Queens Catholic Academy Students Are Surrounded By Images of the Sainthood-Bound Teen

The fifth grade class at St. Joseph Catholic Academy looks at a statue of Blessed Carlo Acutis, one of the two in the diocese. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

ASTORIA — Hunter Hodes is just like any other fifth grade student, collecting baseball cards and playing video games like Roblox, similar to many of his classmates at St. Joseph Catholic Academy. 

So when he first heard about Blessed Carlo Acutis, who is set to become the first millennial saint, he was drawn to his story and journey. Learning about him during his religion courses, he was compelled by the Italian teen’s dedication to faith, despite all the distractions that could have drawn him away from God.

“I learned that everyone could reach their goals at a young age, like Carlo. He focused his faith on God and he never disobeyed God,” Hodes said.

Hodes, along with the other fifth grade students at St. Joseph Catholic Academy, took a “field trip” to their parish church on Wednesday, June 5, to learn about Blessed Carlo, led by St. Joseph’s pastor, Father Vincent Chirichella. 

St. Joseph Church is in a unique position to teach its students about the soon-to-be saint, as it displays one of the two statues of Blessed Acutis in the diocese within its walls. It depicts the teenager standing, clad in a red shirt with a phone in his hand and a backpack hoisted over his shoulders.

“I didn’t know that until today. I saw Father pointing to it, and I didn’t know that it was there ever,” Hodes said about the statue.

The students sat attentively in the pews while Father Chirichella told them the story of a young boy, not much older than them, who devoted his short life to God. His message was that through following faith, anyone can become a saint.

“Our Blessed Carlo really leads the way for them. It was great. It was uplifting. It was awesome to see the kids so on fire for Blessed Carlo,” Father Chirichella said.

Born in 1991, Blessed Acutis was beatified just four years ago, and last month Pope Francis formally recognized a second official miracle attributed to his intercession. 

Dying of leukemia in 2006 — just seven years before most of the students in Michalina Grieco’s fifth grade classroom were born — the 15-year-old was devoted to his faith and the Eucharist, which he referred to as his “highway to heaven,” the students learned. 

Hunter Hodes, Anthony Primiani, Francesca Primiani, and Nola Lafield. They display their projects on Blessed Carlo Acutis. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

“It just shows young people like myself that you can be a saint when you are young,” Nola Lafield, a fifth grader, said.

Devotion to Blessed Carlo is strong at St. Joseph, where its youth group meets in a room dedicated to the teenager. In October, the parish is going on a pilgrimage to Assisi, where Father Chirichella hopes to visit his grave.

Blessed Carlo will become the first saint who grew up in a world of all-encompassing technology — much like the St. Joseph Academy students — that he utilized for evangelization. Along with his daily acts of faith, including partaking in the Eucharist and praying the rosary, he created a website dedicated to chronicling the world’s verified Eucharistic miracles. 

Using a tool that she uses for both entertainment and education, fifth grader Francesca Primiani was impressed that young Carlo made the website. It showed people that miracles happen all around the world, she said, and he is the person who worked diligently to provide that information.

“To me, it seems really interesting that someone around my age is becoming a saint,” she said. “I think he’s a role model to everyone, especially younger children, that if you work hard to be devoted to your faith, you can really do something like become a saint.”

In preparation for their learning session with Father Chirichella, Grieco had the students do a project on Blessed Carlo, in which they wrote about what makes him so worthy of sainthood. 

It’s crucial, she said, that the students see that the saints are more than people in a history book — they are people who young children can find strength through, and ask for their intercession for miracles.

“In this school, we really accentuate the lives of the saints. They’re our heroes — not necessarily the baseball player or the pop artist of today. Our real heroes are the people, since the time of Jesus, who have lived out their faith,” Grieco said.