As the new year began, so also did the yearly rounds of pastoral visits, as Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades started his annual high school visits at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne on January 5. No inclement weather delayed his visit this year, as it had in previous years, and the bishop was pleased to continue celebrating the Christmas season at the first all-school Mass of the new year at Bishop Luers. The day also fell on the feast day of St. John Neumann, the first American male saint and founder of the first Catholic school system in the U.S., which the bishop considered appropriate.
Bishop Rhoades began Mass by blessing the newly renovated gymnasium. Additionally, five female students were confirmed in the course of the Mass. He welcomed their families and godparents, thanking them for coming to the special day. Four priests concelebrated Mass: Father Andrew Budzinski, Father Nathan Maskal, Father Dave Ruppert and Bishop Luers’ co-chaplain Father Patrick Hake. Three of them represented feeder schools, the largest of which is St. John the Baptist.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades gave students a short introduction to St. John Neumann, the “Little Bishop” from Bohemia, before expounding on the day’s reading from 1 John. “A major theme of the letter is that a genuine Christian life must be a life of love; love for God and one another. It is not enough that we say we love God; we must demonstrate that love through real and concrete action toward our brothers and sisters,” he said.
He continued by explaining how the love of God is most powerfully seen in the Trinity, in that three Persons are united in One. “When we profess our faith in the Trinity, we are professing that we believe what St. John teaches: that God is love. That is God’s innermost secret that he has revealed to us. It is an astounding truth.
“The Christian faith is pretty shocking when you think about it: God’s magnificent plan to share in His life of love with us. God opens His heart to us and invites us to share in His own divine life. He did this by taking on our flesh. In Jesus, God bound Himself to us in love. He established a new and eternal covenant with humankind through Jesus Christ. He did this through His death on the cross. … When we receive the Holy Eucharist, we enter into communion with God, and this communion with God also unites us with each other.”
He went on to speak about the Gospel reading in which Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm. “I think that is like our life. I’ve had storms in my life, perhaps you have, too … I find in my life when there are storms, problems, difficulties and I am feeling a lot of stress and anxiety, I just need to let Jesus climb into my boat, come into my life.”
During his visit, Bishop Rhoades visited three theology classrooms to speak to students. He also spent an extended lunch with student leaders and later met with theology teachers and principal James Huth.
Students in two of the classrooms got to know the bishop through questions they had prepared in advance, learning that his favorite saint was St. John the Apostle, his favorite prayer is the rosary and that he enjoys hiking in his free time. In another class, he spoke about ecumenism, or the relationship among Christians of various denominations.
Coincidentally, one of the first students that Bishop Rhoades met when he arrived was sophomore Ellen Rorick, who had sent him a Christmas card this holiday season. He spent a few moments in conversation with her, thanking her for her kind gesture. He was also able to meet senior Nelson Knapke, made famous for the “dawg” interview he gave about his football teammates that went viral in the fall.
Huth was pleased as always to welcome the bishop. “It’s just always a joy to have the bishop here,” Huth said. He praised the camaraderie among students of Bishop Luers and their friendly, open manner toward Bishop Rhoades. “They greet him warmly, they handshake, they hug. … I think the bishop being here is always a fun day. The kids enjoy it, you can see it in their eyes. The message that he brings is important.”
Janelle Mondragon, one of the confirmandi, stated that she felt very happy after her confirmation. Though she grew up in a strong Catholic family, she had not been confirmed in grade school because she “was not sure about my faith. I transferred here in my sophomore year. Bishop Luers helped me grow in my faith.”
Mondragon is a member of St. Joseph Parish in Fort Wayne and is now a senior at Luers, with hopes of becoming a Spanish teacher after college. She chose the name Valentine for her confirmation saint. She joyfully stated: “It’s never too late to get confirmed!”
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