Bishop David O’Connell, C. M., sent a strong message of support to diocesan schools when he visited two Monmouth County schools on Jan. 28 for Catholic Schools Week, which this year runs from Jan. 27-Feb. 2.
At St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, the bishop was ushered in to the church by a full complement of Knights of Columbus members. Smiling and waving to the children, he pronounced, “I’m so very proud to begin Catholic Schools Week with you, especially to congratulate you for earning the national honor of a Blue Ribbon school.” With a grin, he added, “By the way, blue’s my favorite color.”
The Mass was concelebrated with Father John Folchetti, pastor, and parochial vicars Father Marcin Kania and Father Joseph Quinlan. The bishop began his homily by recognizing, once again, the accomplishment of St. Leo the Great School as a Blue Ribbon School.
“It is a special joy for me to congratulate your pastor, Father Folchetti; your principal, Mr. Begley; your vice principal, Mrs. Senkewicz, all the faculty and especially you the students and your parents for earning the national academic honor of a Blue Ribbon of Excellence. Although I couldn’t be with you on December 7, except by video, I did want to come by in person to celebrate with you and there is no better way to do that than by Holy Mass,” said Bishop O’Connell.
He then went on to share the story of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of schools, whose feast day, Jan. 28, coincided with the first school day of Catholic Schools Week.
“St. Thomas Aquinas was the victim of bullying by his brothers, by his school mates, even by his parents and teachers. In school, he was called the ‘Dumb Ox’ because he was overweight and didn’t say much.
That was very hurtful to him especially because he was a genius and eventually became one of the greatest teachers the world has ever known. He wrote over 22 books and taught at some of the greatest universities in the world. One of his teachers, St. Albert the Great, once said about him, ‘One day, the whole world will hear his words.’ And that was true.”
Bishop O’Connell pointed out that St. Thomas was also a very holy young person, deeply devoted to God and his Church.
“He had very strong faith and prayed every chance he got, especially in churches and chapels before the Blessed Sacrament. That is one of the most important things about being in a Catholic school: we not only receive the best education possible but we learn and experience the best of our Catholic faith. We have the chance to pray as we learn,” the bishop stressed.
The bishop encouraged the children to think about St. Thomas as they begin Catholic Schools Week.
“We need to learn our subjects, but we also need to grow in faith. Like St. Thomas, we need to see God everywhere and in everyone.” At the conclusion of Mass, the bishop blessed the students, teachers and parents. He reminded the children that their parents make great sacrifices to make their Catholic education possible.
After the Mass, Bishop O’Connell exchanged handshakes and smiles with the students, parents and the numerous parish members in attendance. During the reception that followed, guests shared their experiences of St. Leo the Great School.
Jennifer Hughes of Lincroft brought her three-year old son, Brandon, to the Mass. She said, “I have a kindergartener here. Brian is six and he loves it when he sees me at school. I also like him to see me at Mass, reinforcing how important our faith is.” Afterward, she took Brandon on the school tour to prepare him for St. Leo’s Pre-K program in September.
Cindy and Lloyd Lam have recently joined the St. Leo the Great’s community. They bring fifth grader Charli, and kindergartener Ethan to St Leo the Great from Old Bridge each day.
“We have opposite work schedules during the week, but we figure out how to make it work. Having the children in a Catholic school is worth it to us.”
After leaving St. Leo the Great, the bishop headed to St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel. There he met with about 25 students, who represented freshmen through seniors. During an informal luncheon, he asked the students what was on their minds, and what they thought the most pressing problems were for Catholics their age.
Chris Rocca, a senior headed to the Naval Academy said, “I think that living out your faith in public and not being embarrassed is hard to do.”
Another student added, “Living out your faith and going against what others believe is really tough too.
” Social media challenges and getting pressure to do the wrong thing also came up as challenges for these high school students.
The bishop stressed to students, “This is the Year of Faith. Think about your faith. What difference does that make in your life?”
He added, “I have a great concern that the faith is not being passed on. Kids don’t have enough of an interest. The parish used to be the center of a Catholic’s daily life,” explaining that is not always the case today.
Bishop O’Connell stressed that, given this change, attending a Catholic school is even more important. “Here you are encouraged to practice your faith.” He then asked them what he could do to promote Catholic education. The quick response from a student was, “The best way to lead is to be visible.” The bishop agreed, and said that in his three years as shepherd of the Diocese of Trenton he has visited almost all 110 of the parishes in the diocese.
The students then gave the bishop a tour of the school, visiting a Spanish class, physics class, and religion class, as well as the new athletic facility and new workout area which have received a great deal of use since they were completed in 2012.
Bishop O’Connell concluded his visit to the high school with a blessing of the students and school.
Sunday, January 27, 2103 kicked off the start of the National Catholic Schools Week. The annual observance starts the last Sunday in January and will run all week from January 27 to February 2. This year’s Catholic Schools Week theme is “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards.” The 2013 theme supports the recent launch of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools that ensure the effective operation and responsible governance Catholic schools across the country, thus promoting high academic standards and Catholic identity.[[In-content Ad]]