understand different cultures. At Proctor House, all the animosity and misunderstandings are left at the door.”
The teens that attend the high school are mostly inner-city, minority students. “They don’t live in an Ozzie and Harriet world,” said Wolkowicz. “We try to give them a more Christian outlook on life. And by teaching them life skills through Christ, we try to make them better people.” Cathy Cornue agreed. “There isn’t the safety and continuity in their life that their parents had in their generation,” she said. “We try to give them a safe, warm, welcoming place where they can be comfortable with who they are right now,” Cornue explained. “There are a lot of pressures put on high school students these days –– pressure to do well in school, get good jobs and get into college,” said Sister Roberta Southwick, SA, the new director of Proctor House Faith Center. “The teens don’t ever have the time to become comfortable in their own skin. They need to experience being with God right now, without worrying about where they will be 10 years from now,” said Sister Roberta.
While the religious education classes taught at the Proctor House are well received, it is the one-on-one contact during free time that has had the greatest impact on the students. “They feel free to discuss things with us that they may not feel comfortable talking about during class,” said Laura Mack, another former minister at the Proctor House. Wolkowicz also found that to be true. “A lot of students just need to talk,” she said. “The other adults in their lives are just too busy. We discussed moral issues such as sex, pregnancy, and how gossiping about others can be so hurtful. We were an outreach for them,” she said. This interaction gives the spiritual leaders the opportunity to teach the teens about living the life of Christ and using His life as an example.
Sister Roberta shared her visions for the future. “We want to give the teens the opportunity to take the chaos of today’s world and put it in God’s hands both through prayer and active project work,” she said. “Our goal is to have them become comfortable with articulating their faith and proclaiming the word of God and then be able to go back to their parishes or communities and evangelize others.” Sister Roberta has other ideas as well. “I would like to see that evergreen tree out front covered in yellow ribbons,” she said. “Each ribbon would represent a person who is being prayed for. This would be a tangible way for the students to show their concern over what is going on in Iraq and other places,” explained Sister Roberta. “But it would be up to the students to decide what the ribbons will symbolize.” Another project Sister Roberta will suggest to the teens will be the creation of a “saint tree.” She would like to see pictures of 365 saints hung on the tree along with pictures of the students who come to the faith center. “This will teach the students about the communion of saints –– in heaven and on earth and emphasize that the kids are the saints on earth,” said Sister Roberta.
Past projects include participation in the Heart Association Walk/Run, planting a peace garden and taking part in a 30-hour fast. The students and spiritual leaders went without eating for 30 hours to raise money through pledges for World Vision Services. During the fasting period, the participants also went door to door within the community to collect food for the needy. These projects made the students more conscious of how God works in their lives. Laura Mack shared just how much the teachings at the faith center have impacted her life as well as the students’. “We did a lesson on how important it is for students to use their names. We looked up their names in a book of saints to learn about the saint they were named after. We also talked about how God calls us all by name. Since that lesson, two of the boys called me by name for the rest of the year,” said Mack. “It puts a personal spin on a conversation. Before, the students didn’t think about addressing people by name when they spoke to them. Now, they realize how much they, themselves, like to be called by name. It’s a sign of respect,” she said.
“Proctor House opened my eyes to the goodness that lies within these kids, who often don’t get the benefit of the doubt. I learned as much from the students as they learned from me,” said Mack.