During visit to Diocese, chastity speaker Pam Stenzel urges youth to set boundaries
FROM THE MONITOR
By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Isaiah Dunn, an eighth grader in St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, said he always enjoyed school visits to area farms in nearby West Windsor and Howell. But the special Farm to School Day, in which the farms were brought to his school Feb. 13, was something he found to be quite impressive.
Chastity speaker Pam Stenzel had students’ undivided attention as she discussed sex and its consequences outside of marriage.
“I can’t choose for you,” she said speaking on their personal decisions on intimacy. “What I can do is help you fully understand what’s going on.”
Stenzel, known for her frank discussions on the dangers of premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases, visited six schools and parishes across the Diocese April 8-12. The third visit in as many years began in Brick’s St. Dominic School with students from St. Rose School, Belmar, and Rumson’s Holy Cross School.
Stenzel, and acclaimed author and abstinence educator, used her own life as an example of the emotional and physical repercussions of sexual activity. Telling how she was born after her mother was sexually assaulted, she said, “I don’t believe my life is worthless.”
On the contrary, she called her birth mom a hero. “If I ever get the chance to meet her, I will tell her how much I love her for giving me my life.”
Stenzel spent much of her time speaking on what “sex with no boundaries” can lead to.
“Remember, if you have sex outside of marriage, you will pay for it,” said Stenzel, who added that the cost varies. “Eighty percent of teen girls who choose to get pregnant will live in poverty. Nine out of 10 will never go to college. It is not a game. A baby is not a new puppy.”
“Boys, if you get a girl pregnant to whom you are not legally married, you will have no legal right” to have a role in the outcome, she said. “If the girl decides to keep the baby, you have a legal responsibility – birth certificates now require Social Security numbers” facilitating child support. “The costs will quickly mount up … your pay will be garnished. It can cost you for the rest of your life.”
Stenzel also shared statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reflected the grim reality of how youth are susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases. She focused on the human papillomavirus, or HPV, as especially dangerous to girls who could suffer from cancer and sterility.
Stenzel asked the students to focus on the fact that while God created sex, “He also created a boundary: marriage. Either you are married or you are not.”
“The same is true for everyone,” she said. “It has nothing to do with age. If you are not married, don’t do it,” said Stenzel, who made it clear that she was giving the group the same advice with which she raised her own three children.
Reflecting on the presentation, Colleen Reilly, who brought eighth-grade students from St. Rose to Brick, said that though some of the information was “scary and surprising to them,” the feedback was positive. “All felt it was worthwhile that the eighth grades should attend,” she said.
Lori La Plante, pastoral associate in Holy Cross Parish, said the school’s youth were prepared for Stenzel’s talk, since the religious education students receive chastity education as part of their Confirmation preparation.
“Pam Stenzel’s talk is the last part of that program, and it made a powerful impression on them,” she said. “The 40 eighth-grade students we brought from Holy Cross School spent three weeks last month studying the Church’s teaching on sexuality. They were well-prepared to receive Pam’s talk and appreciated her straightforward presentation on the truth about sex and sexuality.”
During Stenzel’s visit to the Diocese – which also included St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square; St. Joan of Arc School, Marlton; St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson; Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, and St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel – the diocesan director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries was on hand to speak with students.
Dan Waddington, whose department co-sponsored Stenzel’s visit along with the Department of Evangelization and Family Life, said the presentations are about truth.
“God wants you to know the truth. Pam is here to challenge you,” he told students, informing them that the chastity advocate and Catholic convert shares her mission with upwards of half a million people a year, nationally and internationally.
Stenzel, founder of Enlighten Communications Inc., has a degree in psychology from Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va., and has served as a member of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse Advisory Board.
For one thing, Dunn noted that the live chickens that were brought into Ferrante Hall surely helped the Farm to School Day get off to a lively start. The first session began at 8:30 a.m. for kindergarten to fourth grade students, while a second session, during which fifth through eighth grade students rotated among nine farm stations, followed later in the morning.
Dunn, who attended both sessions, enjoyed being among the older students who got to play educational games that helped the smaller kids understand the importance of Mason bees and bumblebees. The insects which play such a vital role as pollinators, were spotlighted as were many of the crops destined to become food found in the cafeteria, on family tables and in area supermarkets.
“It’s really important for little kids to learn about how their food gets here,” Dunn said. And that, precisely, was the intention of this Farm to School Day, organized by the Green Team in St. Gregory the Great Parish.
The Green Team was formed at the behest of Father Michael McClane, parish pastor, in response to Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical which calls for respectful and responsible care of God’s creation. Green Team is led by Priscilla Hayes, the parish garden coordinator and environmentalist. Among its goals is developing an environmental action plan for the parish and the academy.
At the recommendation of Father McClane, the team’s first major initiative was creating an abundant community garden to help mitigate area hunger with Farm to School and teach students into how food comes to the table, Father McClane said.
“We live in such a technical age. It’s important for the students to be able to make the connection, to get more of an understanding of God as the creator. We have to help them learn about how the food grows,” he said.
“The idea was to help the students understand that food isn’t grown in the supermarkets,” said academy principal, Dr. Jason C. Briggs. “It’s to show a whole different side of food production and the critical roles farmers play.”
With this in mind, the planning team went right to the source to show exactly how that is done: the farming families of the Trenton Diocese. And because of this, the 425 students in St. Gregory the Great Academy were able to glean insights from the members of nine families who devote themselves to planting the fields, operating the barns and stables and harvesting much of the bounty raised in central New Jersey.
The young people also got to hear about the importance of locally sourced food from area farms from Douglas Fisher, New Jersey’s Secretary of Agriculture, and Carrie Lindig, the state conservationist.
For the morning-long event, the Green Team had transformed Ferrante Hall into a comprehensive reflection of what the students can expect when they visit one of the many area farms. The dynamic program gave insight on the complex life of farmers and their wives who have to be, as it was explained: organizers, planners and planters, harvesters and marketers.
The kids were able to see, if “only through images and props,” as Hayes wrote on the parish Green Team page, “some of the non-human creatures who make it possible to have local fresh produce and other farm products.”
Among the members of the farming families the students encountered was Marilyn Russo, who was there representing not only her family’s Orchard Lane Farm in Chesterfield, but the New Jersey Farm Bureau’s Women’s Committee.
Russo, who serves on many state and local agricultural boards, has a long association with St. Gregory the Great Academy, speaking on the benefits of locally grown food over the years and welcoming the students to the family farm, which the family has been doing for more than 20 years.
Russo shared her enthusiasm for the Farm to School venture and hopes it will be around for years to come. “Everyone wants fresh food,” said Russo, noting that her family has been farming for three generations. She noted that when the first ears of corn are picked each year, her husband, Nicholas Russo, Jr., presents them formally, “as if they were treasures of the earth.”
Everyone, including kids, she said, needs to know where those treasures come from.