Serving as both shepherd and impromptu teacher, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades made his first pastoral visit of the 2019-20 academic year Aug. 20 to St. Jude School in Fort Wayne. He celebrated Mass with the school’s 430 students in kindergarten through grade 8 and then visited students in their classrooms, where he asked them about what they are learning. They asked him about everything from his clothing to his age (61) and favorite foods (Italian and Greek).
“I think it was such a blessing for the students to have the personal time with the bishop,” St. Jude School principal Mike Obergfell said.
Along with answering students’ questions, whether faith-related or personal, the bishop could share his great knowledge of the faith in a way students understand and also that he is a regular person, Obergfell said.
The bishop began Mass by expressing thanks for being invited to visit and for all the blessings St. Jude School has provided during the parish’s 90 years.
Then-Bishop John F. Noll dedicated the school and a chapel inside it on March 3, 1929, and classes began the next day with 105 children in first grade through fourth grade, a parish history said. Noll dedicated the site as St. Jude Parish several weeks later.
Over the next 35 years, growth of the parish and school resulted in additions to the school and construction of a church beside the school, the history said. The current church opened in late 1966, allowing the old church to be remodeled into more classrooms for the school.
In addition to kindergarten through grade eight, St. Jude School now also offers half-day and full-day prekindergarten classes for about 50 children ages 3-5.
“We continue to be excited about the possibility of educating kids in the Catholic faith,” said Msgr. Robert Schulte, who became St. Jude’s pastor in June 2018.
In addition to emphasizing academics, the school will add new programs this year, Obergfell said.
“Last year, we began the Peace be with You program where older students learn lessons on leadership and interpersonal and intrapersonal life skills. This year, we will be adding a program called Faith Families, where students join together, older and younger, and work together for a common project or activity related to Catholic identity, whether it is serving the poor, making cards for shut-ins or veterans, praying the rosary or feeding the hungry. The focus will be on the dignity of and concern for others in our community.”
The school also plans to add enrichment programs after Christmas that may help students discover gifts in areas such as music, science, art or robotics, Obergfell said.
During the Mass with students and school staff, Bishop Rhoades tied his homily closely to the Gospel reading, Matthew 19:23-30, in which Jesus tells His disciples, “… it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
“If we have a lot of money and a lot of possessions and we only think about those things or do not think about others or are not generous, we will not go to heaven,” the bishop said. “Jesus said, ‘Anyone who follows me will be rewarded in heaven.’
“There are so many ways right here in St. Jude School you can live your faith and practice your faith,” he continued, “such as donating to collections for the poor or missions, being kind to one another, and being helpful to teachers.”
The bishop also invited students to think about what God may be calling them to do in life. He was in seventh grade when he first heard God calling him to become a priest, he said. Mary was a young woman when God called her to be the mother of Jesus.
“Think about it,” he encouraged the students. “Don’t let things get in the way, like money.”
Just before the final blessing, Obergfell told the bishop the Home and School Association had a gift for him. Bishop Rhoades reached into a gift bag and pulled out a St. Jude Eagles fleece sweater.
“This is great,” a smiling bishop told students and staff. “Every time I wear this, I’ll think of you.”
Afterward at the school, Bishop Rhoades spoke with each grade separately. All students in a grade gathered in one classroom so he could visit with them together.
Kindergarteners greeted the bishop by holding up letters spelling out “Welcome Bishop Rhoades. We love you,” and reciting that message. They also sang, “We love you Bishop, oh yes we do,” ending by blowing him a kiss.
When the bishop invited children in the younger grades to ask him questions, many asked about what he was wearing — the black cassock with a magenta belt and zucchetto he wore to the school or the cream-colored vestments and miter he wore at Mass.
The pope normally wears white, cardinals wear red, bishops wear magenta and priests wear black, he explained in more than one classroom.
When a third grade boy asked what “that thing” was he was holding at times during Mass, Bishop Rhoades explained it was his staff, or crosier.
“What job or occupation carries a staff?” the bishop asked. Students volunteered the names of a few saints and prophets before a girl answered correctly, “shepherd.”
“Who is my flock?” he asked. “You are. I try to protect you from evil and from the devil and from bad things.”
During his visit with first graders, one girl asked, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”
“Because He loved us so much,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“That makes sense,” the girl replied matter-of-factly, sparking grins from the bishop and other adults in the room.
While he visited with sixth grade classes, a student asked Bishop Rhoades what he would be if he hadn’t become a priest.
“I’d probably be a teacher,” he replied, saying he loves the subjects of theology and history. He then led a quick social studies lesson on Europe, which the students will study this year.
Bishop Rhoades also questioned students about what they learn in their religion classes.
“I think study of Scripture is really, really important,” he said when told sixth graders learn about the Old Testament. “Reading and understanding the Old Testament helps you understand the New Testament.”
With the second grade classes he spoke about the sacraments of reconciliation and Communion, which the students will receive this year, and about their lessons on the Trinity.
“The Trinity is a great mystery — three persons in one God,” he said.
Fourth graders told him they were learning about the fruits of the Holy Spirit, including love, joy, peace, faithfulness and self-control.
“If you have the fruits of the Holy Spirit, you are on the right path,” the bishop said.
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