Pope, Bidens hear students' call for change

As part of its mission, Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School fosters in students the drive to “serve the world with courage, grace, and compassion.” That’s exactly what last year’s second graders showed when they came up with a plan to express their hopes for the world to three very important people.

When the students wrote to Pope Francis, First Lady Jill Biden, and President Joe Biden last spring, they may not have expected a response. But just before the start of this school year, they heard back.

It all started during a lesson about St. Catherine of Siena, the school’s patron saint. The students learned that as a teenager, St. Catherine sent more than 400 letters to the pope urging him—successfully—to return to Rome (the papacy was based in France at the time). After hearing her story, one student asked, “Are we going to write to the pope?” To which other students added, “Can we write to Jill Biden?” “What about President Biden?”

The answer was, of course, yes. Students were encouraged to think about what weighed on their hearts and to express their hopes for change. Their range of hopes was vast: peace restored to Ukraine; housing for the homeless; girls being treated as well as boys; women under oppression being liberated; the sick being healed. “The students brought their characteristic spirit of earnestness and passion to this project,” said Ibi Janko Murphy ’83, ’79 LS, religion teacher for kindergarten to grade 4.

The first response to arrive was on behalf of the pope from an assessor at the Vatican. “His Holiness Pope Francis has received your thoughtful notes, and he has asked me to thank you,” the letter reads.

Dr. Biden’s letter arrived soon after. After also expressing her thanks, she wrote, “The President is working to improve the lives of all Americans. With your help—and with love, understanding, bravery, and small acts of kindness—we will do it together.”

When Mrs. Murphy read the responses to the students, she said, “they shared this sort of reverent excitement and knew it was a big deal!”

St. Catherine sent letters to the pope because she was driven by a sense of justice tugging within her. Mrs. Murphy said the students felt the same call. “I am just so grateful that we had this experience to let them know that a commitment to their urgings within matters—that it is heard.”

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