A letter about St. Paul and the Philippians

Young student Elena Crace wins national essay contest through the Catholic Textbook Project

By Dan McWilliams

Elena Crace of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville recently won a national history essay contest through the Catholic Textbook Project with an entry about St. Paul.

Students in Catholic schools and homeschools could participate in the contest. Elena won in the sixth-grade homeschool category with her essay, “Following St. Paul to Greece.” Sixth-graders were asked to choose a country they would like to visit, research the country’s history, and write about two places of historical interest that they would like to visit and why.

Elena is the daughter of Lindy and Morgan Crace. Together with siblings Julian and Marguerite, they attend Holy Ghost Church.

Elena’s family homeschool is Shadow and Light Academy. She attends the St. Benedict’s Catholic Co-op homeschool at Holy Ghost, where she will soon begin seventh grade. Her teacher for the first part of this past year, Christine Blair, discussed the Mary Fabyan Windeatt book St. Paul the Apostle, while her teacher for the second half, Jennifer Baker, encouraged students to enter the contest.

“I am super proud of Elena,” Mrs. Baker said. “She is a hard worker and an excellent student. I do think Elena enjoys writing, as she generally has her writing assignments completed early. She puts a lot of effort into school. The win is well-deserved.”

“Have you ever wondered what St. Paul felt in his missions throughout the world evangelizing hostile pagans, facing persecution and possibly death? Last summer, I read St. Paul the Apostle by Windeatt and thought a lot about St. Paul’s courage, faith, and love,” Elena’s essay began. “Visiting the places he visited would help me better understand what he experienced. Of the places St. Paul visited, Greece is the country I would most like to see because of its importance both historically and biblically. St. Paul traveled through Greece during his second missionary journey from 49-51 AD, spreading the Gospel to many cities.”

In her essay, Elena wrote that she would like to visit Philippi and Athens.

“When St. Paul visited Athens, he saw temples and altars to many Greek gods, especially Athena, patroness of the city. However, one in particular caught his eye,” she wrote.

“On this small altar was inscribed, ‘To an unknown God.’ Paul told the Athenians that this altar was dedicated to the true God of the Christians. In their wisdom, the Athenians had sensed that there was more than just their gods, something they could not name or really understand. Our catechism teaches that humans can know through observation of the natural world that there is a Creator.

“The Athenians, realizing that their gods fought so much and behaved in silly ways, seem to have felt that they were not enough to have created this world. Paul stepped in with the truth about God.

“While in Athens, I would most like to visit the Areopagus because that is where St. Paul spoke to the Athenians about the altar to an ‘unknown god. Areopagus means  ‘Mars Hill. This huge rock was where the elders of the city would discuss important business and decide murder cases. It offers a great view of modern-day Athens, including the Acropolis and agora, which are both historically important. Tragically, I would not be able to see the Athenian altar to the unknown god because it has never been discovered, though a similar monument was found in Rome and is now in a museum in England.

“I would love to retrace St. Paul’s missionary journeys completely, but Athens and Philippi make a good start. These are places where my favorite stories from Acts took place, and I would leave with a small sense of Paul’s experience. Finally, before returning home, I would certainly need to stop into a bakery and buy some baklava because after all, it’s Greece.”

Mrs. Crace said it was prestigious for her daughter to win a national contest.

“But what I loved most was hearing the way Elena was moved by the stories and words and sacrifices of St. Paul. That touched my heart,” she said. “Writing and writing contests are just another way to help children connect with history and our faith, and I’m so thankful for the people at Catholic Textbook Project for trying to support this work in our families.”

Elena “was clearly happy she had won” the contest when she learned of the results, Mrs. Crace said. “Elena is not an easily excited child. … She was the one who read the news in her e-mail, and she called me in from the kitchen to let me know. I have to confess that I thought she was pulling my leg or trying to tease her brother. I think it took all of us a while for the reality to set in.”

Researching St. Paul was fairly straightforward.

“She kind of explained why she chose St. Paul in her essay, but once she had settled on that topic, she was able to find a surprising number of books on St. Paul at the public library,” Mrs. Crace said. “We also travel every month to a home library at a friend’s house to check out books that are out of print or no longer carried in public libraries. Our friend there was able to point out several books to her as well. And then the travel information came from websites.”

Elena said she was surprised to win the contest.

“I was surprised that my essay won out of all the essays that were sent in. I know that someone always wins the contest, but I never thought it would be me,” she said.

Elena learned of her essay winning the contest via an e-mail in May. She received a check for $100 and a free textbook as prizes. She joked that she put “too much” work into researching and writing the essay.

“Just kidding. I checked out a bunch of books and read the sections that applied to the topic. Then I wrote a draft of the essay. I spent an entire Saturday adding details and information and then deleting unnecessary sentences to make it fit within the word limit,” she said.

Elena credited her mom for helping her win the contest. “I would like to thank my mother for helping me and teaching me how to write properly throughout my life. I’m also glad Mrs. Blair chose St. Paul for us to read during the summer.”

Mrs. Blair said she also is proud of Elena.

“I taught literature/composition for her class at the St. Benedict Catholic Co-op at Holy Ghost,” she said. “I am so proud of Elena for winning the Catholic Textbook Project history essay contest. She is an incredible writer and truly made Scripture come alive in her writing as she followed the footprints of St. Paul in these ancient cities.

“When I led the discussion in class about the book the class had read, St. Paul the Apostle: The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, and discussed St. Paul’s heroic virtues, I could tell that the book had really struck a chord with Elena. She greatly admired his courage, faith, and love in his mission to the Gentiles. The saints choose their special friends, too, and I believe St. Paul has chosen a special friend in Elena.”

The St. Benedict Catholic Co-op serves Catholic homeschool families in East Tennessee. The co-op offers a classical education curriculum that enhances the academic curriculum used at home.

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