In honor of Pope Francis’s visit to New York City, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, has invited the Francis in the Schools program from California to stage a celebration of the inspiring life of the pontiff’s namesake, Francis of Assisi, for 800 third- through-fifth-grade children from nearly a dozen schools in the Bronx and Washington Heights- Inwood neighborhoods of New York City.
Francis in the Schools, a day-long field trip, will be presented on September 28, three days after the pope’s visit. It will begin with a lively musical play about Francis’s life at the Church of the Good Shepherd, followed by a festive Umbrian Renaissance-style “Faire” at a nearby park. There the children will enjoy a nutritious lunch, live music, games, dancing, a puppet show, face and hand painting, flower arranging, and a chance to meet “Francis” and other characters from the play.
Founded in 2011, the nonsectarian Francis in the Schools program has been presented 17 times, serving more than 7,000 children from underserved communities, on the West Coast and most recently in Baltimore and Washing- ton, DC. It will be presented in San Francisco in December and in Orange County, California, next spring.
Nearly 300 volunteers are busily preparing for
the New York event, rehearsing performances and planning Faire activities. As the day draws closer, they will cook lunches and treats and trim up to 16,000 fresh flowers for the children to arrange and take home. The program is offered at no cost to schools or those attending. The all-volunteer program is made possible entirely by donations.
Francis in the Schools founder Dr. Carol Weyland Conner says, “This day is a celebration—of the resilience, wonder, and joy inherent in the children, of the kindness, compassion, and ceaseless service Francis modeled for others, and of the inspiration and encouragement our beloved children gain from learning about the life of this remarkable man.”
Feedback from children:
“That’s the best field trip ever!”. . . “I feel like I was in another world.” . . . “Thank you for a wonderful and caring field trip. I can’t stop thanking you.” . . . “The people were friendly and they treated me like family.” . . . “I learned you don’t need to be rich. You need love and kindness to all people.” . . . “I will never forget this day.” . . . “That was the best day of my life.”
Feedback from adults:
An eighth grade teacher wrote, “You helped our students feel the spirit of Francis. From the people who met us at the bus to the helpers in the park, the love of Francis was modeled for us. As a teacher, I can talk about who Francis was and what he was about, but you exhibited it for us. . . . Thanks to you, Francis has become more than a historical figure. He has become a person of the present moment, a great man of our time.”
Beloved opera diva and children’s advocate Frederica von Stade has attended two Francis in the Schools events. After an Oakland program, she wrote:
“That was the most beautiful day ever, and I don’t think the children will ever forget it. The love and care and gentle generosity were like a gift from heaven—and to see so many beautiful faces and images! Thank you for giving everyone so much pure joy!”