Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades issued a challenge to Holy Cross grade school students in South Bend during a pastoral visit Jan. 31, which corresponded with the close of Catholic Schools Week and the feast day of the patron saint of young people, St. John Bosco.
In his homily at an all-school morning Mass, the bishop commended Holy Cross School on beginning Catholic Schools Week by giving thanks to God for their Catholic education through eucharistic adoration. He then told the story of how St. John Bosco helped children by building schools to educate them.
“When we’re disciples of Jesus, be kind to one another, be an example to others of God’s love,” he told them.
The bishop preached about St. Paul’s words in the first reading of the day, Philippians 4:4-9, in which Paul said to the Philippians, “Let your kindness be known to all.” The responsorial psalm mentioned kindness as well, including the refrain “The Lord is kind and merciful.”
As an example of kindness, he shared how Deacon Vincent Nguyen, CSC, and master of ceremonies Father Nathan Maskal hurried to greet him upon his arrival at the school that morning and helped carry his vestments into the church.
He asked the students to spread kindness within their families, especially among their siblings. “Be kind to them, even when they’re not kind to you,” he asked. “That’s hard to do, but Jesus called us to be kind. We still should love them, even if we don’t get love in return.” He ended with this challenge: “I want you to remember, for the rest of today, that one word: kindness. Try to live it out today to each other, try to be especially kind to your parents and your brothers and sisters. Is that a deal?” The students readily agreed.
Principal Angela Budzinski said she was honored to welcome Bishop Rhoades to the school. “He has given us the blessing of being able to begin a second track here for an immersion program, and we’re excited to show him, after three years, the progress we’ve made in that program. And also to highlight how good it has also been for our all-English tracks. He supported the continuation of both of those programs, and it’s exciting to share that with him.”
At the end of Mass, Budzinski announced the students of the month for each grade, along with Christ the Teacher (formerly Light of Learning) Award winner Julie Van Meter, and asked Bishop Rhoades to say a blessing over them. Then the school presented him with a gift: a Holy Cross T-shirt and a box of fudge, which the bishop said he would share with others in order to show kindness.
Holy Cross School was established in 1929 and is staffed by priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross, including current pastor Father James Fenstermaker, CSC. It has the distinction of winning the 2019 Chicago Tribune Readers’ Choice Award for Best Private School, has seen 30% growth in the last two years and partners with the state of Indiana to provide low-income families with quality early education through the My Way Pre-K program.
Holy Cross is the only Catholic school in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend that has a dual-track, Spanish language immersion program. A group of parents and educators led by Dr. Katy Lichon, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, approached Bishop Rhoades four years ago to ask permission to begin the program at the school. Students in the Spanish immersion track begin learning in the language in preschool and become fluent in speaking and writing in both English and Spanish by around the fifth grade.
The first students to be enrolled in the program are now in first grade. As they progress to each new grade, Holy Cross hires an additional teacher who is fluent in Spanish to teach them at that level.
Clare Roach, immersion coordinator, explained to the bishop that the program is designed so that in the Spanish immersion classrooms, teachers speak 90% Spanish to their students. There is a roughly 50-50 split in the classrooms of students who speak Spanish at home and students who speak English at home, so the students also learn from each other.
This split gives the native Spanish-speaking students a sense of pride in their communities, she said. “Kids who were embarrassed to speak Spanish at home, now it’s a source of pride.”
Both the Spanish immersion and regular English-language classrooms have the same curriculum, so both classes learn the same concepts.
The bishop said he was amazed at how well the immersion students in kindergarten were able to speak and read books in Spanish. He interacted with them during reading time, laughing at the stories they chose to read to him.
The first grade English-language class enthusiastically welcomed Bishop Rhoades into their classroom, answering his questions about what they were learning; namely, the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity. In another classroom, the bishop was overjoyed to discover a young man who bore the name John Bosco as his first and middle names. He told the third grader that today was his feast day and asked if he would be having a celebration in St. John Bosco’s honor. When the bishop asked what he had spoken about at Mass earlier that morning, the students were able to answer that he had asked them to be kind to others.
At one point, the bishop was introduced to two eighth grade boys who had transferred to Holy Cross from other schools. Both students related how good their experience at Holy Cross has been, that they have made progress academically and their teacher shared the boys’ parents’ opinion that they are happier now because the boys are respectful and studying in a safe environment.
The bishop ended the day by having lunch with staff members before a staff versus students volleyball game. During the game, many of the students wore T-shirts they had made to honor Catholic basketball star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash days earlier.
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