By Denise Fedorow
GOSHEN — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades made his first pastoral visit to St. John the Evangelist School on All Saints’ Day, and, as he celebrated Mass beforehand, he told the students and congregation, “I was really surprised — I thought I was going to be the only bishop here. But I see there are two others!”
Bishop Rhoades was referring to the fourth-grade students who were dressed as the saints they chose for their class project. One student was dressed as St. Nicholas and the other as St. Patrick.
“Two of the bishops here are saints and one is trying to be,” the bishop said.
He told the students that they were celebrating all the saints in heaven and the next day the Church celebrates all the souls in purgatory. He said when we speak of the Church; it includes all on earth, the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory. He spoke of the first reading where St. John had a vision of all the multitudes in heaven, of all languages and nations.
Bishop Rhoades told the students that in the Gospel on the Beatitudes, “Jesus teaches us how to get to heaven. He gives us a roadmap — if we follow Him, obey the commandments and follow the beatitudes, which imitate the way Jesus lived. Jesus was so full of love for everyone; especially the sick, suffering and poor and He always did the will of His Father.”
Bishop Rhoades quizzed the children on the sacraments that God gave to aid His people. He spoke of the sacraments of Reconciliation, the Eucharist and Confirmation. He shared with the congregation that he chose St. John the Apostle as his Confirmation name and patron saint.
“So I feel a special connection to your parish and school. It’s the only one in the diocese named for St. John the Apostle — the Evangelist,” the bishop said, adding that he chose him because he appreciated St. John’s Gospel and most importantly because he thought John was Jesus’ best friend since he was called ‘beloved.’”
“He was the only one at the foot of the cross and it was to (John) that Jesus said to take care of His mother, Mary,” Bishop Rhoades said.
The saints and martyrs are examples of holiness, and Bishop Rhoades told the children how important it is to help one another grow in holiness by example and to help others know Jesus.
“That’s why Catholic schools are so important. They are schools of holiness. Your teachers and principal teach you about Jesus and that’s why the parish and your parents work so hard to have St. John’s School. It’s an important mission,” Bishop Rhoades said.
At the end of the Mass, St. John Pastor Father Tony Steinacker asked the bishop to participate in a new tradition beginning at St. John’s — at the end of each Friday’s Mass a crucifix will be presented to a class, beginning with the fifth grade, which will be kept in class for the week to pray for vocations. Father Steinacker also presented a gift to the bishop — a spiritual bouquet from the students.
“This is the greatest gift — that you will be praying for me. Thank you boys and girls!” Bishop Rhoades said upon receiving the gift.
Then the fourth-grade students in Eva DeBoni’s class each presented his or her saint’s project, while in costume they shared facts they learned. In addition to the bishop saints, other saints represented St. George, St. Bernard, St. Lorenzo, St. Catherine of Bologna, St. Winefride, St. Sebastian, St. Dominic, St. Brigid, St. Hedwig and several others.
Bishop Rhoades then visited each classroom from preschool to fifth grade.
He told Today’s Catholic, “This is the fun part of being bishop — being with all the kids.”
In each class Bishop Rhoades asked the excited students what they were studying in religion and what new prayers they had learned. He offered the students a chance to ask him questions, saying, “It’s not every day bishop comes to your class.”
The students were curious about how he became bishop, how long he’d been bishop and one student asked if being bishop was hard.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Bishop Rhoades said. “I don’t have a lot of free time. I don’t get to play much kickball.”
Bishop took a turn at kickball with the fourth and fifth graders while they were in gym class when he visited.
Numerous students asked about the bishop’s zucchetto, the skullcap worn under the mitre and one kindergartner was allowed to put it on. When Bishop Rhoades asked if he wanted to be a priest or bishop, the kindergartener said he wanted to be a marine biologist.
In each class Bishop Rhoades said a prayer with the students, gave a blessing and asked them to tell their parents he said hello.
When the class visits were concluded, Bishop Rhoades commented, “Everywhere I go I’m impressed by the friendliness of the children, the knowledge of their faith. Their questions are interesting. They are interested in the vocation of bishop. They are always so happy to see the bishop and their excitement is great. I think they understand the bishop is their spiritual leader.”
“It’s a testament to the teachers and the school — I’m always edified by each school visit,” he said.
St. John the Evangelist School
A school was established at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Goshen in 1868. Currently, enrollment is 120 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade with two pre-school classes — a junior class of four-and-five-year olds and a Pee Wee class of three year olds. Preschoolers have the option of attending half days or full days.
Special classes offered at St. John School include art, music, physical education, computer, library and Spanish. Eagle’s Nest is the after school program that runs from 2:40-6 p.m. and provides care where students can receive homework and academic assistance and enjoy free play.
The school offers a wide variety of activities including weekly prayer service, fall festival, Young Authors Conference, Veteran’s Day program, Science Fair, Grandparent’s Day, Christmas program, field trips, All Schools Mass at Notre Dame, mentoring, Las Posadas, participating in Mass twice a week and buddy groups.
Principal Mattie Willerton explained that buddy groups involve all students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. A fifth-grader is the leader of the group, which includes a student from each grade level. Each month the group meets and participates in special projects and activities together. At the first meeting they chose a patron saint for their group.
“Fifth graders gain leadership skills and the young ones who may be new to the school get a chance to meet older kids and feel welcomed. It’s almost like a family and they’re like siblings,” Willerton said.
Willerton sees the welcoming atmosphere as one of St. John’s biggest strengths. “The children all know one another. They hold doors open. It’s a very warm atmosphere and a Catholic environment. The children pray together, go to Mass together. Under the crucifix it’s even more powerful.”
Father Tony Steinacker sees staff stability as an attribute. “Our teachers are so dedicated to what they do. Some students currently attending have the same teachers as their parents. Many of our teachers live locally and belong to our parish. It reinforces that family aspect that so many seek,” he said.
Smaller class sizes with the largest being 25 allows for more one-on-one attention. Father Steinacker praised the leadership of new principal Mattie Willerton who was trained and educated through the ACE program at Notre Dame.
“She and I share a mutual love for education and we see great potential at St. John’s where we hope to in some small way form the future of our Church and community,” he said.
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