Work, a natural part of everyday life, is not something that is often celebrated. But in 1955, workers received recognition when Pope Pius XII instituted the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.
This year, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated a livestreamed All-Schools Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne on the feast day. During Mass he implored the protection of St. Joseph for all essential workers, as well as those out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We ask St. Joseph to pray for them and to protect them, just like he protected Jesus and Mary. St. Joseph was the protector of the Holy Family, and he is also the patron and protector of the Catholic Church,” he said. “We can always turn to St. Joseph for his prayers and protection.”
In addition to beseeching St. Joseph’s aide, at the end of Mass Bishop Rhoades reconsecrated the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to Mary, Mother of the Church. This was done in union with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and in communion with other bishops throughout the U.S.
Because May 1 also begins the month of Mary, the timing of the reconsecration was exceptionally appropriate. The bishops of Canada reconsecrated their nation to Mary on the same day.
Bishop Rhoades consecrated the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to Mary on August 15, 2014, the feast of the Assumption. Now, in light of the spread of COVID-19, the bishops are seeking Mary’s assistance for protection and healing.
“Today the Bishops of the United States are re-consecrating our nation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church. We’re doing so at this time because we want to entrust our country and ourselves to Mary during this challenging time,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“As we remember today Mary’s husband, St. Joseph, we also place ourselves in her arms. We ask both Mary and Joseph to intercede for us during this terrible pandemic.”
In his homily, the bishop focused on the importance of work, expounding on the Gospel reading from Matthew in which Jesus was rejected in His hometown because He was the son of the Mary and Joseph.
“They did not have faith in Him. They didn’t believe that this Jesus, whom they knew, could be that special. But Jesus was special. He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior. And He indeed came into the world as the son of Mary and the son of a simple carpenter.”
The reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians spoke of the spiritual gift of work. Bishop Rhoades taught the students that all work can be offered to God, and to pray before beginning their work, offering it up and asking for God’s assistance to make the work successful.
He related how St. Joseph provided the greatest model of using work to glorify God. “He’s a good example for us of the dignity of human work. He did his work for the glory of God and for the love of his family. He shows us that all the work we do, including your schoolwork, should be for the glory of God.”
At the beginning of Mass, while he recognized all Catholic schools within the diocese, Bishop Rhoades gave a special shoutout to Saint Joseph High School in South Bend. Saint Joseph was the only Catholic high school in the diocese to which the bishop was unable to make a pastoral visit this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Of the event, principal John Kennedy said, “We deeply appreciate Bishop Rhoades celebrating the All-Schools Mass, and for recognizing the Saint Joseph High School community, especially on this feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. It means a lot to our school community. Bishop Rhoades has been an inspiration to students, teachers and really everyone in our diocese throughout this difficult time. We thank him for his prayers and pastoral leadership.”
During pastoral visits Saint Joseph usually recognizes both its valedictorian and salutatorian, along with its Saint Joe scholars — students who have maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout the last four years. This year, there are 39 Saint Joe scholars, making up nearly 20% of the graduating class.
Not only is Saint Joseph providing for the students’ educational needs, but also for their spiritual and mental well-being. Pastoral ministry and counseling services have check-in and support systems to aid students in need, while the chaplains and others provide spiritual reflections along with their prayers. Faculty members have also taken this time of trial and turned it into a teaching tool to incorporate real-world scenarios into their lesson plans, such as principles of supply and demand and artistic representations of students’ emotional states.
Additionally, principal Kennedy was recognized in the South Bend media for running one mile for each member of the graduating class, showing love and support for the seniors.
The staff at Saint Joseph are not the only ones who have found a way to give back during the pandemic, either. As service is a core principle at the high school, students have found creative ways to serve others: writing letters to people in assisted living facilities, providing meals and personal protective equipment to local health care workers and working with local food pantries to deliver food to those in need.
The Fort Wayne Catholic high schools were also represented in the All-Schools Mass. Bishop Luers provided a choir of six socially distanced students, and the lector was a student from Bishop Dwenger.
Bishop Rhoades recognized all the students who are preparing for graduation not only from high school, but from grade school as well. He also spoke to those who are still waiting to receive the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation, advising them to use this time of waiting to grow closer to God and increase their understanding of the Catholic faith. He invited any students who had not visited the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to request a school tour and explained how the stained-glass windows throughout the church represent Mary’s life.
He encouraged students participating in the Mass at home to continue working hard. “Though we’re physically separated at this time, we are spiritually united — from 43 Catholic schools all over the diocese — we are united in our faith and our love. We are united in Jesus our Lord. May He bless us with His love and His peace!”
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