In 2001, when Marianne Sabine’s 7-year-old daughter, Molly, asked if they could hold a carnival in the back yard of their Auburn home, Sabine readily agreed.
When she was a child, Sabine had planned and held her own carnival in her back yard to raise money for muscular dystrophy. This time, she and her daughter decided their carnival should have a different twist, so all of their carnival’s events had a Catholic theme. Sabine enlisted the help of Valerie Elacqua, a friend with an extensive background in theater and music, and began planning the event.
“The kids made Christian games and crafts. They did music and dancing and religious, Christian music out of my garage. They did a revue with different songs, and the kids dressed up,” she said.
Sabine doesn’t know exactly how the word about her daughter’s backyard carnival spread, but the event turned out to be immensely popular.
“We probably had 100 kids here that day, and I don’t have a very big yard, so it was jam-packed with kids,” Sabine said. “It was a really big party. The kids had a blast.”
When Elacqua, Sabine and Molly planned that carnival, they had no way of knowing that over the next six years the event would evolve into a weeklong vacation Bible-school program that draws children from all over Auburn.
“It really had segments of it that could have resembled a vacation Bible school, but it was one day,” Sabine noted.
The next year, however, Sabine learned about Kids For Jesus, or K4J, a Catholic vacation Bible-school program put out by Catholic Kids Net, an organization inspired by the apostolic Catholic movement Regnum Christi. Sabine and Elacqua were interested in K4J, and Father Berard Dudek, OFM Conv, then-pastor of Auburn’s St. Hyacinth Parish, invited them to use the parish and its school building for the program.
“That’s when we started having it at the church. It’s funny how it started,” Sabine recalled.
The K4J vacation Bible school has been held at St. Hyacinth each year since 2002, and this year 70 children between the ages of 4 and 9 were enrolled in the program, which ran Aug. 6-10. Another 30 or 40 older children — including Molly, who is now 13 — helped out as guides, she said.
The majority of the participants were from St. Francis of Assisi Parish and St. Hyacinth, which are now clustered, but there were at least a few children participating from each of Auburn’s six parishes, she said.
“I think people want this kind of message for their kids. There aren’t too many Catholic (vacation Bible schools) out there that are available,” Sabine said.
Ecumenical vacation Bible schools are plentiful, but strictly Catholic programs are harder to find, she said. The ecumenical programs are dynamic, Bible-based and beautiful, but they don’t touch on some of the important elements of Catholicism, such as the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother and the pope, Sabine said.
“That’s what makes us Catholic,” she added.
The K4J program draws in all these Catholic elements, and each year the program focuses on a different sacrament and theme. This year the children learned about baptism and missionaries, since this year’s theme was “Winning the World for Jesus.” Children not only learned about their faith, but learned the importance of spreading that faith, Sabine said.
Kids at K4J learned songs, listened to Bible stories, played games and made crafts. This year they also collected loose change in surgical gloves for Helping Hands Medical Mission. This money was to be blessed Aug. 10 at the program’s closing Mass, during which the children were to sing all the songs they’d learned throughout the week.
“The older kids do the readings and help with the altar serving,” noted Ann Fallon, who directed the program in 2005 and 2006 and helped with registration this year. Several priests also came in and visited with the children throughout the week, she added.
Besides its implicit Catholicity, another strength of the K4J program is the way its young participants learn to be leaders, Fallon added. The guides teach songs and hand motions to the younger children and shepherd them between the program’s various stations.
“The goal is to groom these kids to take leadership positions so that they’re teaching the kids,” Fallon said.
“So many of them have been in the program for so long that they’re itching to be on the other end of it and take on leadership roles,” Sabine noted.
Sabine said some parents might enroll their children in K4J because the sports camps are over, August is a quiet month and they’re looking for something to occupy their children’s time. Others, however, enroll their children because they appreciate the program’s Catholic message or because the children clamor to go back year after year.
“I think what kids remember about it is the music and the Christian message through the music. I also think they love just being together,” Sabine said. “It’s supposed to be a fun way to learn about their faith and become apostles.”