By Beth Donze
When a large vase in St. Angela Merici’s gym began filling up with jelly beans, school principal Paige Bennett occasionally had to remind visitors to refrain from eating the candies.
The jelly beans – each one dropped into the vase by a St. Angela student to signify that he or she had prayed a decade of the rosary – were a colorful reminder of the youngsters’ growing Lenten prayerfulness.
“Your (symbolic) jelly beans are giving me the opportunity to tell others how much you guys have been praying!” said Bennett, addressing her students at their March 14 morning assembly and inviting those who had prayed a rosary the previous day to add a jelly bean to the special container.
“At a parish meeting last night, two people (upon learning the meaning of the jelly beans) said, ‘What a great idea! I’m gonna do this in my house,’” Bennett told the students. “So, what you’re doing here is not only building your own prayers, it’s building the prayers of others.”
Bennett came up with idea while searching for “something visual” to encourage her notoriously visual elementary age group during the 40 days of Lent.
“I thought if the kids saw the jelly beans, maybe that would make them realize all the extra prayers they’re giving,” Bennett said. “Last year, we focused on giving to others. This year, I decided to focus on prayer, specifically the rosary.”
The day after launching the prayer effort, St. Angela’s basketball team and about 20 other students put beans in the vase. In subsequent days, nearly half the student body stood in line to do the same.
“Father Beau (Charbonnet, St. Angela’s pastor) and I have been blown away by the response,” Bennett said.
Second grader Reese Harvey, a daily jelly bean contributor, said he enjoys praying a decade of the rosary during his morning commute to school.
“(The rosary) helps me get away stress. Sometimes I pray it privately; sometimes my mom prays it with me,” Reese said. “When you put a jelly bean in the big jar, tomorrow Jesus or God will pick that prayer up and listen to it for you,” Reese added.
Third grader Gareth Berner said feels “relaxed” after praying his daily decade.
“Every time I say it, it brings me a little closer to God,” Gareth said. “Every time somebody puts in a bean, it helps Jesus walk the Way of the Cross.”
Seventh grader Rachel Rodrigue enjoys reflecting on the Joyful Mysteries in the quiet of her bedroom.
“It helps me concentrate, and when I’m feeling down, I feel I can go to the rosary and pray,” Rachel said. “It helps me now that I (pray) it more frequently. I’m calmer and more focused.”
Rosaries hanging near the front entrance of St. Angela Merici School in Metairie encourage students to pray a decade at recess.
During Lent, many students also prayed a rosary at recess, gathering around a flower-decked statue of Mary.
As a memento of the activity, Bennett and her staff bagged fresh jelly beans to give to each student before the Easter break. The baggies included copies of “The Jelly Bean Prayer,” available online.
Bennett said she hopes her students’ prayer habit will continue beyond Lent.
“Who knows? Maybe every time they see a jelly bean they’ll stop and pray,” Bennett said, smiling.
“Hopefully, their praying will be lifelong.”
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.