Red Bank student wins Maryknoll essay contest on mercy

By Patrick T. Brown | Trenton Monitor Associate Editor
and EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent

When Grace Wilson, eighth grade student in St. James Elementary School, Red Bank, was called out of science class to meet with school officials, she first thought she was in trouble.

But it was her understanding and explanation of mercy that caused the mid-day interruption, as she was names one of six winners – out of nearly 6,500 entrants in the 27th annual student essay contest run by Maryknoll magazine.

Called the Bishop Francis X. Ford Award, the honor is named after the Maryknoll missionary who died in a prison in China in 1952. Participants were asked to share real-life inspirational stories about mercy – employing the essay theme “Mission of Mercy,” in keeping with the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Students were also asked to convey the lessons they learned about the need for mercy in the world – following the example of God the Father, who, Jesus says, does not judge us harshly but offers us love and forgiveness.

“We congratulate Grace on her award winning compassionate essay but more importantly we congratulate her on teaching us the need for mercy in our world today and incorporating her faith in everyday life,” St. James School marketing director Marian Cavanaugh said in a press release.

Wilson was introduced to the essay contest by Tracy Varno, an integrated language arts teacher, and it took her about a week-and-a-half to have a final draft ready for submission. “I kind of asked myself what acts of mercy have I recently experienced, and I thought of my sister, Ryan,” she said.

When school leadership called her out of class to inform her that her essay had been selected as a national winner, “I was completely surprised that I won,” Wilson said. “I was completely blown away that I won this sort of thing.”

In all, six students from across the U.S. received almost $3,000 in cash awards. The two first place winners were awarded $1,000 each in divisions sixth through eighth grades, and ninth through 12th grades; second place winners received $300 each, and third place winners each were awarded $150. In addition to Wilson, other contest winners represented California, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas.

Wilson hasn’t decided what she’ll be doing with the $1,000 cash prize, but she knows that a portion of it will go to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “one of my favorite charities,” she said.

According to Marge Gaughan, contest coordinator and Maryknoll magazine managing editor, students passionately wrote about extraordinary mercy moments that ranged from stories that touched their hearts to experiences that changed their lives. Maryknoll magazine is a publication of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, New York.

The panel of more than 50 judges composed of Maryknoll missioners was elated to read the essays that conveyed thousands of examples of people helping others.

“Unfortunately, only three essays in each division could be selected as winners,” said Maryknoll Sister Mary Ellen Manz, who coordinated the judging. “But, we were so inspired by all the students who shared their experiences and ideas that we congratulate each one as well as their teachers who encouraged them to write.”

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers serve the poor and others in need in 23 countries and the U.S. Maryknoll’s education and outreach in parishes and schools engages U.S. Catholics in mission through vocations, prayer, donations and as volunteers. Maryknoll missioners share God’s love and the Gospel in combating poverty, providing healthcare, building communities and promoting human rights.

12574aPhoto courtesy of St. James Elementary School

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