More than 1,000 poems submitted to Archdiocesan Middle School Poetry Contest

May 10, 2022

The Archdiocesan Middle School Poetry Contest reviewed more than 1,000 poems submitted and the winner is Maria Jesko, in center holding her award, of St. Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land who wrote “Willing Forgiveness.” Congratulating her are, from left to right, Sarah Cortez, president of Catholic Literary Arts; Archdiocesan School Superintendent Debra Haney; St. Theresa Principal Francesca Rice; Jesko and her literature teacher Samuel Klumpenhouwer; and Scanlan Foundation President Larry Massey. (Photo by Thomas Hopkins)

HOUSTON — By writing inspiring poems on deep topics like visiting a patient suffering terminal illness or describing Christ on the cross, 16 Catholic school students won a recent poetry contest focusing on spiritual works of mercy.

More than 1,000 poems were submitted from 25 schools to compete in the Archdiocesan Middle School Poetry Contest for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, said Sarah Cortez, a published author and member of the Texas Institute of Letters. She is also the founder and president of Catholic Literary Arts, which organized the contest.

Cortez said, “This is the only poetry contest of its kind open to students from Catholic schools to develop skills in writing for the glory of God. Our similar contest for Catholic homeschooled students hopes to accomplish the same goal.”

This year’s topic of spiritual works of mercy includes feeding the hungry; counseling the doubtful; bearing wrongs patiently; forgiving offenses willingly and comforting the afflicted.

A flurry of poetry submitted by 723 students, who could send in up to four poems each, was gathered between Feb. 1 and April 1. From that, 16 young poets were selected by their works reviewed by a panel of judges who were not given the students’ names or schools, Cortez said.

The winners were announced on April 26 in an awards ceremony at the University of St. Thomas Jones Hall. First, second and third places of each grade, as well as honorable mentions, won certificates and ribbons. The winning poet laureate — selected from among first places of each grade — is Maria Jesko from St. Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land, the first-place winner of eighth grade.

The 14-year-old wrote the poem “Willing Forgiveness” that states in part:

“Thus, Satan tries to quench the hopeful light.
How after death, could Christ forgive us all?
But Mary turns to us, her sweet eyes bright.
‘Come, follow my dear Son!’ her loving call.
And still she loves us, kindness like no other.
Sweet whip, sweet nail, sweet wood, sweet cross, sweet Mother.”

Jesko said she was inspired by the Lenten and Easter seasons and the chant “Crux Fideles.” Her literature teacher, Samuel Klumpenhouwer, said 12 of his students submitted poems to the contest in the style of sonnets.

As overall poet laureate, Jesko won a $500 cash prize for tuition assistance for her school. But all 16 students won tuition to attend the week-long Fearless Catholic Writing Camp held each June at the University of St. Thomas.

Debra Haney, Catholic Schools Superintendent, attending the awards ceremony, said, “This is an amazing collaboration for our schools and the University of St. Thomas, along with support from the Scanlan Foundation and Catholic Literary Arts. It serves as a witness to see our students produce such beautiful work.”

The Scanlan Foundation helped underwrite the program and provided the cash prize of tuition assistance to the poet laureate. Larry W. Massey Jr., president of the Scanlan Foundation, said, “Our mission is to help Catholic Literary Arts lift up our youth to experience the beauty of poetry, especially spiritually.”
Sixth-grader Abby Eldridge of St. Rose of Lima Catholic School received an honorable mention for her poem “The Last Moment of Fun,” which contained a depth beyond her years in visiting a terminal patient.

“I hand him a warm muffin and take out a card.
I hope he really likes it,
I wrote it from my heart.
I say a few jokes,
To bring a little joy.
He thinks they are funny,
And laughs like a little boy.
At the end, I give him a hug,
And wave him goodbye.
He tells me it might be his last moment of fun,
And when I leave, I even see him cry.”

An additional poetry award ceremony organized by Catholic Literary Arts for homeschooled students is scheduled for later in May. For more information about the contests and writing camp, or email