By Vince LaBarbera
FORT WAYNE — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades visited St. Therese Church and School, Fort Wayne, on Sept. 1 — the first this new school year of many pastoral visits he expects to make in the coming months. The event also was the first school Mass St. Therese staff and students attended together this academic year.
“I am so happy to be here. I’ve been looking forward to it,” said Bishop Rhoades as Mass began. His only prior visit to the school was to bless a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe several years ago.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades asked the students to pray for him throughout the school year. He reminded them that in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass they are asked to pray for the pope and their bishop. So he asked a group of second graders if they knew his name. An astute young lady named Emma answered it was “Rhoades.” He then made further inquiry if another second grader knew his first name. A small voice came back with: “Bishop!”
After the laughter died down, Bishop Rhoades asked the students about the readings they had just heard proclaimed at Mass from 1 Thess. 5:1-6, 9-11 and Lk 4:31-37. And he challenged them, through the grace of God — not only in their religion classes but in all their classes and through their teachers — “to be holy and to help one another be holy.” The most important thing to learn at St. Therese School, he concluded, was how to be holy and become saints, following Jesus.
At the end of Mass he expressed his gratitude to Father Lawrence Teteh, a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit and pastor, Charles Grimm, principal, teachers and staff, parents, grandparents and parishioners present to support the school. He thanked all who participated in the liturgy including servers, musicians, cantors and the children’s choir. And, he welcomed Marsha Jordan, superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office.
Bishop Rhoades then visited the 218 students in St. Therese School, which includes pre-kindergarten. After a brief look at the computer lab he stepped into the hall and met a line of kindergarten students, taught by Missy Chapin, en route to recess. He remarked how quiet they were.
He next visited Elyssa Walberry’s pre-K class. They showed him where they prayed and sang him a song. As with all the classes, Bishop Rhoades said a prayer with them at the end of his visit and gave them a blessing.
The 24 second graders in Andrea Buday’s class were writing about “why they would like to be a saint” when Bishop Rhoades stepped into their classroom. He encouraged them to continue such thoughts and said there might be a religious vocation in their midst.
Carolyn Schultz’ first-grade class of 29 students was about to exit the classroom for gym but they stayed long enough to entertain Bishop Rhoades’ questions about what they were studying in religion.
The 20 sixth graders in Angie Runion’s class were learning to read the Bible. They correctly answered nearly all of Bishop Rhoades’ questions including who the four major prophets are: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel.
Chad Hormann’s seventh graders were reviewing social studies when Bishop Rhoades visited. But they turned to the topic they were studying in religion: “What does God look like?” With Bishop Rhoades’ assistance, they came up with examples of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove and tongues of fire. But they had to admit the Holy Trinity is a mystery.
There are 17 students in Kim Reber’s eighth-grade class. They told Bishop Rhoades they are reviewing what they know in their religion studies in preparation for Confirmation the Wednesday after Easter. Bishop Rhoades assured the class they will receive the strength of the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles did, to “live the Gospel.”
The 16 third graders in Pam Lepley’s class are learning about God’s creation, they told Bishop Rhoades. He asked them what was God’s greatest creation and they correctly answered, “us!”
Jeanette Donovan’s 24 fourth graders were studying math when Bishop Rhoades entered the classroom, but they switched to what they were learning in religion: “How to be a good steward.” They also discussed the inspiration granted by God to the four evangelists: Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The fourth graders in Kathy Ehinger’s class correctly answered Bishop Rhoades’ questions about the readings they had just heard at morning Mass. And since several students revealed they also spoke Spanish, he taught all the students how to say the Sign of the Cross in Spanish: “En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.
Amén.” Following his blessing, he then bid the class — and St. Therese School — “Adiós!”
Setting the tone
“St. Therese Catholic is unique from other diocesan schools because we begin our school day as a school family praying the rosary, learning a faith word and saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning,” said Principal Chuck Grimm. “By doing these things, it sets the tone of our day as a school family/community. What better way to begin your day than in God’s house with prayer.”
He said the school is also unique because “we do things in the ‘Little Way’ just as St. Therese of Liseux, patron saint of our school did. We all come together as a school family/community to help and support others when needed.”
For example, he said, “we have had two students, a teacher and myself who have had to deal with cancer in our lives. The school students, parents, faculty and parishioners have come together as ‘one’ in the form of prayer and support for those in need.”
“I’ve always been told that there is ‘power in prayer,’” Grimm said, “and that has been proven as we have gone through these challenges in our lives as a part of this school family. It is wonderful to hear students talking about how they prayed for someone as they were in the car on the way to school, or how they prayed at home as family for someone who was in need of special prayers.”
“These are the things that we want our students to continue to carry with them for the rest of their lives,” he noted. “The simple way of prayer has been proven to our students that it is an easy thing to do, and is very powerful and helpful to those in need.”
The Catholic identity of St. Therese School is not just about the religious symbols that can be found in the classrooms and throughout the school. “Our Catholic identity at St. Therese is how we live it in all that we do and say,” Grimm added. “We strive to be Christ-like examples to others. What we want for all of our students is simply live out what our school Mission Statement says: ‘Through the love of Jesus Christ, we will be faithful, productive and responsible citizens.’”
Second-grade teacher Andrea Buday, said, “I love teaching at St. Therese School for many reasons. The first is that we are able to live our faith every day and we get to teach that to our students. Secondly, St. Therese is a beautiful example of a faith community, where we pray, worship, celebrate and support each other. Finally, the support from our teaching staff is amazing. We have a very talented and caring group of educators here at St. Therese and I am blessed to be surrounded by them.”
She said the academic strength at St. Therese is religion and language arts.
St. Therese parent and first-grade paraprofessional Molly Striker said she chose to send her children to St. Therese for different reasons.
“First, I love the fact that my kids start their day in the church to pray the rosary,” Striker said. “It is a great way to bring all of the students together in prayer to start the day.”
“I love the teachers that my children have had the privilege of learning from,” she added. “I couldn’t ask for better influences for them.”
She also likes that the students show love and respect towards not only adults but towards one another. “I couldn’t picture my kids at a different school,” she said.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.