Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16)

During the weekend of Feb. 8-9 at parishes across the Archdiocese of Washington, the Annual Appeal was announced, and in the following weekend of Feb. 15-16, local Catholics are being invited to make a commitment to support the appeal, which provides key funding for the charitable and educational outreach and ministries of the Catholic Church in the nation’s capital and in five surrounding Maryland counties.

The Annual Appeal supports more than 70 ministries of the archdiocese, including Catholic schools and parish religious education, the education and formation of seminarians, family and pro-life outreach, ministries to different cultures, ministries at six local college campuses, outreach to young adults, and support for Catholic Charities, the largest nongovernment social service provider in the Washington metropolitan area.

On Feb. 11 after celebrating a Mass for the students at St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School in Beltsville, Maryland, Father Andrew Wakefield – that parish’s administrator – was approached by fourth grader Ila Gramiccioni, who handed the surprised priest an Annual Appeal pledge envelope with a few dollars in it.

“I thought it was so kind of her and so generous,” said the priest. “…She was aware of the needs that the Appeal goes for, and felt a call to give of her own accord.”

Father Wakefield said Ila’s gift showed “the purity of heart and the generosity of spirit that a child has.”

Ila Gramiccioni, 9, has a younger brother Cole, 8, who is a second grader at St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School, and they are the children of Greg and Jennifer Gramiccioni.

When the priest called Ila’s parents to tell them about her generosity, Greg Gramiccioni said, “I was genuinely, extremely proud of my daughter.”

When the Gramiccionis moved back to the Washington area in 2014, they were drawn to St. Joseph’s Parish by the family spirit there, and since then, they have become good friends with families at the parish and school.

“I just believed it would be a good community for my kids to have a good education in a faith-based school,” said Greg Gramiccioni. He formerly worked for the Secret Service and now is with the Department of Homeland Security, and his wife works for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Greg Gramiccioni said Ila’s gift “goes to the nucleus” of how they are trying to raise their children in the faith, and why they are sending them to Catholic school.

“She’s taking her chore money,” earned from cleaning her room and helping around the house, “and giving it to somebody that needs it more,” her father said. “Instead of spending it on candy, she’s giving it to someone who is less fortunate.”

He said her gift has inspired him to think about how he can do more to help in the community, and he hopes that it will inspire others, too.

St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School made news this past fall when the U.S. Department of Education named it as a National Blue Ribbon School, along with three other Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. St. Joseph’s serves 200 children in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. The school has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, and students there take classes in algebra, cursive writing, Latin, Spanish and technology/computers.

Dr. Janine Bertolotti, St. Joseph’s principal, said she was also inspired by Ila’s gift.

“I think it’s a really special thing, especially considering the level of kindness and generosity of someone her age,” she said.

The Beltsville Catholic school – which is cosponsored by St. Joseph Parish and by St. Hugh Parish in Greenbelt and St. Nicholas Parish in Laurel – is also known for its community service. Four years ago, Michaela West, now a St. Joseph’s eighth grader, started a club there called “Bundles of Love,” where students compile toiletries, clothing and non-perishable food, wrap it with twine in a blanket or sleeping bag along with a handwritten note, and join parents in delivering them to homeless people.

That ethos, of teaching children to love and serve as Jesus did, is central to the education at St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School, Dr. Bertolotti said.

“Ultimately as a Catholic school, our role is to serve the community, and we try to create a culture where students are oriented toward helping others, and her (Ila’s) action was a testament” to that, the principal said.

Fourth grader Ila Gramiccioni made a donation to the Archdiocese of Washington's Annual Appeal after a recent Mass for students at St. Joseph's Regional Cahtolic School in Beltsville. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

Ila Gramiccioni, who volunteers with the “Bundles of Love” program at St. Joseph’s, explained she was an altar server at the Sunday Mass when Father Wakefield explained how parishioners could support the Annual Appeal, and she remembered what he said later that week when she saw him at the school Mass.

“I randomly had money in my pocket, and I decided to put it in for the poor,” she said, explaining that she thinks “it’s not fair the poor don’t have what I have.”

When asked what she’s learned about her faith and about giving at her Catholic school, Ila said she’s been taught “that Jesus wants us to help the poor, and He forgives everyone, and He wants us to forgive people, too.”