William Schmitt
Freelance Writer
February 6, 2018 // Bishop

Mishawaka Catholic celebrates Feast of Presentation of the Lord

William Schmitt
Freelance Writer

School children begin Mass with lit candles at St. Monica Church, Mishawaka, on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which is also known as Candlemas. The feast is celebrated 40 days after Christmas, on Feb. 2. — All Photos by Derby Photography

Messages about sharing and spreading Christ’s light filled the day at Mishawaka Catholic School on Feb. 2, when Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades capped Catholic Schools Week by visiting its three campuses at three parishes.

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Bishop began his visit at St. Monica Church and Mishawka Catholic’s middle school campus, where students of all grades were gathered. To celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the students held candles of varied shapes and sizes in preparation for the Mass. Bishop Rhoades blessed the candles; then he, the altar servers and numerous other young people processed along a city sidewalk and into St. Monica Church to celebrate Mass. A light-bearing procession is traditional for the feast, which recalls the infant Jesus’ arrival in the temple in Jerusalem and the recognition that the Savior had come to His people.

In his homily to the approximately 250 students, plus parents and others, who briefly had held lit candles in their pews, Bishop Rhoades drew connections between the feast and Catholics’ responsibility to share the good news of Christ.

“All these candles represent Jesus as the light of the world,” he said. Referencing Catholic Schools Week, observed Jan. 28-Feb. 3, he told the young people “Christ is the light” in Catholic schools: “Your teachers are called to reflect the light of Christ, to help you know Christ,” he added.

“Mishawaka Catholic School should be a light in the community of Mishawaka,” he continued, so people will see the students around town and remark, “that boy, that girl, is a disciple of Jesus.” He reminded the students that bringing Christ to others requires reaching out to the poor and bringing compassion and joy to those in need.

He offered an example of outreach drawn from the day’s Gospel reading and illustrated in one of the stained-glass windows of St. Monica — a window representing the fourth joyful mystery of the rosary.

Two faith-filled, elderly people were in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought their baby before God. Simeon received wisdom from the Holy Spirit to see that the infant was the long-awaited consolation of Israel; he had prayed to live until he could see the Messiah. Anna, a prophetess, gave thanks to God upon seeing Jesus.

The bishop asked the young people what message could be drawn from God placing these elderly people at the Presentation. He offered an answer: “We should have great love and respect for the elderly,” such as grandparents and great-grandparents who possess the wisdom of a lifetime. He recalled his own childhood, when he learned a great deal from his grandmother. “She taught me so much about the Catholic faith, I probably never would have become a priest if it hadn’t been for my grandmother,” he said. “So love your grandparents, and learn about their lives.”

There were more messages for those at the Mass, and also greetings and thanks for the concelebrants: Father Jacob Meyer, pastor of St. Monica and executive pastor of Mishawaka Catholic School; Father Christopher Lapp, pastor of St. Joseph Parish; and Father Peter Pacini, CSC, pastor of St. Bavo Parish. Third- through fifth-graders study at the St. Joseph campus of the school, while St. Bavo provides the campus for kindergarteners through second-graders, as well as preschoolers.

Bishop Rhoades had a special message for the eighth-graders, to whom he had administered the sacrament of confirmation in 2017.

“Thank you for your letters,” he told them. “I really enjoyed reading them and hearing about your experiences of confirmation a few months ago. Sometimes I get letters before confirmation, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten letters after. I can tell from reading your letters that you’re living by the Spirit, or at least trying to live by the Spirit, that you received in confirmation.”

For those in the pews, there were words of praise and love for Mishawaka Catholic, which adopted its current, multicampus form in 2011: “I’m so grateful to the parishioners of St. Monica, St. Joseph and St. Bavo” for supporting Catholic education, he said — calling it “such an important part of your parish mission.”

Following Mass the bishop visited a few classrooms at the St. Monica campus, where he could see the school’s “buddy” program in action; older students working with younger students.

For example, eighth-graders who received confirmation were paired with second-graders preparing to receive the sacraments of reconciliation and first holy Communion. The “buddies” are teamed for the whole year, meeting face-to-face only occasionally; but the sense of support and responsibility is credited with nurturing strengths in both parties.

The bishop expressed gratitude during the Mass to all three Mishawaka parishes for supporting Catholic Education. From left are Father Chris Lapp, pastor of St. Joseph; Father Jacob Meyer, pastor of St. Monica and executive pastor of Mishawaka Catholic School; Father Peter Pacini, CSC, pastor of St. Bavo; Bishop Rhoades; Karen Salvador, principal of Mishawaka Catholic; and Beth Whitfield, vice principal.

After meeting with the three pastors, principal Karen Salvador and vice principal Beth Whitfield, Bishop toured the other two campuses. He visited classrooms and larger spaces, where he talked with students and teachers, watched events of both learning and recreation and learned more about the school as a whole. At the St. Joseph campus, he joined a lively group in the gym as they cheered for their favorites in a contest based on toppling plastic cups with the air from deflating balloons.

Principal Salvador reported later, in a smaller, quieter setting, that Mishawaka Catholic had received a grade of “A” in the fall from the Indiana Department of Education in the 2016-17 round of School Accountability Grades. The bishop welcomed that news.

“It’s really an exciting time,” Salvador said, noting that the school is attracting new students. She credited her team of teachers for Mishawaka Catholic’s growing success.

Father Meyer said the school’s multicampus structure offers benefits.

“These kids are meeting kids from other parishes,” he said. They experience the broader Catholic community of Mishawaka, and their transitions through different campuses and teachers prepare them for high school and college. Meanwhile, they have a sense of belonging in their school. Students join various teams, and they pay no athletic fee, thanks to a school fundraising tradition, he pointed out.

The advantages extend into students’ spiritual growth over time, Father Meyer added. “They experience the liturgical traditions of three different communities,” seeing that parishes’ Masses can have different styles and music. At the same time, pastors celebrating the student Mass for their campus can focus their homilies on a narrower age group to reach students where they are.

“They slowly get to learn how to pray,” Father Meyer continued. In addition to Mass at each campus, students in each age grouping experience eucharistic adoration and, when the time is right, reconciliation. Periods of adoration at first are briefer and more formally guided, but the length of time grows and the structured prayers decrease, leaving more time for silence with the Lord. Adoration and confession opportunities arise monthly on each campus, he said, and sixth- through eighth-graders are comfortable with a full Holy Hour.

At the St. Bavo campus, Bishop Rhoades greeted a lunchroom full of second-graders. A girl told him they were preparing for their first reconciliation. “Do you know the act of contrition already?” the bishop asked. The students answered with a resounding, “Yes!” and proceeded into a robust recitation from memory.

“Wow, you really know that well,” said the bishop. “Your teachers are good that they taught you that long prayer. You’re learning your faith very well this year.”

He entered a reading class and talked with second-graders about books they had chosen. When asked to read a book aloud, one student — a member of St. Joseph Parish — presented a page perfectly. “He’s a very good reader,” the bishop told a teacher. Walking over to the St. Joseph pastor, Father Lapp, he added, “I’ve got you another lector.”

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