By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Agnès Denvir teaches Spanish and other foreign languages to fifth and sixth graders at St. Rita Catholic School. The French native speaks a dozen languages, can read about a half dozen more, yet struggled to find the proper words to describe the recent Ukrainian support efforts at the school — begun at her urging — that raised more than $25,000.
“St. Rita is not just talking the talk; it’s walking the walk,” Denvir said. “This is what it means to be truly a Catholic and to be a Christian, to really help others and put up your sleeves and not just watch from a distance.”
The school’s drive was primarily held on March 10, just before St. Rita’s spring break. That was designated as a “dress down day” when students could leave their uniforms at home and wear t-shirts in the Ukrainian colors of blue or yellow while making a donation of at least one dollar. That amounted to about $350. The balance of the financial donations came online.
Denvir also proposed that students in her various classes — with some students learning Ukrainian — spend the class period that day making blue-and-yellow ribbons. The seventh and eighth graders who take Spanish from Andrea Schweitzer did the same.
The more-than 300 students in those four grades made 1,157 ribbons that were delivered to the Ukie Style Embroidery Art store in the nearby Preston Valley Shopping Center the following day. Denvir was already familiar with the store and its owner, Olena Jacobs.
The ribbons were blessed during the school’s Friday morning Mass. Denvir and principal Michael Wixted delivered them to the store that evening along with life straws (to provide safe drinking water) for what has become Denvir’s daily dropoff there during the war — of blankets, clothes, diapers, food, water. The ribbons will be sold at the store, raising another $5,000. Denvir and Wixted saw the straws immediately packed in a box and loaded onto a truck bound for Chicago before a flight to Poland, and St. Rita’s principal told Jacobs he’d be back the following week to help load more supplies.
“I was so impressed,” Denvir said, her voice breaking. “I told all the kids (upon their return from spring break last Monday). That touched me so much.”
“I think this was a tremendous thing for our community,” said Wixted, in his seventh academic year at St. Rita and principal since January 2020. “It’s a great opportunity for our kids to think about helping others and review some of the Catholic teaching on just war and how we’re called to treat other people and live by the Golden Rule.”
Jacobs has been in the Dallas area for 12 years and opened the store on Aug. 24, 2020 — Ukrainian Independence Day. She said the monetary donations from St. Rita made it possible to immediately send supplies back home.
“The word spread so quickly,” she said, “especially thanks to Miss Denvir.”
Speaking of spreading the work, Denvir said, “We can all help. Being Catholic, I know people have plans for Lent. To pray. There’s also almsgiving, and this is part of what we can do as Catholics where we can show love and charity.”
Efforts by St. Rita students also continue. One of Denvir’s fifth graders is baking and selling “Ukrainian macarons” – blueberry and lemon to match the national colors.
“I am so impressed with the spirit here at St. Rita from colleagues, every teacher, every staff member, the principal. All the children, the families,” Denvir said. “The community is just absolutely incredible, absolutely incredible.”