By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
The student body of St. Rose of Lima School welcomed Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., with song, dance, laughter and well-considered questions Jan. 31 during his Catholic Schools Week visit to the 143-year-old Freehold Catholic school.
After a greeting by eighth grade student council members, Sister of St. Joseph Mary Helen Beirne, principal, and Father James Conover, pastor, led the Bishop on a tour of the school and its new STEAM lab. They were accompanied by members of the Department of Catholic schools: associate superintendent, Dr. Margaret Boland, and associate director of curriculum, Daniel O’Connell.
The excitement to meet the Chief Shepherd of the Diocese was palpable; Sister Mary Helen explained, “A lot of these students have never met the Bishop. They have lots of joy and energy, and you can feel the hospitality.”
That hospitality was evident on every grade level. Sitting in a large armchair as if delivering a fireside chat, Bishop O’Connell smiled broadly as a class of three- and four-year-olds serenaded him with the song “I Will Follow Jesus,” sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques,” as they held up brightly colored stick figures of the Savior. Kindergarten and first graders giggled happily as he joined them in the “Floss” dance, and sang along with the Bishop as he performed what is rapidly becoming his signature Catholic Schools Week theme song, “Baby Shark,” with references to Catholic schools and their pastor, Father Jim, the lyrics of one verse.
Other young students performed skits on classic Christian principles such as kindness, sang for the Bishop in English and Spanish, and reassured him in song, “No matter what we do, God loves me and God loves you.”
Bishop O’Connell moderated a frank question-and-answer period with several of the older grade levels, sharing with them facts about his background of Catholic education, his elevation to the rank of bishop, his clerical garb, even his artificial leg. He reminded them about the importance of prayer in their daily lives, the graces of the Holy Spirit and the value of the Sacrament of Penance.
The Bishop learned that a number of eighth grade students planned to attend a Catholic high school in the diocese, and that their good grades had made them eligible for scholarships at that level. He advised them, “Wherever you go, always remember what you learned in Catholic schools, the values, to work hard. You are never alone, God is with you all the time.”