September 2, 2014 // Local

Faith celebrated as students return to school across diocese

Staff, faculty, students and others gathered in University of Saint Francis’ Hutzell Athletic Center for the Founders Day Convocation and Mass held on Aug. 27 to begin the new school year. Above, Father David Meinzen, chaplain of USF, chants the Gospel reading of the special Mass that was celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.

By Kay Cozad and Tim Johnson

It’s back to school for grade school, high school, college and university students across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. As students return, their faith-life grows ever closer to Jesus through the opportunity to attend weekday Mass at churches, chapels and sometimes high school and university gymnasiums that are transformed into worship spaces.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has already begun pastoral visits — first at Sacred Heart School in Warsaw on Aug. 20 — and then celebrating the opening Mass at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne on Wednesday, Aug. 27, in the Hutzell Athletic Center.

The center was near full with University of Saint Francis staff, faculty, students and others as the Founders Day Convocation and Mass began. Sister of St. Francis Sister Gayle Rusbasan, campus minister assistant, welcomed all visitors — not just Catholics, but others of faith and those with no faith — to the Mass and encouraged all to visit the Campus Ministry space for faith and fellowship throughout the year.

Bishop Rhoades was joined by Father David Meinzen, chaplain of USF, as concelebrant of the Mass that opened the fall semester of university classes. Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, who support the workings of the university, were present for the celebration of Mass as well. Bishop welcomed those in attendance noting that they gathered to bless the students and staff of USF both academically and spiritually.

His message to the university students spoke of the young man in the day’s Gospel from Matthew who was looking for truth and meaning in his life.

Bishop Rhoades said, “In all our hearts, in the inmost depths of every person, there is always an echo of the question which the young man asked Jesus: ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This question is one form of the question on every person’s heart: ‘What is the meaning of life? What is my ultimate aim and how do I attain it?’”

The bishop said it is another way of asking, “How do I enter the kingdom of God?”

“In your studies here at the University of Saint Francis, you will discuss and ponder many different questions in your classes, while studying, reading and writing papers,” Bishop Rhoades told the university students.

He added, “I encourage you, during your years here, not to neglect the ultimate question, the most important question. It is the question the young man asked Jesus in today’s Gospel. It touches on the only thing that will truly give us meaning in life — that will bring us real joy and peace. It’s the question about life! You are very fortunate to attend a Catholic university where this question is not ignored and where there is the possibility of searching for truth on the wings of reason and faith.”

“The Lord is calling us to live our lives intensely and fruitfully in this world,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Through Baptism, He has called each of us to follow Him concretely, to love Him above all things, and to serve Him in our brothers and sisters. The rich young man, unfortunately, did not accept Jesus’ invitation and he went away sad. He did not have the courage to leave behind his material goods in order to find the far greater good proposed by Jesus.”

Bishop Rhoades encouraged the students not to be afraid to ask the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said, “The exciting possibility of unending happiness, the joy of being surrounded by God’s love forever, gives full meaning to our existence here on earth. It directs our life plan and decisions to great things, knowing that we are called to eternity.”

Bishop Rhoades recalled the words of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died in 1925 at the age of 24. “He said: ‘I want to live and not simply exist!’ On a photograph taken while mountain climbing, he wrote to a friend: ‘To the heights!’” Bishop Rhoades noted. “He was referring to Christian perfection, to holiness, and to eternal life.”

Bishop Rhoades referred to American journalist James Foley, a devout Catholic who was held captive for two years and then brutally murdered and beheaded in August by ISIS, the terrorist Islamic State.

“During his captivity, he looked up to the heights,” Bishop Rhoades said. “He would pray the rosary on his fingers.”

“When I looked at the film of his face before they slit off his head, I looked at his eyes,” Bishop Rhoades noted. “I didn’t see fear or hatred in those eyes. I saw firmness and courage. I can’t imagine what was in his mind during those moments, but, the more I learn about him, the compassion and love that motivated him to cover the war and violence in Syria and Iraq, his deep faith, and his resolve in the face of danger, the more I thought how as a college student at Marquette, he must have asked the Lord: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

During his time at Marquette University was when Foley experience the call to serve others in need.

“He heard the call of the Lord ‘Come, follow me,’” Bishop Rhoades said. “And he did. He did not go away sad. He was a man of joy and goodness. We may think about his life having come to a terrible and tragic end. But that end was just the beginning. He has gone to the heights! He had high goals, the goals that give joy and full meaning to our lives. Christ is calling each of you, like He called James Foley, to work with Him, to make constant progress in faith and love, and to take up your responsibilities in order to build the civilization of love.”

Following the Communion prayer, USF President Sister of St. Francis Sister M. Elise Kriss addressed the congregation with words of encouragement, achievement, inspiration and prayer. She thanked the students and staff for being members of the university community and hoped that they would all “pray for and support one another in the year ahead.”

Deep reverence and some curiosity were present in the students participating in the Mass and convocation. Yeshua Villalobes, a Catholic freshman at USF, said the Mass “felt like a blessing for the new (school) year.”

Trevon Carr, a first-year transfer, came to see what the Mass was all about after hearing about it from his coaches. And sophomore LeeAnn Moeller felt it was “ a good way for the whole school to come together.”

A picnic lunch was held for those in attendance following the Mass.

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