Have you been paying attention to my past columns, my faithful readers? If so, you remember Christ the King parish on Chicago’s far southwest side. I last wrote about the parish around a year ago, when Fr. Joseph Seitz passed away. Fr. Seitz was a beloved priest and dedicated servant to many South Side Catholic parishes for over 50 years, but he was best known as pastor emeritus of Christ the King Roman Catholic Church.
Aside from having outstanding pastors like Fr. Seitz and its current pastor, Fr. Tom Conde, there’s good reason why Christ the King has remained relatively the same and still has a thriving Catholic community when many parishes on the south side have struggled and gone through big demographic changes. One of the reasons why Christ the King does well is their innovative ways of reaching out to the faithful, young and old.
Look no further than why Christ the King was in the headlines this week. One article read: “Students have fun, learn in solving murder” What? You read that right. The students at Christ the King’s K-8 grade school have an elaborate annual “murder mystery” day at the school, where everyone takes part in an interactive role-rolling game to solve a faux murder. This year’s theme involved fairy tale characters.
Christ the King carried out their program for the second year in a row, the culmination of weeks of planning to give the students a truly entertaining and detailed scenario to participate in. Students not only took on the roles of more than 30 characters, but dressed up for the parts in fancy costumes to immerse themselves in the game.
You might say the game involved the students “killing” their pastor, Fr. Tom Conde, who played the role of the murder victim in order to be a good sport for the parish. However. Fr. Conde took on the role of the fairy tale character Ol’ King Cole for the game. The students arrived at the school to hear a scream and find him sprawling face down, on the school’s cold floor, where the 8th graders took on the roles of various other fairy tale characters given the task of solving his murder.
A bit macabre for a Catholic grade school? Perhaps. Still, the end result wasn’t focused on morbid events, but used as a springboard for a long days lesson that involved using vocabulary, science, math, and variety of other subjects to solve the mystery. Christ the King teachers Vicki Rocus and Donna Gentile painstakingly devised the scenario so the students would have to go from room to room to find clues, and included many science experiments that the students had to solve in order to advance the scenario further. In the game, each of the fairy tale characters had a motive for wanting to kill ‘Ol King Cole. The students had to first determine the cause of death, and then investigate the identity of the killer. This involved analyzing forensic evidence and parring down suspects through a process of elimination.
The eighth graders have prepared for the game since the sixth grade, and had to read up of some actual crime procedures beforehand to play the game, including experiments in toxicology (for fake urine and blood samples) and preparing a coroner’s report as well. Last year’s murder mystery game involved more than a year of planning from the staff at Christ the King, but having some experience at doing it this year, they were able to coordinate it more quickly. Christ the King Principal Maureen Aspell played “Mother Goose” for the day, and fully supports the effort, saying it was a good way for the ‘tweens to develop their critical thinking skills.
As for the students themselves, they also reported that they “had a blast” during the school’s truly unique role playing game. “I was an accomplice, and it was really cool that my teachers could fit everyone into their own part of the murder. It was awesome that we all got to be our own character and dress up as them. I was the fairy godmother, and it was really fun to dress up and play her.” said eighth grader Katie Grant. She added “We got to do things that many people will never get to experience. The whole day was really fun and exciting, especially when I turned out to be part of the murder!”
Eventually, the students at Christ the King solved the mystery and learned that Cinderella and Prince Charming had murdered ‘Ol King Cole in a desperate attempt to get enough money to save Cinderella’s shoe company, the Glass Slipper.
Christ the King School is known for many other bold interactive projects for students as well. For example, the fourth-grade class at Christ the King Elementary School recently held a Runway Adjective show. Each student had to bring in an outfit and walk the catwalk. As each student walked the runway to show off his or her fashionable attire, the kids rated their outfit. However, the numbers did not represent the opinions of their outfits, but rather how many adjectives the students could think of to describe what they had on. Students thought of adjectives to describe the event itself as well: “Cool, funny, cute, darling, instructive, silly adjectives” were some examples.
Efforts like these show why Christ the King Elementary School was first established in 1959 but is still going strong as it welcomes students for Fall 2013. While other Catholic schools suffer from shrinking enrollment, Christ the King is growing: its enrollment in 1959 was 116 students, and has nearly 300 students today. It offers an extensive curriculum, including computer education, classical studies in Latin & Greek (Jr. High), CYO sports program, student council, fine arts and choir, after school program, homework club, daily hot lunch, departmentalized junior high school, PC computer lab, instrumental music program and a highly qualified faculty and staff. The school is run in conjunction with the Christ the King Catholic Church and is a private Catholic institution whose curriculum reflects the Catholic faith.
For those readers in southwest Chicagoland who are interested in learning more about the school, Christ the King Elementary School is located at 9240 S. Hoyne Ave. in Chicago, and is still accepting applications for the 2013-2014 school year (for select grades only). You can learn more by calling (773) 779-3329. Office hours are Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 3:30 pm.
Let’s hope more Catholic schools follow the example of Christ the King and come up with truly exciting and bold learning programs for children. Catholic grade schools in Chicago have slowly begun to rebound, and Christ the King is leading the way.