Patrick Murphy
Freelance Writer
March 22, 2017 // Schools

Campus minister and school work together to foster faith, identity

Patrick Murphy
Freelance Writer

If St. Matthew Cathedral School Principal Sister Gianna Marie Webber needed any confirmation that adding a campus minister to the staff this year was a good move, she got it in spades on Feb. 23. At an all-school Mass that day, nine children from five different families received the sacraments of initiation. Eight St. Matthew students and a toddler sibling were baptized, and the older ones received their first holy Communion. Those families, including godparents, filled the first five pews. It was a great day of celebration for the entire school and parish community.

This fall five different families contacted their children’s teacher, Father Terry Fisher or campus minister Josh Bathon. For a variety of reasons their children had not been baptized as infants, and some were feeling left out because their classmates had celebrated the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist. Their teachers, Bathon and religious educator Nancy Becker began preparing them to receive these sacraments.

The pastor decided that the occasion of their baptisms would be most meaningful if it took place at one of the two all-school Masses that occur every week; he chose the last one before the beginning of Lent. During his homily, Father Fisher interacted with the students who were about to receive these sacraments and helped the entire student body understand what was about to happen.

Excitement was palpable throughout the school, and many parishioners also came to share the joy. Each class followed Mass with a party to encourage their special classmate.

The parish also presented a cross to each neophyte, and they have been wearing them ever since.

Through their regular daily religion classes the younger students will continue to prepare, along with their classes, to receive the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation at the usual time. Bathon and the other instructors plan to continue monthly instruction with the group as well, and they are also open to more spontaneous mystagogia. For example, one newly baptized student was curious about Stations of the Cross, so Bathon spent 15 minutes in the church showing them to the attentive young man.

The idea of adding a campus minister to the school staff grew out of St. Matthew’s Catholic identity committee. During his six years at seminary, Bathon had gotten to know Msgr. Michael Heintz, the former rector of St. Matthew Cathedral. When Bathon discerned a direction other than seminary, he began looking for a job in Catholic education. The new position at St. Matthew Cathedral School seemed like a good fit. Although he isn’t a counselor, Bathon spends a lot of time interacting with students in the lunchroom and after-school program.

Part of his job description is coordinating the celebrations of feasts and liturgical seasons in the school, helping to solidify its Catholic culture. During Lent, for example, each class has a daily challenge. Reflections are part of the morning announcements every day, the entire school prays Stations of the Cross, and it has undertaken a drive to gather food and toiletries that the St. Vincent DePaul Society can distribute.

Every room in the school is dedicated to a particular saint relevant to that grade or subject, such as St. Dominic Savio for second graders and St. Maximilian Kolbe for sixth graders who study the Holocaust that year.

Each grade also undertakes a pilgrimage during the year. For preschoolers, it was a visit to the cathedral for an introduction to the symbols and vocabulary used during Lent. Eighth graders went to Chicago, to the Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe at Marytown and visited Mundelein Seminary, where they had a tour of what Bathon calls a “beautiful teaching church.” Sixth graders spent a day at the University of Notre Dame, attending Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica, visiting the Grotto and the Log Chapel and touring crèche sets from all over the world displayed in the university’s various buildings. Fifth graders will travel to St. John’s, Indiana, to the Shrine of Christ’s Passion. Seventh graders are looking forward to a trip to Fort Wayne and a meeting with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. Arranging these pilgrimages has been a central part of Bathon’s work as campus minister.

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