.- The principal at a Virginia Catholic grade school said he hopes an elaborate mock conclave recently held by students and staff will help enrich the school’s efforts to teach the Catholic faith.
“Primarily, my hope for this is that the kids, through understanding what’s going on, would be more invigorated in their faith,” Principal Dan Baillargeon told CNA on March 5.
Employees and numerous parent volunteers at St. Louis Catholic School in the Diocese of Arlington, Va., went to great lengths to organize the mock conclave, which met twice before electing “Cardinal Turkson,” who took the name Sebastian I.
On March 1, the boys who had been selected to play cardinals – most of whom serve as altar boys in the parish – met at 7 a.m. and were dressed in black cassocks, zucchettos and birettas before visiting their respective geographic locations.
Although the middle school boys were the ones who represented the 34 voting cardinals in the mock conclave, the entire school participated in the event by learning about each participating “cardinal’s” background.
Each classroom represented a continent or part of a country from which one of the cardinals hailed. In preparation for the conclave, students researched their countries or continents and received a visit from their “cardinal.”
Over the weekend, parent volunteers transformed the auditorium into a mini-Vatican, complete with doors to the Sistine Chapel, a Papal balcony and a Colonnade encircling where the “cardinals” would meet.
On March 4, rather than holding the usual Monday morning assembly, the students gathered to witness the election of a new “Pope,” complete with students dressed as Swiss Guards, nuns, news commentators, nurses, custodians and priests.
The Parochial Administrator, Fr. Matthew Zuberbueler, provided “guest commentary” on the event by describing the process to the students who were watching.
At the end of the first meeting, “the leading cardinal only had three votes, so it was a failed conclave,” Principal Baillargeon said.
Students playing Scrutineers and Revisers examined the ballots before “burning” them. A smoke machine in the back of the auditorium signaled the students that the “Chair of Peter” was still vacant.
Although the students had been watching for nearly an hour, “You could have heard a pin drop the entire time,” Principal Baillargeon said. “They were so captivated by what they were watching.”
The “cardinals” – along with the rest of the student body – went back to classes and reconvened near the end of the school day for a second conclave.
“It was clear right away that ‘Cardinal Turkson’ was going to receive the votes,” the principal said.
As his name was called over and over again, the students – “especially the little ones” – were starting to become “giddy” knowing that the decision would soon be finalized if he received two-thirds of the votes.
After the mock-Revisers confirmed the vote, “Pope Sebastian I” was dressed in one of the three papal garbs that best fit him. A boy posing as Cardinal Tauran pronounced the “Habemus Papam” from the makeshift Papal Balcony and presented the new “Holy Father” to the students.
“As he stood up there, he had a big beaming smile on his face and all the kids had made little flags from their nations,” Baillargeon said. “Some of them had Vatican flags and they were waving them and cheering.”
In all, he explained, the two separate conclaves and the election took close to two hours, but the students – grades Kindergarten through eighth – were “absolutely riveted” by the proceedings.
“There was definitely a spirit in there that this was a prayerful moment,” he said. “Even in its mock way, it really brought that tradition of the Church together for them.”
When asked if such an exercise would help foster vocations at the school, Baillargeon said that he hopes “everything” that St. Louis does as a school is geared towards helping students be “more attentive to God’s voice.”
“I don’t know if I can say that it will (foster vocations) directly,” he added, “but I can say by making the faith alive here at this school, we hope that the kids are more attentive to what God is asking them to do.”