Last week was Sisterhood Week at Carondelet High in Concord. It's an annual tradition -- a week for bonding among the 802 students at the all-girls school.
It began with messages of female empowerment -- "You're strong," "You're worth it," "You're loved" -- posted anonymously Monday morning on every locker in the school. It was highlighted Thursday by a talent show that brought laughter and applause. "She-roes" were recognized every day, as a reminder that courage is not unique to males.
This celebration is timed to coincide with the feast of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the patron saint of the nuns who founded the school in 1965, and it's always a special week. But there are a lot of things about the school that are special, as I learned during my visit.
Students are currently in the midst of a Lenten fundraising campaign to purchase wheelchairs for the disabled in Third World countries. The "Rising From the Ground Up" project has raised $1,200 toward its goal of $3,200 that will purchase 40 low-cost wheelchairs. A year ago, a similar effort provided mosquito nets for people in countries where diseases are spread by the biting pests.
Last month, students participated in One Billion Rising, an international campaign to end violence against women and girls. Dozens of handwritten messages on a poster captured the students' takeaway from the event: "protecting women ... rising for justice ... all women are powerful."
But perhaps no school activity captures Carondelet's focus on community awareness like the elective religion class "Gospel in Action," in which girls demonstrate the values they've learned with service to others. It is not a mandatory course, but it enjoys nearly 100 percent enrollment.
Some students visit residents in assisted living centers. Some help teachers at nursery schools. One student's idea -- preparing and delivering homemade soup to shut-ins -- attracted others to her cause.
"Anyone in school can volunteer for one of these events," said student body President Megan Medeiros. "It's not a requirement to graduate, but I'd say most students do at least 50 hours a year."
Assistant Campus Minister Edie Payne, who runs the class along with Community Service Coordinator Cindy Lawrence, said Carondelet seniors have put in more than 22,000 service hours this year, and the student body's total exceeds 48,000.
"There are 13 different sites where we send the girls every day," Payne said. "If they go in the morning to an assisted living facility, they might pour coffee and clear dishes. If they go in the afternoon, they might do social activities -- making crafts or playing dominoes with residents. We have some students who visit public schools and work with kids with severe disabilities -- kids who can't walk or talk. Those girls always have a profound experience.
"I've never heard of a class like this before, and I've worked in other Catholic schools. The girls leave campus and we trust them to do positive things in the community. It's learning, but it's not sitting-at-a-desk learning. It's bigger than that."
Principal Nancy Libby, a Carondelet alum who traces the service program's history back 30 years, said it sums up the school's foremost message to its students: "Go out into the world and change it."
Sisterhood Week is just a reminder that they're all in it together.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.