By Jennifer Miller
“You have a noble and holy vocation to form our children and young people in the way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel. Essential is your witness to the merciful love of Jesus, mediating that love to your students,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades reminded Catholic schoolteachers across the diocese on Thursday, Sept. 22, and Friday, Sept. 23.
Bishop Rhoades was the celebrant of the opening Masses of two Catholic School Mission Days, one held at Marian High School in Mishawaka and the other at Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne. The in-service days were inspiring opportunities to step back from the classroom, refuel and refocus one’s vision. Organized and presented by the Office of Catechesis annually, this year the focus was on “Mercy and Mission,” a theme that was developed through the lens of Catholic Relief Services. The keynote speaker after Mass was Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of CRS and mother to two South Bend Catholic school graduates.
During Bishop Rhoades’ homily, he focused on the “central truth of our faith” — mercy — during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and gave examples of what mercy looks like in action. He connected God’s mercy and love on the cross with the vocation of teaching, combining quotes from Pope Francis and St. John Paul II with theology and personal experiences from his recent pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Poland, the Shrine of Divine Mercy and the extermination camp at Auschwitz. He reiterated the point that “mercy needs to be lived,” and offered suggestions of how this is possible. First, one contemplates God’s mercy; and then secondly, one imitates God’s mercy in order to be “merciful like the Father.”
Bishop Rhoades recalled how in each Catholic classroom hangs a crucifix, the most radical sign of God’s love. “We see mercy, love, perfect love, when we see the cross.” St. John Paul II explained, “The second name for love is mercy.”
“Catholic schools should be places of discovery of subjects — the greatest that Christ loves us and gave himself for us,” he added. “This is the heart of Catholic education. Jesus loves them (the students) personally and gave himself for each one.”
Bishop Rhoades also addressed the realities of the American culture and recent suppressions of religious freedom by boldly encouraging teachers. “We teach with out hesitation or equivocation of the Faith. I pray we will live the wisdom we teach.” As Bishop, one of his roles is to teach, and this was an important comment of solidarity with the Catholic School teachers. The reminder that “we teach truth and wisdom that they will not learn in society, the truth and wisdom of the cross … there, Jesus shows us who God is and God’s true nature.”
At the end of Mass, Secretary for Catholic Education Carl Loesch and Superintendent Marsha Jordan both spoke. Loesch thanked Jordan for her tireless work on the recent diocesan-wide school accreditation, then presented Education for Ministry Certificates to the teachers who completed the full, two-year program.
Next, Jordan congratulated the retirees from the previous June and presented the teachers who have served for five, 10, 15, 20, 25,30, 35 and 40 years in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. At 30 years of service, she noted, “There is 120 years of service there!” pointing to four teachers. The last award, of 40 years of service, was given to three gentlemen: Charles Dance of St. Matthew Grade School, Robert Van Goey of Marian High School and Joe Wisniewski of St. Joseph High School.
After a breakfast break, Woo offered an insightful keynote address. The reflections offered by Bishop Rhoades and Dr. Woo complemented each other, and offered the teachers both hope and guidance for the coming year.
Through a truly Catholic lens, she remarked both about the work of mercy and mission via the topics of CRS internationally and Catholic education. The latter was both of her own excellent Catholic education in Hong Kong by the Maryknoll Sisters, and that of her sons, locally, at St. Anthony Grade School and Marian High School.
She began her keynote address with a simple sentence. “I was just at the UN last week…” after which she proceeded to preciously and clearly describe the current refugee situation in our world. “Sixty-five million refugees are displaced in the world today, half of them are under 18 years of age.” On an incredibly positive and forward-thinking note, Woo explained of these children, “We have the opportunity to create the largest generation of peacemakers. Some 30 million people who will not want war. It is up to this generation of adults what kind of welcome we give them.”
Woo’s positive and critically analytical thoughts were presented in a pastoral, as well as motherly tone. She spoke of huge, global issues with appropriate concern, but not fear. She offered not despair, but hope. “These are joint problems, an opportunity to bring people together,” she suggested. “The work of peace is critical.”
CRS, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, currently serves in 107 countries. It runs an operating budget of over $900 million, with the majority of funds going to the people in need.
“Out of every dollar given to CRS, only 6 to 8 cents is used for administrative support services. 94 to 92 cents of $1 goes directly to the ‘field’.” She explained that “Five dollars feeds one family of five for one week!” The rice bowl offering, often donated during Lent, makes an impact.
Woo remembered how, during her own education, she was asked to wash the dirty, smelly feet of injured people who lived on the junks or boats, and how it is important that young people are a part of God’s work here on earth. “They (the nuns) involved us in their ministries. … We felt so empowered. God became real to us.”
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