Francesca Bryce visits with a patient at Sibley Hospital on Christmas Day. Bryce said that she visits hospitalized patients on that day because “they need me more than I need to be at home opening presents.”
Francesca Bryce visits with a patient at Sibley Hospital on Christmas Day. Bryce said that she visits hospitalized patients on that day because “they need me more than I need to be at home opening presents.”
Just inside the entrance to Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, are two plaques. One encourages the students at the all-girls high school to have "the light to know." The other encourages them to have "the grace to do."

Several graduating students have taken those mottos to heart, compiling between four and eight times as many service hours than the 55 required by the school.

Seton High School, sponsored by the Daughters of Charity, has about 560 students, including 143 members of the Class of 2014.

Nicole Shahraky, Seton's campus ministry coordinator, said the extraordinary amount of service provided by the students "speaks volumes of our kids."

"These are good teenagers who could do whatever they want to do on weekends and free time, but here they are, choosing to serve," she said. "They see individuals as individuals, regardless of their life's circumstances, and they bring Christ's love to them."

Graduating senior Francesca Bryce - a member of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Washington who in the fall will attend LaSalle University in Philadelphia where she will major in political science - compiled more than 336 hours of service during her time at the high school.

Over the past several years, she has given up her Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to serve others. On Thanksgiving Day, she is at her parish helping to serve a traditional meal to about 150 guests, and delivering meals to the shut-in and elderly. On Christmas morning, she volunteers at Sibley Hospital, visiting sick children away from home and passing out cookies.

"They need me more than I need to be at home opening presents," she said.

Also at Sibley Hospital, Bryce has participated in crafting pillows for cancer patients, who need the pillow's support to fight the discomfort of chemotherapy. She has worked in the hospital's security office, entryway, admissions department and the emergency room.

Her work at the hospital, she said, "is very humbling. I met a patient who never had a visitor. She was so thankful and so happy that I would just visit her and read to her. It hit me that not everybody is blessed to have a family. "

"I have learned to humble myself and be grateful for how much I have," she added. "I've also learned how important service ais."

Grace Tarnosky - a member of St. Pius X Parish in Bowie who in the fall will enter the University of Maryland in Baltimore to major in mechanical engineering - compiled more than 221 service hours.

Many of those hours were spent at Maryland Therapeutic Riding, a 25-acre farm near Crownsville that helps those with physical, developmental, and emotional challenges through human and horse interaction.

"I got to see the kids and how excited they were to be with the horses and I got to watch their progress, she said.

She added that through her volunteerism, "I learned how lucky and blessed I am to have the health and abilities I have. I also learned to pay attention to the little things in life because it means so much."

Jodie Rohrer - a member of St. Joseph Parish in Beltsville who in the fall will attend Manhattan College to pursue a degree in peace studies - racked up more than 221 community service hours in a variety of ways.

As part of the school's Vincentian Club, she participated in the Friends of the Poor Walk to raise money for needy families. She worked at Eco City Farms, a Prince George's County program that grows food for the poor while promoting urban farming. Seton participates in the program, growing healthy food for needy residents of a nearby apartment complex.

"You learn about what other people experience and you get to see how gracious and grateful people are when you help them."

Rohrer also collected winter coats and toys for local families and shopped for food and other supplies to stock the food pantry at St. Luke Parish in Bladensburg. The parish, a part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, was originally a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, that came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2011.

As leader of the school's Vincentian Club, Rohrer said that "so much of my work is behind the scenes, coordinating, organizing and planning events and getting other students involved."

Rohrer recalls working at the D.C. Central Kitchen with formerly incarcerated men, and serving at McKenna House, where she met a man who served in Vietnam and a man who was at the World Trade Center when it was attacked on 9/11. She said that those experiences helped her not to prejudge people.

"You have someone who was incarcerated taking culinary classes who is so passionate about what he's doing and that was cool, she said. "And you have these people living in a homeless shelter, but they had awesome stories. That was amazing."

Laura Tarnosky, Grace's mother and Seton's service coordinator, said that the emphasis on students volunteering is to help them recognize "they can do things to help the local community and that the person they are serving is similar to them."

She noted that many of the students participate in a Valentine's Day dance for special needs teenagers, and "they are blown away that these special education students like the same things they like and know the same music they know. They learn they are really not that different from them."

The students all noted that attending a Catholic high school made an impact on their faith and their desire to service.

"I get to put my faith into practice," Rohrer said. "I learned that it is fun to do service.'

Grace Tarnosky noted that "I can say my strong faith was created and really developed here."

For Bryce, a student of Catholic schooling "my whole life, from pre-kindergarten on," in attending Seton, "I was able to grow in my faith with people my own age."