Local Schools

Sisters’ love bridges Ascension and Our Lady of Unity 

Ascension fourth-grader Gracie Butler helps her Our Lady of Unity buddy Yarerzy Mora climb a jungle gym on the playground. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

OVERLAND PARK – “The beauty of this is they have been doing it for 17 years,” said Terri McGuire, referring to students from Our Lady of Unity School in Kansas City, Kansas, twinning with students at Ascension School here.

McGuire is the president of the business team for Our Lady of Unity, but her interest in this day of twinning goes much deeper than that.

McGuire has three sisters who, along with her, are deeply involved in these two schools.

“There were nine of us kids growing up, four girls and five boys,” said McGuire about her big Catholic family raised in St. Agnes Parish, Roeland Park.

From left, sisters Terri McGuire, Maureen Hosty, Janet Schlake and Cathy Hair have built a bridge between Ascension School in Overland Park and Our Lady of Unity School in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

It was no surprise that the four girls of the Hosty family developed a special bond.

When two of McGuire’s sisters, Janet Schlake and Cathy Hair, took teaching jobs on opposite sides of town, the bond grew to include both schools.

Schlake was the kindergarten teacher at Our Lady of Unity, located in an underserved area; Hair taught fourth grade at Ascension, located in a more privileged neighborhood.

“I didn’t even have books for my students,” said Schlake. “I reached out to my sister and [Ascension School] just started helping out.

“I had 5-year-olds who came with no coats in the winter; Ascension did a big coat drive.”

Students at Ascension School in Overland Park greet their friends from Our Lady of Unity School in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

As the sisters shared their diverse teaching experiences, they decided it would be beneficial for their students to meet each other.

“The first year we did it, it was just my homeroom and her homeroom,” said Hair. “But then it went so well that we decided to include more classes.

“Every year, it gets better.”

Our Lady of Unity has only one class per grade. Ascension has three fourth-grade classes. So the tradition is for each fourth grade class to be paired with a kindergarten, first or second grade class.

The children love getting to know one another.

It’s a treat for students at Ascension and OLU when they have the opportunity to reunite. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

“It’s obvious my kids have less,” said Schlake, who retired several years ago but still has a special relationship with Our Lady of Unity students. “But they see each other and they see what they have in common — the Catholic faith.

“Christ teaches us to love one another, and that was my simple message to kindergartners.

“I think between the two different communities, they see that.”

Ascension students play with an Our Lady of Unity student on their school’s playground equipment. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Each year during the Advent season, Ascension fourth graders prepare for the initial twinning.

“I give them two weeks to do an hour of service,” said Hair. “They have to sign a contract and their parent signs it, too.

Each Ascension student donates $5  earned from the service to help purchase books for students at Our Lady of Unity.

Just before Christmas, Ascension students travel to Our Lady of Unity and meet their new buddies. They spend time doing a craft, playing, joining in a prayer service and sharing snacks.

They gift the students with new books.

“When my kids give the book to a child,” said Hair, “they have earned that book.”

Ascension and Our Lady of Unity have built a meaningful relationship between their schools over the years. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

In the spring, Ascension sponsors a bus to pick up Our Lady of Unity students and bring them to Ascension.

Recalling that first visit Schlake said, “My kids thought Ascension playground was Worlds of Fun.

“We didn’t have a playground; we just had a big field.”

 So Ascension did a fundraiser and helped build a playground at Our Lady of Unity School.

Though such acts of charity are a wonderful outcome of this twinning, they aren’t the focus.

“Yes, we got a lot financially,” said Schlake, “but it was the relationship that mattered.”

During lunch, Church of the Ascension associate pastor Father Viet Nguyen talks with students (left to right) Corinne Simmons, Georgia Roth, Catalina McMackin and Addilyn Maurice. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Her sister agreed.

“It’s about not just giving something but developing a friendship with some other kids in the archdiocese,” said Hair. “OLU is part of our community.”

To that end, during this spring’s prayer service, Ascension students surprised their buddies by reciting the Hail Mary in Spanish.

Recently, Maureen Hosty — the fourth sister in the Hosty family — moved back to Kansas from Portland, Oregon, with her son Miguel.

As providence would have it, Miguel was hired as a paraprofessional at Our Lady of Unity.

Ascension students wave goodbye to their friends from Our Lady of Unity as they leave the school by bus. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Hosty joined her sisters for the twinning event.

“We’re thrilled to have all four sisters together again,” said McGuire.

And all four sisters are sure their parents are smiling down on them.

 “It all started with Mom and Dad,” said Schlake. “The nine of us were always involved in the Catholic community.

“I feel like the students see Kathy and I as sisters. And they see the two sister schools, and they realize we’re all part of one big world.

“It brings it all together, that whole Catholic community.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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