Thoughts that Count: 12 Days of Christmas

Winter 2008

Thoughts That Count: 12 Days of Christmas

By Scot Erin Briggs

Members of the Saint Mary’s community—students and student-athletes, faculty and staff, religious and laity—come together to contribute to the Twelve Days of Christmas program. The “Jingle Belles Rock” shirts many are wearing were sold as one of many fundraising projects this year.

“How much do we really know about poverty and the people who live in poverty?” This is the question that Carolyn Call hopes the Twelve Days of Christmas program raises and begins to address. In its fourth year at Saint Mary’s, the program was established by Call, director of the Office for Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE), and has been met with enthusiasm from students, faculty, and staff. “They love it,” says Call. “The students here have the biggest hearts of anywhere I’ve ever been, and faculty and staff are unbelievably generous.”

Reaching out to organizations such as the Salvation Army, Saint Mary’s Title 1 partner schools, Mental Health America, Grandparents as Parents, and REAL Services, OCSE first identifies people in need. Then the Saint Mary’s community comes together to try to meet their need. This year, fourteen families and more that 25 individuals in need in St. Joseph County received food, clothing, and gifts as a result of the program.

The program includes 12 days of events, a blend of both exuberant celebrations and solemn reflection, designed to both celebrate the season and raise awareness in the spirit of the season. This year, members of the Saint Mary’s community sold their art, their crafts, and t-shirts, all to raise money for the program. They also made gingerbread houses, sent candygrams, and decorated cookies and ornaments, and made Christmas cards for children at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. They gave blood. They learned about other cultures at Multicultural Desserts night hosted by Multicultural Services and Student Programs, learned about the traditions and history of Kwanzaa, and participated in the Latin American tradition of Las Posadas. Advent Vespers and a bilingual Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadelupe were also held as part of the week’s celebration.

Carla Killelea, Principal at Warren Primary Center, a Title 1 partner school, says the benefits of this program are both tangible and intangible. “Saint Mary’s College in partnership with Warren Primary Center is making a difference in a single mom’s life with three boys—one is autistic—and making sure their living conditions are appropriate, such as having a furnace that works for the winter. Christmas is the most celebrated Christian holiday and together we can stamp out apathy for the less fortunate, provide hope for those who’ve lost it, and work together to make this world a better place for all.”

Principal Killelea emphasizes that the real gift of a program such as 12 Days of Christmas “is not temporary wealth but hope. Hope is the foundation of belief in one’s self because others believe. Hope is the glimmer of faith that sustains us all in our most difficult moments.”

Office for Civic and Social Engagement organizers of the Twelve Days of Christmas project.
Row 1 (standing, left to right): Assistant Director of OCSE Olivia Barzydlo Critchlow and Director of OCSE Carrie Call
Row 2: Alicia Wilkins, Joellyn Frain, and Anabel Castaneda
Row 3: Lizzy Pugh and Beth Caldwell
Row 4: Caitlin Cummins and Jen Kornexl
Row 5: Jayde Kennedy and Emily Tarnacki
Row 6: Alma Bravo

One of the powerful effects of this program, both for the giver and the receiver, is the way it can impact their thinking.

“We want to invite people to ask why,” says Regina Wilson, assistant director of Campus Ministry. “Why are there women and children living like this? And what’s the next step for me? Could I advocate for a living wage? Join Bread for the World?” Campus Ministry is leading awareness-raising efforts with fliers about poverty and its causes. Their fliers include thought-provoking statistics about poverty, such as the fact that children make up 39% of the total poor, that women account for 58% of the low-wage workforce, and that 28 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 earn less than $9.04 an hour.

“Saint Mary’s is a place that wants to educate women …
we talk about changing the world,” says Wilson. “If transformation is change, then root systems must change, structural mechanisms and systems that keep people in places of oppression and poverty.”

At the same time that students are reflecting on these weighty questions, they also have a lot of fun with the fundraising according to Maura Clougherty ’09, president of Residence Hall Association. This year, Clougherty is coordinating the Penny Wars. “Milk jugs sit at the front desk of the residence halls,” Clougherty explains. “Pennies are counted positively while silver coins count negatively.” So, if a student wants her hall to win and sees that another hall is leading, she can take points away by contributing to the other hall’s collection. It all adds up to friendly competition according to Clougherty. “It’s a really great idea. It’s easy to get involved. You’re doing your part even if you can’t drive off campus and buy a toy for a child.”

Saint Mary’s students also hosted a dinner on December 8, feast day of the Immaculate Conception, and invited residents from the Center for the Homeless as their guests. Theresa Klinkhammer ’09 organized the dinner. “It is important that, while celebrating Our Lady and Saint Mary’s College, we keep in mind those of the community who have not experienced the love and beauty which are a part of our daily lives,” says Klinkhammer.

Klinkhammer sees the dinner as having ties to both the past and the future. “I was researching the feast day in the archives in the library and found that there used to be a group on campus called the Sodality of the Virgin Mary,” says Klinkhammer. “This group, one of the most popular groups on campus, had a Mass of celebration … near the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The sodality would have the Mass, followed by a wonderful dinner where one of the sisters or a priest would give a short talk on the Mother of God.” For Klinkhammer, holding the dinner on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception is “in some part a remembrance of former times, but also a hope for the future of Saint Mary’s College.”

Events such as the dinner, offer the best of what this program can teach us according to Call. “I hope that it teaches compassion,” says Call. “One of the things we focus on in Catholic social teaching is solidarity: standing with people in their need.”