By Laura Grisham
SOUTHAVEN – The Sacred Heart community said goodbye to their Brazilian exchange students over the last weekend in January. By all accounts, their time in the United States was much too short. The four students – Alice, Joana, Luisa and Maria, along with their teacher, Mariane – are from São Luiz (St. Louis) in Brusque, a school sponsored by the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
Sacred Heart School (SHS) students have been pen-pals with students from São Luiz for several years. As part of the Dehonian educational community, students are also able to connect with POSH schools throughout the United States and in other parts of the world via zoom at various times through the year.
While visiting the SHS students, the girls from Brazil were fascinated by all things new and different, but more importantly, formed a bond through a shared universal language love and sisterhood.
The girls attended regular classes on weekdays with their Sacred Heart counterparts. Though many activities during the school day here and abroad are similar, there are some subtle differences. “The sequence of the classes and everyday life at school are so different from ours in Brazil. For example, we don’t have lunch at school. Classes finish at 12 p.m. Most of us go back home and eat lunch with our families. It has been a great experience to eat at school,” said Luisa.
Another difference the girls found curious was the changing of classes. “In Colégio São Luiz, in Brazil, we don’t exchange between rooms; we stay all the period in our homeroom,” Alice explained. “It is really nice to stand up and move between classrooms!”
Sacred Heart welcomed the girls with open arms. The camaraderie between the Dehonian students was instantaneous. Students were particularly enthusiastic about the Dehonian crosses on the Brazilian uniforms, inquiring if this was something that could be incorporated into the Sacred Heart uniforms in the future.
During their month-long stay, the São Luiz crew was able to experience a great deal of the Mississippi Dehonian community, including celebrating Mass at several of our parishes, and touring many of our facilities. They were able to meet with Holy Family School students, tour Sacred Heart Southern Missions’ main office, the Walls Food Pantry and the Dehon Village neighborhood. The girls also lent a hand at two mobile food distributions and helped serve meals at the Garden Café. “We loved being part of the mobile food pantry and the dinner at the Garden Café,” said Maria. “It felt so good being part of the community and helping the people. That is an idea we are going to propose back home!”
Their time in the country was also filled with all kinds of special activities, such as seeing the Memphis Zoo Lights, attending a local high school basketball game and going to Memphis to tour the National Civil Rights Museum. The girls were also introduced to something very familiar to many of us – a Walmart Supercenter.
One of their first excursions was to Graceland to celebrate Elvis Presley’s birthday. (The King of Rock n Roll would have been 88 years old this year.) Unfortunately, during their stay in our country, his only daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, passed away unexpectedly. While the student visitors would have loved to have gone to her memorial service, an early morning visit to Lisa’s grave later in the week gave them a private opportunity to send up a prayer and say goodbye.
While here, the Brazilian guests were able to taste all kinds of cuisine, with stops at a Waffle House, a Wendy’s and the exquisite Peabody Hotel. Throughout the month they got a heavy dose of local flavor as a number of families from the Sacred Heart School community hosted dinners, welcoming the girls to their homes.
When asked about their time here in the United States, the response from each of the exchange students was the same, “Everything has been so great! These days here in Southaven are going to be in our memories forever.”
No doubt these young women have left an indelible mark on the hearts of everyone here. As one of our parents so eloquently put it, “There are times in our lives when God delivers special and unexpected gifts right to your front door. Never having experienced exchange programs before, I was unsure of how it would work within our school system. I was met with such unconditional love and openness! The culture and universal language of kindness that these students and teacher brought will forever be part of me. I feel honored and grateful that I have met such sweet friends … and I know I am not alone! God is so very good and this is an example of his perfect love working around us every single day.”
(Laura Grisham is the communications manager for Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Walls.)