Augusta first-graders release balloons in Our Lady of Guadalupe ceremony



Children at St. Mary on the Hill School didn’t just pray the rosary on Monday, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They sent one made out of balloons high into the sky.

Nearly 50 first-graders crowded on to the playground of the Catholic school off Monte Sano Avenue on Monday afternoon. After praying one decade of the rosary together, they released the balloons, which floated off toward Highland Avenue, where they were spotted by staff and students at Aquinas High School.

Some of the 60 balloons were filled with helium, while others were blown up by the youth and held slips of prayers and the message “God Bless America.”

They’re meant to be reminders -- not just to the students, but all who see them -- that miracles happen.

“The whole entire world will get to see them,” said 7-year-old Caroline Jackson. “That’s really cool.”

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe dates to 1531, when the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant, Juan Diego, in a village outside Mexico City. She asked him to build a church on the spot where they were standing. Diego told his local bishop, who asked for proof. Mary told Diego to bring the bishop roses from a nearby bush. He wrapped them in his robe called a tilma and went to the bishop. When he opened his tilma, an image of Mary was imprinted on the cloth.

The cloth is displayed today in the Basilica of Guadalupe, one of the most frequently visited Catholic shrines in the world.

First-grader Jeb Bowles, 7, played the role of Juan Diego. He wore a tilma and dropped roses below a picture of Mary as the children released the balloons.

The idea for the balloon rosary came from parent volunteer Maura Jabaley, whose first-grader, Jonathan, attends St. Mary on the Hill. She received an e-mail a few weeks ago that showed an anti-abortion group releasing a balloon rosary in Chicago.

“We’re hoping that this becomes somewhat of a rite of passage for our first-graders,” she said. “It’ll be something they can look forward to.”

Principal Joe McBride said he was immediately on board.

“The kids are learning a lot about Mary and her significance to our faith,” he said. “It’s a hands-on way that they’re learning about their faith. They’re not just reading about it, but doing it.”




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