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High School Essay Contest Winners Announced

My Parents -- Missionary Heroes'
Grand Rapids, Michigan, high school student wins Mission Essay Contest


"Even though my parents' bodies looked exhausted, their eyes were alive with a new mysterious light." So wrote 17-year-old West Catholic High School student Meg Kokx of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the first-place winner in this year's Propagation of the Faith mission essay contest for high school students about her parents' return from their mission experience in Jamaica.

High school students were asked to write about a missionary "hero" and how that person made a difference in their lives. In choosing her parents as heroes, Ms. Kokx told of how Dr. Nicholas Kokx and Mrs. Patricia Kokx, a pediatrician and a nurse, journeyed to the Caribbean nation with other doctors and nurses as volunteers in offering medical help to the sick and the poor there. "My parents say that it is really true that God works in mysterious ways," she wrote in her essay's conclusion. "Both of my parents believe that God sent them to help the poor and sick of Jamaica, but they also believe that the sick and poor of Jamaica helped to change their lives too. They were given back...the experience of God's love and beauty in others."

Ms. Kokx's essay was selected from among hundreds of entries. In announcing the winners on Pentecost Sunday, Father John E. Kozar, national director in the United States of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which include the Propagation of the Faith, noted: "It is inspiring to know that, for so many young people today, missionaries are heroes, just as they were for me in my youth. In this year especially, when families in our own nation are drawn even closer together in the wake of September 11, it is fitting that we find mission at the center of the family. That fact is reflected in this year's winning essays; all but one of the winning essays focused on a family member as a missionary hero."

For a reading of Ms. Kokx's essay, click here.

Joseph A. Summers, a 17-year-old student, Victory Homeschool, Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, received one of two second-place awards. He also wrote about his parents and their 30-plus years of life-changing missionary journeys. He concluded his essay with these words: "My parents are witnesses to me and to our world in great need of real heroes willing to lay down their lives in the service of the Gospel!"

Sharing second-place with Mr. Summers is Tessa Langlois, a 16-year-old from West Catholic High School, Diocese of Grand Rapids. Ms. Langlois described her mother's missionary journey to Haiti. Her mother continues to be a missionary here at home, Ms. Langlois noted, "helping me understand our faith better and better each day."

Third-place honors went to Jordan Vaughan from Red Bank Catholic High School, Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. He wrote about his great-uncle, a Redemptorist priest who had been a missionary in South America and the Caribbean. Mr. Vaughan detailed the efforts of his uncle to help the poor both physically and spiritually -- most impressed by how 'Father John' "helped people both spiritually and in a practical way by building schools and helping people better their lives."

Honorable mention citations went to three students: Aubrey Gerdes of Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School, Diocese of Wichita, Kansas; Christina Urban of Red Bank Catholic High School, Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, and John Paul Summers of Victory Homeschool, Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, and brother of second-place winner, Joseph Summers.

Directors of the Propagation of the Faith received plaques to present to the top four winners in their dioceses. All winners received certificates. In addition, first-, second- and third-place essay winners are enrolled as members of the Propagation of the Faith.

The judges for the contest were: Gerald M. Costello, former editor-in-chief of the Archdiocese of New York's newspaper, Catholic New York; Stephanie Raha, editor-in-chief of The Christophers; and Carol Zimmermann, staff reporter with Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C.


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