Globetrotting Guardian Angels: Club lets students explore faith, food worldwide

Once a month, students at Guardian Angels Catholic School gather together for the "Flavors of Faith" club, where they learn about a new country, its patron saint, customs, and try a traditional food. During the last meeting of the year, the students visited Italy, and were served traditional Italian sweets while learning about the country's patron, St. Francis of Assisi. (Photos by Gabriella Patti | Detroit Catholic)

Clawson school's club allows children to experience the 'universality of the Church' through its cultures, dishes and traditions

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CLAWSON — Once a month throughout the school year, students at Guardian Angels Catholic School add a new international stamp to their passports as they explore the world through the eyes of faith and food from the comfort of the classroom.

For the past two years, an increasing number of students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, have had the opportunity to participate in the “Flavors of Faith” club. At this monthly gathering, students learn about one country and get a taste of the culture by sampling traditional food and exploring how faith is celebrated and practiced in that part of the world.

“The club is a way to bring our community closer together by learning about the diverse culture that we have here at Guardian Angels,” Erika Smithson, a fourth-grade teacher at Guardian Angels who runs the club, told Detroit Catholic. “We also learn about our faith and how we celebrate different aspects of the faith throughout the church year. Different cultures celebrate it in many different ways, so that was our way of sharing our lives with each other.”

The club was founded two years ago by Guardian Angels second-grade teacher Shannon Silvasi and Rakhi McCormick, a former parish employee and parent of students at the school. McCormick said the school’s former librarian ran a “Taste the World” club, and when it ended, her children begged her to take it over.

Erika Smithson, a fourth-grade teacher at Guardian Angels who currently oversees the club, said each student has a passport in which they can record their experiences with each country and its food and customs. Above, Smithson hands out passport stamps to mark the students' travels to Italy.
Erika Smithson, a fourth-grade teacher at Guardian Angels who currently oversees the club, said each student has a passport in which they can record their experiences with each country and its food and customs. Above, Smithson hands out passport stamps to mark the students' travels to Italy.
Smithson said the club has drawn a lot of interest, and hopes to open more sessions next year and include the middle school academy students.
Smithson said the club has drawn a lot of interest, and hopes to open more sessions next year and include the middle school academy students.

“When she left, people really missed it, and I also wanted to find a way to bring it back that tapped into the universality of the Church,” McCormick said. “(This gives) the students (an opportunity to) see just how wide the Church is.”

McCormick explained that every month, a parent or grandparent volunteer comes in after school to talk about their country, from its food to its fashion to the unique ways they celebrate liturgical feasts. And, of course, they bring traditional food for the children to try.

“They have been really excited; some of the kids were asking these parents many questions, and they really got excited about learning about the different ways people celebrate,” Smithson said. “The students are just used to their own family and what they do, and they think that’s what everyone in the world does — but with our little club, they have gotten an opportunity to see that people have many different ways to celebrate our faith, and trying the new food has been the icing on the cake.”

Throughout the 2023-24 school year, the students have “traveled” to Iraq, England, Poland, Ireland, New Orleans and Italy, sampling Cajun dishes and Panettone fruitcake and learning about patrons from St. Patrick to St. Thomas the Apostle.

Smithson said she prints holy cards for each saint with facts about their lives and feast days. Learning about holy men and women from around the world shows the students there are many different paths to sainthood, McCormick added.

“They can see how God is calling each of us to holiness, but in very different ways based on where we are, the culture, what is going on at the moment, and the wide breadth of saints that are in the Church and what that looks like,” McCormick said.

In their passports, the students have a chance to be food critics, rating items on a number scale with a simple “ugh” or “yummy!”
In their passports, the students have a chance to be food critics, rating items on a number scale with a simple “ugh” or “yummy!”
The club gives children an opportunity to see the richness of the Church from a different perspective, outside of their families and their parishes.
The club gives children an opportunity to see the richness of the Church from a different perspective, outside of their families and their parishes.

Additionally, each student gets a passport where they can keep track of their journey.

“They get passport stamps whenever we visit a country, and they write down what type of food they tried, what they learned about the culture, something interesting that they liked and which food they liked the best and which food they didn’t like,” Smithson said.

In their passports, the students have a chance to be food critics, rating items on a number scale with a simple “ugh” or “yummy!”

On May 14, the club's final meeting of the school year, children "traveled" to Italy and sampled Panettone — a cake that takes about 10 hours to make — plus several Italian cookies including biscotti and pizzelle.

Smithson said the club has a lot of interest, and she hopes to open up more sessions next year and include the middle school academy students to allow more children to share their traditions and culture with their fellow classmates and thus grow closer as a community.

The club gives children an opportunity to see the richness of the Church from a different perspective, outside of their families and their parishes, McCormick added. The Holy Spirit is alive and active in Catholic communities throughout the world, she added, and God’s call to holiness looks different throughout the world.

“We live in such a global environment, especially with the advent of social media and everything available at your fingertips, and I think sometimes we forget that the way we practice our faith in the parishes isn’t the way everyone does, but that it is still exceptionally Catholic — meaning universal,” McCormick said. “I think that for kids to see people like them living out an authentic faith in their own unique way is important. God is calling them each to (holiness) in their own way and their own time and place, and there is no one way for them to be authentically Catholic and live out their faith: the things that they love, the things that God has put in their hearts, and the people surrounding them are all part of that journey.”



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