Poetry contest helps middle school students find their spirit

January 10, 2023

HOUSTON — Middle school students in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Catholic schools and those being homeschooled are eligible to win $500 plus free tuition to a summer writing workshop.

The Catholic Literary Arts (CLA) is inspiring students to write about religious topics and better their writing skills by hosting a poetry contest for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. This year’s theme is a poem related to one or more of the Luminous Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary.

Sarah Cortez, a published author who is the founder and president of Catholic Literary Arts, said the theme would include Jesus’s Baptism in the Jordan, the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration and/or the Institution of the Eucharist.

“This is the only poetry contest of its kind open to students from Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Catholic schools and Catholic home school communities to develop skills in writing for the glory of God,” Cortez said.

The contest opened for submissions January 1 and will be accepting poems through March 15. Winners will be announced on the contest portal at www.CatholicLiteraryArts.org on March 31. There will be two separate award ceremonies for the Archdiocesan School contest, on April 19, at the University of St. Thomas Jones Auditorium and on April 26 for the homeschooled students also at UST.

Cortez said the Scanlan Foundation is partly underwriting the program, but additional donations and sponsors are still needed. The tax-deductible donations will help provide a cash prize of tuition assistance to the poet laureate and top winners in each grade level.

There have been hundreds of submissions annually in past years. This year, nine winners from Archdiocesan Catholic middle schools will be chosen — three from each of the grades to win first, second and third prizes. And another nine will be chosen from the Catholic home school communities or an independent Catholic school. All 18 will have their poetry published by CLA in an anthology.

Those 18 will also receive medals as well as paid tuition to participate in Fearless Catholic Writing Camp held each June at the University of St. Thomas. From the first-prize winners in each grade, a poet laureate will be selected by Cortez.

“A committee chooses the first, second and third prize winners in each grade by blind-judging the poetry submitted. No identifying information of names or schools is visible to the judges, and the sole criterion is quality,” Cortez said.

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.” He added, “By building and supporting this effort, we will enable our children to better develop their minds towards the beauty in our world.”

The top winners from last year included 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.”

Homeschooled student Mariam Henderson, 14, won for her poem “The Spiritual Works of Mercy.”

Henderson, one of nine siblings in her family, said, “It was awesome. I never submitted my writing before to anyone else. My mother would check my writing. So, with the positive feedback from Catholic Literary Arts, I was able to later join the Teen Writing Mentorship program” in the fall of 2022.

Even though the family has since moved to Louisiana, she is still able to participate in the mentorship program via online.

Debra Haney, Catholic Schools Superintendent, 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.”

For more information, visit www.catholicliteraryarts.org or email cathla.org@gmail.com. †