January 24, 2024 // Bishop

Bishop Rhoades Visits St. Joseph Grade School

When Bishop Rhoades saw what a St. Joseph Preschool class was eating for snack time, he couldn’t resist.

“You’re eating my favorite snack – Cheez-Its!” the bishop exclaimed. Soon, every one of the preschoolers was offering to share.

“Oh my goodness, I’m teaching them generosity,” Bishop Rhoades joked as he walked around the table accepting Cheez-Its held in outstretched hands. “Thank you!”

Photos by Kasia Balsbaugh
Bishop Rhoades reads a book to the children at St. Joseph Preschool during his pastoral visit on Friday, January 19.

From building very high Lego towers to questioning fourth graders about the Beatitudes, Bishop Rhoades had a full morning during his pastoral visit to St. Joseph Grade School in South Bend on Friday, January 19.

“It’s really edifying, and I feel a lot of support from the bishop for the work that we’re doing,” Holy Cross Father Matt Fase, Pastor of the affiliated St. Joseph Parish, said about the visit.

Bishop Rhoades opens the votive Mass in celebration of Blessed Basil Moreau during his visit to St. Joseph Parish in South Bend on Friday, January 19.

Bishop Rhoades began the morning by officiating at an all-school Mass, which was a votive Mass celebrating Blessed Basil Moreau, who founded the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the religious order of priests and brothers that founded the University of Notre Dame. Members of the community also run St. Joseph Parish and St. Joseph Grade School, which is the oldest school in the diocese.

In his homily, Bishop Rhoades told the story of Blessed Basil Moreau, a French missionary, ninth in a family of 14 children, whose religious order spread throughout the world to evangelize. “He was so close to God. He was a man of deep prayer,” Bishop Rhoades said.

Students and staff from St. Joseph Grade School listen to Bishop Rhoades at Mass on Friday, January 19.

“Blessed Basil taught his priests and brothers how important it was for them to imitate Jesus,” Bishop Rhoades said. “That was really most important to him. … We want to be like Jesus. That means we have a special love for people who are hurting, for people who are poor, who are sick, who are suffering. And I know that’s a priority for you here at St. Joseph School. That’s part of our Catholic mission.”

Bishop Rhoades’ goal after Mass was to visit as many classrooms as he could. He began at St. Joseph Preschool, where he read books and played with the children from infants to age 6. He asked the 3- and 4-year-olds questions about the Nativity story, and they answered all his questions, even the “hardest one” about where Jesus was born. “I’m very impressed!” Bishop Rhoades said when a little girl shouted out excitedly, “Bethlehem!”

Bishop Rhoades asks the 3- to 4-year-olds at St. Joseph Preschool questions about the Nativity story.

Next, Bishop Rhoades visited classrooms in St. Joseph Grade School. He asked questions and let the students ask him questions of their own, which ranged from “What are the steps to becoming a bishop?” (It’s a very confidential process involving lots of research from local representatives, the bishop said, adding that he had no idea he was being considered before getting the phone call offering him the position) to “Why do you wear pink?” (“Technically magenta,” the bishop said, adding that cardinals, bishops, and the pope each have historical clothing colors).

Father Fase and Melissa Green, Principal of St. Joseph Grade School, hosted Bishop Rhoades’ school tour. “It seemed like in every classroom the students interacted with him so warmly and genuinely,” Green said. “It’s amusing to see in a K-8 building how differently students interact.”

The sixth grade students at St. Joseph Grade School respond to Bishop Rhoades as he visits their language arts class.

For instance, when Bishop Rhoades visited a third grade math class, he was confused by a math problem on a worksheet he picked up. “I need remedial work,” he joked amid good-natured laughter from teachers and students. The third graders were more than willing to help – “Do you want counters?” one of them offered. “You can talk to Mrs. Sherwood, she can help you!” suggested another.

When the bishop asked the third graders about fortitude, they all knew the definition: “being brave and strong in the face of trials,” they chorused. When Bishop Rhoades asked for examples of fortitude, one of the students offered, “You practiced fortitude when you walked in because you tried a math problem!”

Bishop Rhoades asks the eighth grade students at St. Joseph Grade School about their confirmation saints. Bishop Rhoades had to miss their confirmation because of his work at the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

Another goal for Bishop Rhoades’ visit was talking with the eighth graders, whom he wasn’t able to confirm personally because he was traveling for the synod. He spoke to them about confirmation and their chosen patron saints. “It was almost like he was getting an opportunity to share the big ideas from his confirmation homilies with them in a more intimate way in the classroom,” Green said.

Green is in her third year as Principal of St. Joseph Grade School. She said it’s been “many years” since the last pastoral visit of the bishop to the school, so it was a momentous occasion. “We got the Mass ready, our building ready, and then just prepared the kids to be hospitable and ready to interact with the bishop,” Green said.

On preparations for the visit, Father Fase added: “At the practical level, we’ve been talking up the bishop’s visit in the school community, and so that was a really great opportunity to teach more explicitly about who the bishop is and what the diocese is. … So it really gives us an excuse to teach more explicitly about all those different aspects of the diocesan Church.”

At the end of his visit, Bishop Rhoades had lunch with some of the students, faculty, and staff who presented him with a gift bag full of St. Joseph Preschool and Grade School swag. Green also asked him a question: What can we do to better support the bishop’s work and the diocese?

“What keeps me going are the prayers,” Bishop Rhoades responded. He added that seeing Catholics live out their Catholic mission and identity “gives [him] so much joy.”

“I was really proud that he perceived that our Catholic identity is really being lived out in our school,” Green said afterward. “You know, to hear that the work that he saw, and the things he observed today and heard the children say bring him joy—I feel like that’s a huge compliment.”

Green added that seeing Bishop Rhoades interact with the students and teachers in their classroom reminded her of something Pope Francis has said: “Be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

“He talked to the kids today about how they needed to be the fragrance of Christ in the world through their confirmations, and I thought, well, this is a day where Bishop Rhoades is choosing to take on the smell of the sheep … and I think that was really beautiful to see,” Green said.

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