By Christopher Lushis
MISHAWAKA — “I can’t think of a place I’d rather be today, except Lourdes, than Marian High School!” exclaimed Bishop Rhoades on Feb. 11, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the school’s newly bestowed patroness. It was during his visit last January that Bishop Rhoades officially commended the Marian community to the intercession and protection of “the Immaculate Conception” as Mary identified herself to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858.
On this feast, Bishop Rhoades recalled his own experiences of Lourdes, where he has visited three times, most recently in 2011. This trip included over 100 pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, as well as several alumni from Marian High School, during the journey to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain. The bishop mentioned his joyful surprise to learn that for many on the venture, their favorite memory was the time spent in Lourdes. This was a joy he could relate to well.
As a young seminarian in Rome during the summer of 1980 he made his first pilgrimage to Lourdes. Traveling on very little money, often with menial food and shelter, he backpacked through Europe and eventually arrived at the miraculous grotto for the last stage of the journey. There he worked with his aunt, who served as a head nurse leading many sick and disabled travelers from the United States. Seminarian Rhoades assisted in the baths, prayed with the sick, aided the handicapped and provided support in daily Eucharistic and rosary processions. He spoke of how moved he was to witness the prayerful hope of so many people filled with love and trust in the mercy of God.
Further elaborating on the miracle of Lourdes, Bishop Rhoades reminded those gathered that, “the Father has revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom. St. Bernadette was one of those little ones. Although an uneducated 14-year-old girl from a very poor family, she demonstrated great faith. Even when confronted with great doubt and resistance from local and Church authorities, she obeyed the lady who appeared to her. She dug in the ground at the grotto and uncovered a spring that continues to flow to this day. Soon after, the miracles began. Millions have washed in the baths and many have experienced healing. Today is World Day of Prayer for the Sick, originally instituted by Pope John Paul II. We celebrate it today because we are reminded through the message of Lourdes of God’s love for the sick and suffering.”
“We are reminded in the story of Wedding Feast at Cana how Mary shows great care for her spiritual children. Her words to the servants, to “do whatever He tells you” indicates that she always directs us to her Son, as an agent of our redemption she never points to herself, but constantly leads us closer to Christ. She asks us to have faith and to trust in Jesus!”
After Communion, Principal Mark Kirzeder recognized the students who have achieved the highest academic performance throughout their career at Marian. Merisa L. Middlestadt was awarded the honor of valedictorian with both Claire A. Doyle and Lauren A. Jankowski announced as co-salutatorians.
Bishop Rhoades thanked all those who participated in the Mass, especially highlighting the beauty of the liturgical choir. He also expressed his gratitude to all those in attendance and for the assistance of concelebrants Father Chris Lapp, Marian High School chaplain, Father Barry England, pastor of St. Bavo Parish, Mishawaka, and Father David Ruppert, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, South Bend.
Bishop Rhoades then shared details from his recent trip to Rome and encounter with Pope Francis before opening the floor for students who wished to ask him personal questions, ranging from his favorite food or coveted superpowers to the greatest struggles he has faced in life. In responding to a question regarding what led him to the Priesthood, Bishop Rhoades revealed that the Blessed Mother and Lourdes have been influential from the very beginning.
“As a sophomore at Mount Saint Mary’s University I remember very seriously discerning God’s will for my life and whether I was called to be a priest,” he said. “While praying at the Lourdes Grotto on campus, the oldest replica in the United States, I pondered this question and felt a powerful sense of peace and great awareness of God’s love, which provided the confidence to enroll in seminary.”
Among other questions, Bishop Rhoades further stated that his “number one priority is advancing the New Evangelization, including the promotion and defense of Catholic education.” One student expressed his gratitude for this commitment to education by thanking Bishop Rhoades for having appointed Mark Kirzeder as new principal.
After Mass, Bishop Rhoades visited several classrooms to discuss theology, impressing upon them the importance of developing a relationship with Christ, which continues to grow each year. Meeting with all four classes of students from freshmen to seniors, he was able to enter into their various journeys of faith, discussing who Christ is, how to live His mission, what it means to fully participate in the life of the Church, and how the saints give strength for the journey to build the kingdom of God.
Bishop Rhoades then met for lunch with various student leaders, discussing their experiences at Marian, including the quality of theology classes and the essence of the school’s spiritual life, while also inquiring about their college choices and personal hopes for the future.
To conclude his visit, Bishop Rhoades met with Principal Kirzeder, theology teachers and campus ministers to review progress, affirm achievements and discuss goals for the upcoming year.
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