Students at 43 Catholic grade schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis participated in Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy by writing 9,400 letters of gratitude to United States troops overseas. The Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) partnered with Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit that sends more than 150,000 care packages to troops each year, to encourage schools’ participation in the service project. Together, the letters submitted from all participating schools broke Operation Gratitude’s record of the most letters ever received from a single organization.
“They’re writing letters to members of the military as part of a big letter-writing campaign. We’re honoring people who are serving others as part of their vocation,” said Sue Kerr, principal at Carondelet Catholic School in Minneapolis.
For Carondelet fourth-grade teacher Anne Grade, this project hit close to home. She understands how much care packages can lift the spirits of those serving overseas.
“I know it means a lot because I have a son who’s served two tours in Iraq,” Grade said. “Getting a letter from a child with these cute little questions and hearing them talk about their lives can really brighten their day.”
Grade said the letter-writing project teaches students empathy, gratitude and how to think about others.
“I think it helps them to realize what other people are going through,” she said. “We talk a lot during our religion class about kindness and how we can show God through what we do, and I think this is part of it.”
One of Grade’s students, Cole Shirley, has four relatives who served or are currently serving in the military. He acknowledges the sacrifices troops make to protect our country.
“I think that they’re heroes because they’re helping out other countries. They’re not just serving our country, they’re serving other countries,” Shirley said. “They’re giving up time with their family, they’re giving up living in their country, and they’re also putting their lives in danger for our country. I think that’s pretty cool.”
As an incentive, CSCOE promised a free pizza party to the school that wrote the most letters per student. Our Lady of the Prairie Catholic School in Belle Plaine came in first; they wrote 2.24 letters per student.
Although Shirley did not win free pizza, he is happy knowing his letter will help troops feel supported and recognized all the way from Minnesota.
“Writing letters is a good way for us to support them because if we’re in Minnesota, they don’t know that we’re supporting them unless we tell it to them,” Shirley said. “And without us writing letters, they might not think that they’re being recognized for what they’re doing.”