Focusing on living real discipleship with Jesus Christ and following Him, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Mass with Catholic school students from the western side of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at Purcell Pavilion, University of Notre Dame, Oct. 23. The more than 3,000 students, teachers, staff and families on hand transformed the Notre Dame basketball team’s home court into a place of reverent prayer and shared faith.
“How is He calling you to become a saint?” the bishop asked the young members of the faith who were present. “Ask Him today! May the Holy Spirit help all of us to become saints.”
On the wooden floor of the court sat the guests of honor: fourth-grade students from all of the elementary schools, each dressed as the saint they had researched. The holy men and women they portrayed covered centuries of history and culture, from St. Peter, the first pope, and St. Peter Claver, SJ, to St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Juan Diego. Even one of the most recently canonized saints, St. John Henry Newman, was present.
Excited about gaining another holy namesake, John Martin, a fourth grader at St. Joseph Grade School, South Bend, said of St. John Henry Newman, “One thing is that he was just canonized 12 days at that point. I loved the fact that he performed miracles, saving pregnant women who were dying, and that the room smelled like roses and they were healed!”
His parents, Jay and Jenny Newsome Martin, both theologians, said they share with their children the life, work and writings of Cardinal Newman.
“Our work kind of naturally filters down to the kids over dinner conversations, (especially) when we’re working on big writing projects,” Jenny explained. “We try to include them in our research in age-appropriate ways, and we’ve been surprised at the level of their interest.
But a big part of their faith lives comes from sending them to Catholic schools, she added. “Jay and I are both big believers in Catholic education and feel very fortunate that St. Joe makes religious formation a serious priority.”
“There was quite a bit of buzz in our circle of friends about Newman’s canonization on Oct. 13,” Jenny shared. “John was fascinated by the long process leading up to the canonization, and we watched the canonization Mass together. I think he was most interested in the fact that we have new saints and that we can celebrate them together as an entire, global Church.”
St. Katharina Kasper was also spotlighted at the All-Schools Mass. Canonized one year ago, St. Katharina was the foundress of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, a group of female religious from Germany.
During his homily Bishop Rhoades spoke with Quinn Hedges, a fourth-grade student from St. Pius X School, Granger, who portrayed St. Katharina. He said that in the 1800s, then-Bishop John Henry Luers wrote to St. Katharina asking for religious sisters to come to Indiana to teach and catechize poor immigrant children and the sick. The future saint responded by sending eight sisters to the Hessen Cassel area of Fort Wayne.
They spread their good works across the area and started three Catholic elementary schools and a Catholic high school in South Bend and Mishawaka: St. Monica, St. Joseph, St. Bavo and Marian. They also established St. Joseph Hospital.
“The history of the Church, here in our diocese! This is very exciting,” the bishop said, smiling, to Quinn.
Her teacher, Stacey Wall, shared that Quinn completely immersed herself in learning about St. Katharina. She and her mom sat down with Sister Marie Heppeler, PHJC, and “interviewed” her because she had attended the Mass of canonization. Sister Marie had been waiting for the day when one of the fourth graders could “be” St. Katharina,” Wall said.
“Quinn, her mom, and Sister Marie even met at the motherhouse in Donaldson over the weekend to get a tour of the community’s home, with the hopes of getting to know St. Katharina just that much better.
“It has been beautiful to see how much joy Quinn and her mom have brought to Sister Marie through this process,” Wall enthused. Sister Marie even gave Quinn a special habit from her community to borrow as Quinn’s costume.
Bishop Rhoades emphasized during the homily that all disciples of Jesus Christ are called to holiness: “Nuns, priests, deacons, single and married people.”
“How is Jesus calling you to love and serve Him? Talk with Him every day (in prayer) and ask,” he encouraged.
“Saints were exemplary disciples of Jesus Christ. They are now in heaven with God,” he told the students. Living heroic lives of virtue, as the saints did, “is a sacrifice, a commitment. Sometimes it isn’t easy. It can be hard, but it is most important. Our ultimate goal is to become a saint.
“Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the most important part of my life,” Bishop Rhoades explained. Rephrasing St. Augustine’s famous quote, he stated: “For you, I am a bishop; with you, I am a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.”
He thanked the teachers and staff present “for all you do to lead and guide our children closer to Christ.”
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Brettnacher thanked the faithful who were present, saying that it brought him “great joy to see our students and staff here.” He also asked for prayers for former superintendent of Catholic schools Marsha Jordan, who passed away in May.
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