FAIRFIELD, NJ — One final Mass on Sunday morning concluded St. Thomas More’s (STM) 20th annual vacation Bible school (VBS), which also included an adventure into the African desert that involved about 90 campers and many volunteers.

The 2019 theme was ROAR – “Life is Wild…God is Good.” According to co-directors Danielle Ragusa and Andrew Rubinich, the kids explored God’s goodness and celebrated a “ferocious faith that powers them through this wild life.”

Campers started their mornings at the church with a Bible story that set campers up for an epic African quest. Sing and Play ROAR got everyone on their feet singing and praising God.

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There were also biblical reenactments, imagination station crafts, stampede sports, the Hungry Herd Café, Bible Memory Buddies and a Saint of the Day to help make real connections to the Bible points of the day.

“Some kids have been involved with vacation Bible school since preschool and grew up with the program. It is special to me because it has been a family affair for the last eight years,” said Ragusa, a mother of five and a parishioner of STM. “I started co-directing with Michelle Mitchell, and we ran Sky, Kingdom Rock, Weird Animals and Everest. Then, Andrew Rubinich and I paired up for Cave Quest, Maker Fun Factory, Shipwrecked and this year’s Roar. It is a labor of love.”

Ragusa explained that planning begins in late March with “core team of committed volunteers” who utilize their different talents to “bring God’s word to the children.” She said this year’s kids learned that “even when things are unfair or scary, God is always good, and He is with us in times of happiness, sadness, or when life is changing.”

“Every year, VBS brings the parish and community closer,” said Rubinich, a fourth-year VBS director, a STM parishioner and a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Newark. “It shows that the parish is there for the community, and the themes hit home. It encourages campers, with their friends, to learn about a God they might not have known. It is an opportunity to plant seeds of faith and hope with a message for campers and their families.”

When a parent told Ragusa that her preschooler got his family to go to church every Sunday because of VBS, Ragusa knew the program was working.

According to Cabrina Kinslow, Director of Religious Education, VBS began in May of 2000 when Father John Gabriel announced his dream of running a fun summer camp for kids in the parish that would involve music, crafts, sprinklers and faith while also bringing laughter and building friendships.

The dream continued with Father Ward Moore, Father James Manos, and now Father Marek Chachlowski, Kinslow explained.

“There are so many people who have helped run every part of VBS,” she said. “There are too many to thank. You know who you are, and more importantly, the children in our parish know who you are. The Holy Spirit works through each of us.”

Among the many young volunteers this summer were West Essex High School students Joseph, Isabella and Alyssa.

Isabella and Alyssa said they attended the camp themselves as kids, along with Churchill students Delilah and Matthew. Delilah and Matthew said they enjoy helping the campers with music and taking pictures for the slide show.

“All the kids learn something new each day, and they learn how to appreciate God while doing all this fun stuff,” said Jack.

Carolyn Mayewski, craft co-director, said, “The children are having a wonderful time. Our crafts correlate to the Bible points of the day.”

The Bible points this year were: When life is unfair, God is good. (Exodus 1; 5; 6); When life is scary, God is good. (Exodus 7:14-12:32); When life changes, God is good. (Exodus 14-17); When life is sad, God is good. (John 16-21); and When life is good, God is good. (Joshua 3-4).

For Stewardship Day, the campers collected school snacks, juice boxes and supplies to donate to the Religious Teachers Filippini to support students in need. Cinch bag backpacks were decorated in the craft rotation to carry the donations of campers, helpers and leaders.

During Sunday’s closing mass, campers participated in songs while dressed in T-shirts they decorated during camp. Following the service, parishioners watched a slideshow that was put together to capture the excitement of the week.

Volunteer coordinators were as follows:

Crafts - Darlene and Carolyn Mayewski;

Snack - Dolores Barron;

Administration and Bible story readers - Cathy Keegan and Cabrina Kinslow;

Bible Point - Pat Lanzerotti and Cathy Keegan;

Tech/AV group - Michael Ragusa;

Sing and Play - Elaina Ragusa, Hailey Mayewski, Siena Giordano, Abigail Kendall and Natalie Lanzerotti; and

Activities - Jennifer Lanzerotti.

Many parishioners assisted with decorating, and the Pagano family, who own Any Excuse for a Party, help out every year. Other donations were from Il Classico Deli, Hollywood Pizza and The Lyndhurst Pastry Shop.

Ragusa and Rubinich extended a special thanks to Father Marek Chachlowski, Father Robert Lamirez, Cabrina Kinslow, Cathy Keegan, Madelyn Link and Colleen Volanti.

The theme for next year’s VBS is “Rocky Railway.”