Tucked away on bustling Miami Street southeast of downtown South Bend, St. Matthew Cathedral School has a vibrant faculty, staff and students who live out the theme of the 48th annual Catholic Schools Week: “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” The 2022 theme was chosen by the National Catholic Educational Association.
This year, St. Matthew Cathedral School rolled out its unique Mission Fridays program, and both students and school administrators share the fruits of the program’s efficacy. The activities in Mission Fridays permeate the school’s curriculum and community on- and off-campus.
Mission Fridays focus on prayer and activities that enrich the spiritual, intellectual, moral, social and physical development of all students at the school. The Adoration Club is a Mission Fridays faith activity for all grade levels to pray as a whole school community. As of September, the kindergarten through fourth grade students and their teachers walk over to St. Matthew Cathedral to share 20 minutes with Jesus at their assigned adoration time. Fifth through eighth grade students are permitted to participate in adoration at 7:30 a.m., before school begins.
“It is amazing to watch,” said Dr. Lindsey Esbensen, vice principal and school librarian. She accompanies the kindergarteners and first graders to adoration often, and remembers how she first felt some concern over the kindergarteners’ patience when adoration for their grade was introduced. But she trusted that things would work out, and is blessed to witness the parts come together as a fruitful whole. “The students are trying to figure out why this is so important, and the teachers are doing such an excellent job of conveying to them, ‘This is Jesus right here, with us,’” she stated.
Esbensen describes with joyful admiration how she witnesses young students sitting quietly and praying. Some of the 5-year-olds cover their eyes in order to concentrate and genuinely focus on prayer. Their teachers emphasize adoration with a consistent message: “It is important to listen for God.” Esbensen concluded that: “If kindergartners are able to (be still) for 20 minutes, you know adoration Fridays are working … some of the most touching things I’ve seen are just how good they are and how truly reverent they are of the Blessed Sacrament.”
Mission Fridays initiate integral development through service activities. They promote a sense of community and build dialogue between parents, faculty, staff and students. Kindergarten to fourth grade students participate in year-long service projects each school year. For 2022, this student cohort aims to help raise money as well as aid in the collection of clothing and accessories for newborn children, called layettes, for the Women’s Care Center by May. The faculty are in steady preparation so that students grow in their knowledge and faith through their service efforts. The hope is that they see the positive impact they bring to the community at large and to those who live in poverty.
Older students engage in service activities on a weekly basis in four groups, arranging boys and girls into separate ones. Friday afternoons, each group participates in defined stations that promote youth ministry, music, career or vocation development and life skills activities.
“A beautiful fruit of Mission Fridays is a desire for faith formation that led to the creation of the St. Philip Neri Club, an after-school volunteer program for seventh and eighth grade students,” said John Fyrqvist, director of religious education at the school.
Fueled by the students’ electric enthusiasm, Fyrqvist guides the club members to live out the Catholic faith through service. “We want to actually live out our faith in a real way – asking that question, what does it mean to ‘live the Gospel,’ in our communities as middle schoolers, and what opportunities might present themselves?” he said.
These activities give club members life skills and an opportunity to see their work in action. The St. Philip Neri Club recently prepared a pancake and sausage breakfast at the school to send to Our Lady of the Road, an organization that aids homeless people. The meal fed more than 100 people in need.
Mission Fridays end with prayer: Benediction, rosary on the first Friday of the month and activities appropriate to liturgical seasons. When asked about how Mission Fridays started, Sister Gianna Marie Webber, principal of the school, shared, “The thought process for it has been in my mind for years and it came together this year … we’ve got a very good team for it. Even though it’s a crazy year to roll this out, we need to do it now, and put it into place for the years to come so it’s part of the Cathedral School of St. Matthew.”
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