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Students at St. Matthew School discover ham radio and its patron saint
Station honors St. Maximilian Kolbe
CHARLOTTE — Students at St. Matthew School spend a lot of time using the latest technology in class.
But last week, fourth- and fifth-grade students got an up-close look at the "original social media network" and its connection to a modern-day saint.
On the 30th anniversary of the canonization of St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyr of Auschwitz, a group of amateur radio operators honored their patron saint by holding a special event station, with the call letters W4K, on the grounds of St. Matthew Church.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest and missionary who died in a concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II, was a ham radio operator who communicated about the "authorities" of the time over the airways, said Bill LaMay, a St. Matthew parishioner who organized the event.
LaMay invited classes of students to participate in the day to "get kids interested in not only ham radio, but also the saints. It's good to share the stories of the heroes to the kids," he said.
A group of ham radio operators contacted as many people as possible on Oct. 10 to tell them about the works of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Throughout the day, the ham radio operators talked to people in more than 210 locations, including Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Europe and all over the United States.
In Louisiana, they talked to a class of special needs students who were unable to speak. The students used computers to convert their typing into spoken words broadcast over the ham radios.
LaMay was first introduced to ham radio when he was 20, and he's enjoyed communicating that way for the past 50 years.
He said when he learned about St. Maximilian Kolbe's connection to ham radios, he wanted to share that information with others and get them interested in amateur radio as well.
"It's about commemorating the 30th anniversary of an incredible saint. In fact, Pope John Paul II said he was the 'saint of our difficult (20th) century,'" LaMay said.
"We're going through rather difficult times now ourselves. I see a lot of parallels between what St. Maximilian Kolbe went through his era, with lost religious freedom, to now."
Even as technology has evolved, LaMay said, he has continued to "ham" with his friends, the endless variety of people he can meet through amateur radio communication across the country and the world. Long before there was Facebook and Twitter, ham radio was a powerful social communications tool.
"I just enjoy the ability to be able to communicate with people and learn about them and their part of the world and their life," he said. "It's an opportunity to actually speak a foreign language, if you're proficient, or practice a language you're learning."
While ham operators continuously called out for an audience to tell about St. Maximilian Kolbe, LaMay taught groups of students about the saint and how to use ham radios. Then the students looked at displays about the saint, including a first-class relic.
As a priest in the early 20th century, St. Maximilian Kolbe used contemporary modes of communication – especially newspapers and ham radio – to evangelize. In 1941, he volunteered to die in the place of one of 10 prisoners sentenced to death by starvation in punishment for another inmate's escape. Moved by one man's lamentation for his wife and children, Father Kolbe volunteered to die in his place.
"To me, St. Maximilian Kolbe is a hero. Anyone who steps up and chooses to take the place of another person commended to die is an incredible person, I think," LaMay said. "So he inspires me, especially in his devotion to the Blessed Mother."
Deirdre Cristante, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Matthew School, said the special event provided opportunities to teach her class the connections between history and faith.
"We try to feature saints throughout the school year, and this is just adding to learning about our saints to learn about the life of Father Kolbe, the history involved and the great sacrifice that he made," she said.
Ten-year-old Daniel Harty said he thought it was a good thing that St. Maximilian Kolbe was willing to die for someone else. And he shared what he learned about ham radios during the event: "If the power's out, you can use a ham radio to signal other places."
Cristante said she thinks it's interesting for her students to see the technology of the past and how it can still be relevant today. "It's a little history education, as well as it's spiritual education for the children."
— Kimberly Bender, online reporter
Learn more about St. Matthew Church's special event station for the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe by searching "W4K" at www.qrz.com.
Learn more about St. Maximilian Kolbe here.
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