Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades greeted eighth graders at Christ the King School, South Bend, with an exclamation: “Three times in one week!”
The students were confirmed by the bishop on Friday, Oct. 18. They attended Mass at the University of Notre Dame with their schoolmates and students from the western half of the diocese on Wednesday, Oct. 23, and then the bishop spent most the day on Thursday, Oct. 24, at their school.
At a Mass celebrated during Thursday’s pastoral visit, he said he had located the confirmed students in church that day by their “special glow” as they sat next to their kindergarten Mass partners.
“The most important part of the day is when we come together and pray,” the bishop began, acknowledging in particular the 51 preschoolers waving from the cry room.
He focused on one line from the day’s Gospel of St. Luke: “I have come to set a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Lk 12:49).
Pointing to a stained-glass window depicting the fulfillment of Jesus’ longing, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he quoted the mission of St. Anthony Mary Claret, whose feast day is Oct. 24: “to light the whole world on fire with the love of God.”
Bishop Rhoades enjoyed a hot lunch with some of the eighth grade students and asked about their extracurricular activities. They invited him to crash an upcoming school dance and shared with him their disappointment that a school play could not be staged this year because construction of a school addition has made the supply of props and costumes inaccessible.
Scheduled to be completed before the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the addition will include a full-size gymnasium. A classroom for 3-year-olds and more space for prekindergarten students will boost enrollment, which is currently about 480. Ninety percent of Christ the King School students are from parish families.
Christ the King School has changed shape several times. In 1953, 27 first graders learned in buildings moved from downtown South Bend, where they had been used for wartime housing. Two years later, the new school building opened. By 1958, grades one through eight were offered; among the teaching staff were six Holy Cross nuns. An addition to the school was opened in 2001, physically joining it to the church building.
“You offer so much at this school,” Bishop Rhoades remarked to the pastor, Father Stephen Lacroix, CSC. There are special full-time teachers for art, music, Spanish, gym and technology, and a learning lab and a resource room for those who need extra help.
Stephen Hoffman is in his 16th year as principal, and Tara Schuppig oversees the school’s curriculum.
Four second graders — including Max, who will receive the sacraments of initiation next Easter — showed the bishop around the atrium for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a program the school has used for 12 years.
Extracurricular activities at the school include robotics, book clubs, a liturgical choir and a full slate of sports teams. Twenty middle school students are members of the National Junior Honor Society and tutor other students, and block scheduling is in place in the junior high to permit longer class periods.
Service is also an important component of education at Christ the King. Each class interacts with a local charity; even the prekindergarteners visit residents at Wellbrooke, a nursing home across the street from the school. Students also pray and sacrifice for their sister parish and school, Corpus Christi in Bangladesh.
Christ the King’s pastoral staff is consistently present in the school. Father Michael Palmer, CSC, is chaplain for pre-K through second grade; Deacon Gilbrian Stoy, CSC, focuses on grades three to five and Father Lacroix works with middle schoolers on special projects.
Each year, sixth grade students write a book of reflections on the Gospel of Matthew. Eighth graders’ capstone project on Catholic social teaching culminates in a three-day service immersion experience in Indianapolis. And all students learn Spanish, leading up to a seventh grade spring Mass celebrated entirely in Spanish. Bishop Rhoades enjoyed speaking Spanish to the seventh graders and questioning students in several grades, also in Spanish, about their ages.
In their classrooms the bishop engaged the students in conversation about what they are learning in religion classes, from the Beatitudes to the Ark of the Covenant. Second graders suggested “sin-telling” as a synonym for the sacrament of reconciliation. He shared with them his personal interactions with two saints, Mother Teresa of Kolkata and Pope John Paul II, and he answered their questions about his vocation, what a bishop wears and carries and how he likes what he’s been called to do. “I love it,” he told them. “There’s so much fulfillment in serving God. You meet so many people, and you know what you’re doing is important. It’s a joyful life.”
Greeting the teachers, aides and office staff, he learned that second grade teacher Erin Kearney had graduated from Christ the King School. Kearney and the other second grade teacher, Kelly Imus, form the school spirituality committee. Kearney and Imus have introduced a virtue of the month to students: The virtue for October is patience.
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