by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Thanks to Walt Disney, nearly everyone knows the story of Cinderella.
Not everyone, however, can turn Cinderella into an inspirational tale for Catholic high school girls.
Sister Susan Pieper of the Apostles of the Interior Life in Overland Park did just that for a group of St. Thomas Aquinas girls and their mothers at a recent retreat.
More than 175 mothers and daughters participated in the Princess Project retreat, co-hosted by St. Thomas Aquinas Moms Pray (STAMP) and the school’s Teens for Life organization.
Sister Susan credits Bishop Robert Barron with the story undergirding the retreat.
“We recognize Jesus in our lives as our king,” she said, “and we will fall madly in love with him when we really get to know him.
“The story of Cinderella is that Jesus loves us and pursues us, like the prince in Cinderella. He wants a relationship with us.”
Sister Susan told the girls that Cinderella’s name was actually just Ella. She earned the name Cinderella as a cruel moniker from her stepmother and stepsisters after being covered with ash upon sleeping near a fire to stay warm.
She also pointed out the similarity between the story’s fairy godmother and the Virgin Mary, as well as a likeness of the devil in the story’s cat named Lucifer.
“The devil, at whatever age, hates us,” Sister Susan said. “He hates the idea of us becoming one with Jesus, and he’s going to do everything to prevent that.
“As teens, the devil can appear as discouragement, lack of hope and being down on ourselves. Few people really appreciate and love ourselves.”
Holy Cross parishioner Debby Watson, a STAMP member, was inspired to suggest this girls retreat after hearing Sister Susan speak at a women’s retreat at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. Watson’s 17-year-old daughter Jenny is a junior at Aquinas.
“I wanted the teen girls at Aquinas to hear this very important message,” she said, “to know their worth is in Christ, and not based on the ‘things’ of this world, such as social media.
“We all have those ‘evil step-sisters’ who try to influence our thinking or actions and try to hinder us from knowing our true beauty in the Lord. The girls need to stay strong in Christ, and the Cinderella story is an incredible visual to do that.”
Fellow STAMP member Cindy Cox of Overland Park has two daughters at Aquinas — Chloe, 17, and Gabi, 15. And while the family is not Catholic, Cox said the message is important to anyone who wants a relationship with Jesus.
“I love that the story Sister Susan shared is everything I want for my daughters,” Cox said. “More importantly, it’s what our entire Aquinas community wants — a relationship with Christ. By going to the retreat, we were all able to share this goal together.”
Following Sister Susan’s presentation, the girls watched the 2015 adaption of the film “Cinderella” and celebrated with pizza donated by Teens for Life.
The retreat spurred a service project as well — the girls solicited donations of more than 150 prom dresses, which were donated to Turner High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and Woods Chapel Church in Lee’s Summit, which operates a free prom dress boutique.
Saint Michael the Archangel, Leawood, parishioner Sally Payne, who is one of the early STAMP organizers, and her 15-year-old freshman Teresa attended the retreat and were inspired by both the message and the service project.
“It was so exciting to be a part of the first Princess Project retreat at Aquinas High School,” Payne said. “I loved how the prom dress collection added a service element to the retreat.
“In addition, it was very special to attend Sister Pieper’s Cinderella story with my daughter and to see so many other moms share this experience with their daughters. We are excited to see what the Holy Spirit has in store for next year’s Princess Project.”