Every year, on the Sunday before St. Valentine’s Day, just after the Gospel was read, the parish priest would cede his time in the pulpit, time usually devoted to very important exhortations to repent or be cast into hellfire, to the Maryknoll missionary priest.
I liked this part of the Mass—we got to get off the kneelers and sit down, so I’d listen to anything just to get a break. The missionary courted us with tales of exotic places, of deepest Africa, of lions, rhinos, giraffes, elephants and the Serengeti—and the little children who had no shoes, no food, no schools, no medical care, and who would never know God and be stuck in Limbo unless we helped. He told us we could change the lives of these poor little children.
So wooed by a pitch delivered at the 9 a.m. Sunday Children’s Mass by the missionary priest, we were suddenly transformed from the urchins who hung out every day at the Off the Street Club to benefactors of children in foreign lands—donors whose largesse and beneficence would bring the little children to God.
And so it was this St. Valentine’s Day. Another contest was announced, another chance for Catholic school kids to mitigate their guilt for having it so good. Sister Veronica Ann made the announcement over the P.A. This year, the school would crown a King and Queen of Hearts. Children would be permitted to purchase hearts made of construction paper for 10 cents a pop and make crowns with the hearts and materials provided in the classroom. The girl and boy who donated the most money and had the largest crowns would be anointed the King and Queen of Hearts.
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