Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Marian High School students had to forego celebrating Mass in person with their bishop or having him visit their classrooms during a pastoral visit to Mishawaka Feb. 11. Nevertheless, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades clearly communicated his affection for the school and his delight in being with them on the feast of their patroness, Our Lady of Lourdes. He said that in his work as bishop he relies heavily on two former Marian principals in the Secretariat for Catholic Education, Secretary Carl Loesch and Superintendent Dr. Joseph Brettnacher.
He commended the excellent job principal Mark Kirzeder, his faculty and staff have done in making in-person learning a reality this school year despite the virus. He led the students in applauding the staff for “persevering through the pandemic with the hard work of providing an excellent Catholic education.” The bishop praised every aspect of life at Marian: academics, the arts and even the school’s athletic accomplishments.
Concelebrating a morning Mass at the school with Bishop Rhoades were Marian’s two chaplains, Father Nathan Maskal and Father Daniel Niezer. The bishop recalled that both were along when he led a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid 10 years ago. Despite the thrill of gathering with Pope Benedict and 3 million young people in Madrid, he said, almost all of the 150 diocesan pilgrims called their two days at Lourdes beforehand the highlight of the trip.
Maskal was a seminarian at the time, but Niezer had just graduated from high school. A remark at Lourdes that perhaps he would become a priest bounced off him at the time, he said, but he now looks back and clearly sees Our Lady’s hand on his life. He added that serving as chaplain at a school dedicated to her is like coming full circle.
Feb. 11 was also World Day of the Sick, and the bishop addressed the role of suffering in the lives of Christians and its role in the life of St. Bernadette, who was afflicted with severe asthma and lived to be only 35. Although the spring the Immaculate Conception directed her to uncover at Lourdes has brought medically certified, miraculous healings to many pilgrims, its waters have also given countless others “a different miracle … the gift of strength and peace, and even joy in bearing the cross of illness and suffering,” he said.
Although the Marian students who celebrated Mass with the bishop are young, so were both Bernadette and the beautiful young woman who appeared to her, he noted.
In a year of pandemic, many in the world have encountered suffering: sickness, anxiety and the loss of loved ones. “Jesus gives suffering a purpose — that purpose is love — suffering united to Jesus is a way to participate in His saving Passion and Death,” Bishop Rhoades said. … “I hope you will always remember that good can come out of the evil of suffering.”
He reminded the students that those who suffer do not do so alone. “We have a Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is always with us, and we have Jesus, our older brother.” He shared that whenever he is suffering, going to the Blessed Mother gives him comfort.
Bishop Rhoades also focused on the second reading for the day, from Revelation 21. He underlined the beauty of “a new heaven and a new earth.” Although Christians look forward to that total transformation at the end of time, he said, “even now, there is a transformation of created things, the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood … By living our faith, respecting life and respecting creation, and loving one another, we actively participate in the transformation of the world. The Eucharist strengthens us to do so.”
Campus Minister Angie Higginbotham helped organize the students’ participation in the Mass, which was celebrated in person by upperclassmen. Underclassmen were able to participate from their classrooms via Google Meet. The lector was senior Nomsa Andedo, and along with servers Martin Ladwig and Spencer Forslund was Leo Versprini, a proud member of Marian’s first cohort of Bernadette Scholars. Bishop Rhoades pointed out that Bernadette herself had little formal education and had no idea what Mary meant by the title “Immaculate Conception.”
After Mass, Marian’s 2021 valedictorian and salutatorians were announced. Valedictorian Kathleen Hicks graduated from St. Joseph Grade School, South Bend, where she and parents Joyce and Philip Hicks belong. Salutatorian Alyssa Webb, daughter of Cibele and Patrick Webb, is also a St. Joseph parishioner but previously attended Trinity School at Greenlawn. Co-salutatorian Regan Burns graduated from St. Pius X School in Granger. Her parents, Linda and Dan Burns, were in attendance. Bishop Rhoades teased Regan about wearing a Clemson rather than a Notre Dame face mask.
Like an amazing 85% of Marian seniors, the three are earning dual high school and college credits from Indiana University or Ivy Tech Community College. Dual credit or advanced placement honors courses are offered in languages, literature, science, business, art, history, economics and calculus at the school. Marian is the only local high school ranked in the top 10 in Indiana for college preparedness, and students have also recently earned science awards.
Bishop Rhoades commended the members of the school’s liturgical choir who provided beautiful music for the feast day. Art students received more than 80 awards in the recent Scholastic Art competition, including senior Michael Loesch, whose painting, “2020 Quaran Time” won a Gold Medal; and Scholastic named the son of Carl Loesch and Marie Harrer an American Visions nominee. Additionally, art teacher Elaine Desmarais won the Ann Hamilton Award for Inspired Teaching in the Scholastic Art Competition for 2020-21.
Bishop Rhoades commended Marian’s athletic teams for sportsmanship as well as excellence. He hinted at giving them a special blessing that might catapult them to state championships next year.
In honor of the feast day of the school’s patroness, students enjoyed free doughnuts during their lunch hours following the bishop’s visit.
In parting, Bishop Rhoades prayed, “May God bless you and may Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette intercede for you!”
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