Smiles All Around -- Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., and clergy from St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, pose for a photo with students following the noon Mass on Feb. 3. The Bishop celebrated the Mass to wrap up the close of Catholic Schools Week. Mary Stadnyk photo
Smiles All Around -- Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., and clergy from St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, pose for a photo with students following the noon Mass on Feb. 3. The Bishop celebrated the Mass to wrap up the close of Catholic Schools Week. Mary Stadnyk photo

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

Following a bustling week complete with special activities such as hosting an open house, participating in academic competitions and enjoying fun events like a pep rally, students in St. Mary of the Lakes School wrapped up Catholic Schools Week 2019 with a special visit by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

“It was a privilege and an honor to have Bishop O’Connell celebrate with us,” St. Mary of the Lakes School principal Amy Rash said of the noon Mass that Bishop celebrated on Feb. 3. “He is such a strong supporter of Catholic schools and our children.”

Father Daniel Swift, pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, said that the Mass provided the parish and school community an opportunity to spend time with the Bishop and for the Bishop to spend time with his people.

“Whenever I see the Bishop, he always asks how the parish and school are,” said Father Swift. “I'm blessed to be able to say all is well in every way. Inviting the Bishop provides him the opportunity to ‘see and experience’ how blessed we are at SML, school and parish, rather than just hear it from me.”

At the start of his homily, Bishop O’Connell said he was delighted to see the many students at the Mass.

“It’s such a beautiful witness in this parish,” Bishop O’Connell said to the significant number of uniformed clad boys and girls sitting with their families in the congregation and those students who took an active role during the Mass serving as readers, choir members, song leaders, altar servers and gift bearers.

Bishop O’Connell continued his homily by highlighting main points in the First and Second Readings that were proclaimed for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, then focused more attention on the Gospel and its message of which he found “disturbing.” He told of how the Gospel was a continuation of the story from the previous week in which Jesus had returned to the synagogue where he was positively received by the congregants. But the story changed and some of the people who had originally been amazed to know Jesus “quickly turned on him … they grew angry and hostile and wanted to kill him.”

The anger that the people had for Jesus was based on the fact that Jesus spoke the truth when he talked about the Scriptures and said things that people didn’t want to hear, Bishop O’Connell said.

Jesus speaks the truth, the Bishop said, and “the truth makes people uncomfortable ...  the truth asks people to give more than they want to give.

“The truth is learned … we can accept it or reject it. Today invites us to accept him, to open our eyes and hearts to his message, as unprepared as we may be, he said, then encouraged the congregation to listen to Jesus and not the ways of the world,” Bishop O’Connell said.

“Jesus will show you a more excellent way, the way of love,” said Bishop O’Connell.

Following the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father Swift and Father Roy Ballacillo, parochial vicar, students and their families enjoyed taking photos and sharing conversation about all that took place during Catholic Schools Week this year.

First grader Matthew Rainer, who was at the Mass with his mom, Beth Ann, and brother Drew, a pre-K3 student, smiled as he told about the project he and a classmate submitted for the science fair – determining the best product to clean pennies. And that was ketchup.

“I love this school,” said Beth Ann Rainer, who added that she wanted to send her children to a school where they are “surrounded by love and faith” while receiving a quality education.

Through Catholic Schools Week, seventh grader Gianna Giegerich said she was busy singing for both the parish and school Masses, coloring bookmarks, helping to set up the science fair and pep rally, and serving as a reader for the Mass with the Bishop.

“Catholic schools week is a way to show that we are not only a family through education, but a family through our Catholic faith,” said Giegerich. “It important to set aside time for Catholic schools week because the Catholic faith is like no other, and the community should have time to reflect on its many virtues.”

Giegerich’s mother, Gina, said her family always looks forward to Catholic Schools Week.

“It was wonderful to be able to celebrate our Catholic school and we are so proud to support our children, said Gina Giegerich, who noted that she and her husband, Joe, are the parents of six children, three of whom are St. Mary of the Lakes School graduates and three who currently attend the school.

“It is heartwarming to watch as they participate in the opening and closing of Catholic Schools Week with the celebration of Mass,” she said, then added that having Bishop O’Connell celebrate Mass for the closing of Catholic Schools Week was this year’s highlight.

“It’s always wonderful to have Bishop O’Connell celebrate Mass with our school and parish family. It is clear by his words and actions that he is supportive of Catholic schools and that he loves the children. It validates the sacrifices that many families make to send their children to a Catholic school.”