Ascension students aim to build 'Rose's reading room'

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Ascension students are contributing money during Lent to build a religious education center/library in Sung-an, the Philippines, hometown of parish secretary Rose Daylo Hegarty, at left. Above is the architect's drawing of the one-room building.

The town of Sung-an in the Philippines is too small to appear on a map, but it's an important place to students at Ascension School. The hometown of parish financial secretary Rose Daylo Hegarty and her brother, maintenance man Rico Daylo, Sung-an is the focus of the school's annual Lenten project.

Each year during Lent, Ascension kids are encouraged to give money to help a community in a poorer part of the world. About six years ago, they stopped contributing to a general fund and instead began raising money for specific projects with ties to local parishioners. Students have funded a well in India, a retaining wall to prevent floods in El Salvador, live pigs and school supplies for Haitian families, and a grinding mill in Tanzania.

This year's projectâ€"a one-room religious education center and library to be built in Sung-an, dubbed "Rose's reading room,"â€"is "the most personal" project so far, says Christine Ondrla, Ascension's director of religious education. "Everyone knows Rose."

During last year's Lenten project, Hegarty recalls realizing "if we're helping with another country, maybe we can help the country where I was born." Ondrla thought it was a great idea. Hegarty contacted a former teacher still in Sung-an, who said she'd love to teach religious education to village children and needed a building to do it. Hegarty suggested making the building a library as well, so kids could have a place to study and books to take home.

Hegarty, the second of 12 children, left Sung-an at age 11 to work in Manila, after a typhoon destroyed her family's home. "I worked for three yearsâ€"in a store, cleaning houses, cooking, taking care of dogs," she recalls.

Her family wasn't as poor as some, she says, because they ate regularly. Many others did not.

After three years she returned to her home and to school. By alternating work, when necessary, and schooling, she was able to complete high school. She became a secretary, traveling first to Canada and then the United States. She's been in the Chicago area since 1985, working at Ascension for the last five years.

As a child, she says, "I don't remember ever having a book. When you're poor you adapt, get by in everyday life. One thing you really could useâ€"that you really needâ€"is books." An effort is already underway at Ascension to collect books, mostly primary level, for the proposed library.

It's been difficult dredging up the old memories, confesses Hegarty. She's told her story to all the Ascension students and at religious ed classes. "It's hard to explain about people so poor they can only afford a top or bottom of clothing, living in cardboard boxes," she says.

But, she adds, "It's good for children [here] to realize how good they have it," and contributing to the project is "a way of teaching younger children to be generous."

Ascension's Lenten program "is about prayer, fasting and alms. The purpose of doing without is so someone else might have something," explains Ondrla. "We encourage the kids not just to ask their parents for money, but to do without something." The aim, she adds, is to "raise the consciousness of the children."

At the start of Lent, every Ascension student is given a small box to take home. Projects and reminders keep the effort in mind through the weeks, and the boxesâ€"hopefully filled with moneyâ€"are due back two weeks after Easter.

"Our goal is to raise $6,000. That will pretty much build the building," says Ondrla.

For Hegarty, the generosity of Ascension families is a bit overwhelming. "I feel really fortunate to be in a great country and a great community," she says.

If you'd like more information on contributing to Rose's reading room, call 848-2703.

â€"Laura Stuart

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