When You’ve Led Over 700 Children Through First Communion
From the time she was a little girl, Suzy Wagness knew she wanted to be a teacher in a Catholic school. It was something that was always there, she said, and something that cultivated over the years. Suzy is now in her 35th year of teaching at Stella Maris Academy’s Holy Rosary campus.
She was hired by the Dominican Sisters in 1984 when second grade attendance had risen to 38 students and for the first time, a second classroom was needed. Suzy spent most of the next three decades teaching second grade, with an occasional first/second and second/third grade combination.
Each year, she looks forward to the start of a new school year with a fantastic new group of seven-year-olds. And each year, one of her favorite parts of working with those seven-year-olds is preparing them for a very special moment in their young lives: Holy First Communion.
“It’s very rewarding and humbling to be able to be apart of something so wonderful,” Suzy said. “It’s one of the nicest things in my life.”
Holy Communion takes place each year at the end of April, which is a perfect time in Suzy’s opinion. In the spring, students are able to better understand the importance of the sacrament. They gain that understanding throughout the school year as they pray, learn, and grow in their faith.
“Religion is integrated into every part of our day and is in every part of our curriculum,” Suzy said. The second graders read from the Bible, role play the parables, attend weekly Mass and also attend special Masses with Father Jeremy to learn the different parts of the Mass, sometimes followed by adoration.
“We pray together so often during the day and we have a classroom prayer that we recite. ‘Jesus, I believe in you. Jesus, I hope in you. Jesus, I love you. Amen.’ We say that during the day several times,” Suzy said. “The first time I heard I said that’s it. That says everything. So that became our second grade prayer.”
Aside from the daily practicing of religion in the classroom, one of the most special activities the second graders participate in to prepare for First Communion is the outdoor Stations of the Cross at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church. The tradition started years ago when Suzy used to visit there with her own son to pray, reflect, and enjoy the beauty of it. “I thought, this would be a great place to bring my class,” she said.
So, she began bringing them. Each year, Suzy leads her students around and explains each station on a level that the kids understand. For example, when they get to the station where Jesus meets his mother, she asks the kids what their mothers mean to them, and to think about how the blessed mother must have felt in that moment.
“And you know, second graders, they get it. They have so much faith,” Suzy said. “They believe so strongly that its helped my faith life.”
That faith is evident, Suzy said, when she watches the kids participate in Communion for the first time. Seeing their faces light up with joy and enthusiasm as they walk to the priest, hands crossed, in their new dresses and ties, is a proud moment in Suzy’s life.
“I always think, wouldn’t it be nice if we always felt so much excited when we received the body and blood of Christ?” she said.
It’s a true gift of our faith to receive Christ, and it’s a gift that Catholics sometimes take for granted. But after leading over 700 kids through their Holy First Communion, it’s not one that Suzy does.