Students and faculty at St. Matthew Cathedral School in South Bend celebrated their patron saint’s feast day by welcoming Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades for a pastoral visit Sept. 21. Throughout the day, the bishop shared stories of the saints with the students, beginning at Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades spoke about Jesus calling St. Matthew to become His disciple and explained that priests always wore red vestments on feast days of martyrs, including St. Matthew. Bishops, as successors to the Apostles, have especially close connections to them.
He also gave the students a brief lesson on the history of the diocese, telling them how, in 1960, the Diocese of Fort Wayne became the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The still-incomplete but newly rebuilt St. Matthew Church was chosen as the diocese’s co-cathedral.
Bishop Rhoades explained that in the Gospel reading, Jesus dining with St. Matthew and other tax collectors was scandalous at the time, both because tax collectors worked for the oppressive Romans and because they tended to cheat their fellow Jews to amass their own fortunes. But he spoke of how Jesus came to heal sinners, not those who considered themselves righteous.
He concluded by addressing the students and advising them to listen to God’s voice in determining their vocation in life. He admitted he could not say what God would call each of them to, “but what I do know is that God is calling you, and He has a vocation in mind for you. And I pray that you will be open to whatever that vocation is,” he said.
“But you know, the most well-known vocation that you share is that we’re all disciples of Jesus. Jesus says to every single one of us what he said to Matthew the tax collector. He says, ‘Follow me. Follow me.’ May all of us, like St. Matthew, get up and follow Him.”
At the end of Mass, the bishop bestowed on those present a special blessing reserved for the feast days of the Apostles. Afterward, principal Sister Gianna Marie Webber led him on a tour of the school, stopping in at almost every classroom in the building.
The classrooms of future saints
In both first-grade classrooms, the bishop asked students if they knew who he was. In one classroom, a little girl enthusiastically answered, “Father!” He went on to explain what a bishop does, as well as show them the pectoral cross and ring that indicate his office. The children were shocked when he told them he was married – to the Church.
The kindergarteners eagerly welcomed Bishop Rhoades and sang a song about the Holy Family for him. He was pleased to see that they knew how to say the name of Jesus in American Sign Language.
He reminded the second-graders of their upcoming sacraments of reconciliation and First Communion. When they told him that they were currently studying the idea of friendship, he replied that God is his best friend and reminded them to speak to God every day.
Each classroom at St. Matthew is dedicated to a different saint, with that saint’s picture posted outside the room. As Bishop Rhoades entered the middle school classrooms, he took note of the saints and recounted stories about those whom he had personally met, telling the seventh and sixth-grade classes about his encounters with Pope St. John Paul II and St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, respectively. He related to the seventh-grade students that, as a young seminarian, he had served at Mass for the great pope on Corpus Christi Sunday and again as a deacon exactly two years later, assisting him in a eucharistic procession through the streets of Rome. In the sixth-grade classroom, he told of how his mother had made a pilgrimage to Rome and he introduced her to St. Mother Teresa, who thanked her for giving her son to the Church.
Bishop Rhoades taught another seventh-grade class the Italian phrase “Verso Alto.” This means “to the heights,” a phrase that is typically associated with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Verso Alto, he explained, holds significance not only for mountain climbers, but also for faithful Catholics who should strive for the heights of heaven.
Operating for about 90 years, St. Matthew Cathedral School currently meets the educational needs of approximately 325 students. As principal, Sister Gianna Marie said she believes that what makes her school special is the community, a richly diverse society made up of “people from all walks of life” that “come together very well.”
With communal life having been disrupted by the COVID-19 restrictions, Sister Gianna Marie is focused on strengthening the community at St. Matthew this year through various means.
Two programs she is especially proud of build the Catholic mission of the school. One is the pilgrimage program. Every grade from kindergarten to eighth takes a different trip during the school year to a religious site, as is appropriate for the grade level. Sister Gianna Marie explained that the younger grades “church-hop” to various churches in the area, view the creche scenes at the University of Notre Dame or spend a day at the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, the order to which she and some of the other teachers at the school belong.
Older grades visit the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana, Our Lady of Mount Carmel monastery in Munster or the Noll Building and University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. The eighth-grade class makes a special trip for their last year of elementary school. They spend the day in Chicago at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels packing groceries for needy families, then visit the Maximilian Kolbe Shrine in Marytown, Illinois.
“They’ve been learning about Auschwitz all through their junior high curriculum, so that’s a neat experience for them,” she shared. “The pilgrimage program has been very successful.”
New to St. Matthew this year is Mission Fridays, a program that Sister Gianna Marie said “has been in my mind for a while, but this year it all came together with the right people and the right places.” On Fridays, grades five through eight finish their typical lessons by lunchtime and are then divided into four groups by gender and grade level. These groups then complete two of four stations per week: adoration, youth ministry, learning life skills and career planning.
Connecting students with the saints comes around again in the career stations. “We learn careers through them,” Sister Gianna Marie said. “For example, St. Matthew — they’ll learn how to make a budget, we’ll maybe have a parent who’s an accountant come give a talk about their career. The kids love it.”
Fridays at St. Matthew end with all-school devotions. Younger students spend time in adoration in the morning, and in the afternoon Father Terry Fisher, rector of St. Matthew Parish, leads the entire school body in benediction. On first Fridays, students recite the rosary together and pray the Stations of the Cross during Lent.
Father Fisher concelebrated Mass in the morning with Bishop Rhoades. He recalled the bishop’s previous visit to the school about five years ago and expressed his excitement over this year’s visit.
“It’s always good to introduce the kids to the bishop,” he remarked. “They see him from afar when he’s here for Mass on Sundays, but they don’t get up close to him. It’s a little different; it’s so much nicer for them to see who he is, up close and personal. It’s always an honor to have him here, because he really cares so much about the school.”
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