February 7, 2023 // Local

Pastoral Visit Kicks Off Catholic Schools Week at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

The students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in southwest Fort Wayne came home from school on Friday, Jan. 27, buzzing with news that not only was it going to be Catholic Schools Week, but Bishop Rhoades would be visiting the school on Monday.

Pastor Father Terry Coonan, and Parochial Vicar Father Stephan Felicichia helped officiate the Mass and celebration of the Eucharist with Bishop Rhoades on Monday, Jan. 30, as part of his pastoral visit to the school. “There is no better way to celebrate this week than to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together,” Bishop Rhoades told the packed church of students, staff, and parishioners in his opening remarks.

Photos by Lisa Emrick
It was “The Three Amigos” (Bishop Rhoades, Father Terry Coonan, and Father Stephen Felicichia) up against “Jesus’ Fav” (students selected by teachers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) in a religious trivia contest at an all-school assembly as part of Catholic Schools Week for the bishop’s pastoral visit to the school on Monday, Jan. 30.

Bishop Rhoades’ homily was student-focused, talking about heroes and explaining that people can have many. “Sometimes they’re sports heroes … our greatest heroes are the Saints. We have our favorite saints. I have a bunch of heroes. I actually have sports heroes too; by the way I am an Eagles fan, so I am very happy today because they’re going to the Super Bowl.” That drew smiles from those in attendance.

He explained that the author of the first reading, from Letter to the Hebrews, was about the heroes of the Old Testament … men and women of faith. Polling those in the pews, Bishop Rhoades asked for names of great men and women of faith from the Old Testament. Some of the 3rd grade students answered with Noah, Isaiah, Moses, and Moses’ assistant (his brother Aaren, Bishop Rhoades clarified). One student answered with David, to which Bishop Rhoades responded that the story of David was one of his favorite stories — of a slingshot and a giant.

Bishop Rhoades poses for a photo with the 2nd-graders at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton after hearing how they are discussing the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in school.

The second part of his homily focused on the Gospel of Mark where the congregation listened to how Jesus drove many demons out of a man into a pack of swine and cast them over the cliff. Looking to the 8th graders to help explain “possessed” to their younger peers, Bishop Rhoades explained how Jesus freed the man and liberated him from evil as He does for us with sin. When the man wanted to follow Jesus, He told him to say and proclaim what had happened.

Being at St. Elizabeth, students have many opportunities to learn about Jesus and are called to go out and proclaim as well. St. Elizabeth has 582 students in preschool through 8th grade this year, an increase of 85 students from last school year. Sitting across from two public schools and nestled next to additions and walking trails, it is a perfect place to evangelize.

Sweet Little Ones Shop donated window clings of the Prayer to St. Michael for all the students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for Catholic Schools Week and had them blessed by Bishop Rhoades at the all-school assembly on Monday, Jan. 30.

Bishop Rhoades closed Mass by thanking those in attendance and Father Coonan, Father Felicichia, and Parochial Vicar Father Luke Okoye, who is away visiting family, for their priestly ministry. “Catholic school education is not only one of my priorities, but an important priority for parishes, and part of the mission of this parish is the education and formation of our children and young people in the faith. So, I want to thank the parishioners and the parents who are here today for your strong support of the mission of this school,” Bishop Rhoades said before his final blessing.

After Mass, the bishop had the opportunity to visit classrooms, where the main theme kept coming back to God’s graces and the bishop’s discernment to priesthood. He started each class by asking about what the students were learning and ended with answering their questions.

Bishop Rhoades joins teachers and staff for lunch during his pastoral visit on Monday, Jan. 30, sharing stories of his early priesthood and teaching.

Bishop Rhoades spent time with both sacramental grades separately — discussing the importance of the next steps the students will be taking in their faith journey. Returning to a lighter note with the younger students, the bishop answered questions and impressed them with stories of his travels to Rome and living near Hershey, Pennsylvania, the smell of chocolate on car rides, and the excitement of a senior citizen discount; along with asking them questions about their faith. Later in the day, he was able to see their artwork of the monstrance in learning about Eucharistic adoration. Both age levels were curious about the bishop’s discernment process to becoming a priest and how someone discerns the call to be a bishop. He was also able to take time and explain the differences in the colors bishops wear and what they wear on their heads. While being able to talk more in depth with the 8th-graders, Bishop Rhoades discussed the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He also talked about different cathedrals since the students are working on paper mache cathedrals in art class. When the students had their turn to ask questions, Bishop Rhoades got a surprise from Jamie Owen, who he said was the first person he said had ever asked him his favorite tree, which is evergreens, and then maple trees for shade.

Bishop Rhoades uses Holy Water to bless a rosary brought in by a 4th-grader at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Fort Wayne during his pastoral visit on Monday, Jan. 30.

In Mrs. Morgan’s 1st-grade class, the bishop was pleased to see how thankful the students were for their priests, being able to celebrate Mass, and prayers they were writing. Bishop Rhoades learned that in Mrs. Peter’s 1st-grade class, the students received love letters from God based on books she had found.

During other parts of the day, the bishop had fun in the art room talking with a group of 5th graders and then he popped in with a preschool class during their snack time.

After visiting several grades and classrooms, Bishop Rhoades shared lunch with teachers and staff. The lunch was provided by St. Elizabeth’s Home and School Association (HASA) in celebration of Catholic Schools Week. During lunch, he shared a story of his early priesthood when he taught a rambunctious 6th-grade class and discovered his vocation is not as a school teacher. That drew him to express his appreciation for the teachers and thank them for all their hard work in helping to educate future generations. St. Elizabeth’s longest reigning teachers are Jodi Jump, a Middle School Science Teacher with 40 years of experience (37 at St. Elizabeth), and Tonya Brown, English Language Learner Resource Teacher, with 23 years of experience.

Following lunch, Bishop Rhoades moved on to visiting 4th-graders, where he was greeted with a “Hello, your excellence” (the bishop beaming ear to ear hearing it) from a bursting room of students who waited anxiously to speak with the bishop and have him bless items such as rosaries and medals. He ended their meeting with a Hail Mary and received an invite to their Second Annual Rosary Rally on May 18.

Towards the end of visiting classrooms, Principal Lois Widner was very excited that Bishop Rhoades had the opportunity to visit the new Consumer Tech class. St. Elizabeth started the program this year with Sarah Steffan teaching. The class is a mix of life skills and home economics, where students learn things like how to cook and how to do laundry. They also learn the proper way to set a table and different types of resources it takes to run a business. Widner says the class has no limits.

Walking the rooms and halls and interacting with the students and seeing how they interacted with each other, it was apparent to the bishop that students are being taught how to love one another and how to see each other’s differences as something beautiful and a gift from God.

Closing the fun-filled day, HASA organized a school assembly with trivia. Students who were selected by teachers (with the help of Middle School Religion Teacher Ms. Meixner) named themselves Jesus’ Fav and were up against Bishop Rhoades, Father Coonan, and Father Felicichia (The Three Amigos). Their knowledge was tested in three categories: general knowledge, Catholic identity, and Saints and friendships … with a total of 25 questions. Teams earned points for correct answers and how fast they would answer. Everyone was on the edge of their seats in the bleachers cheering the teams on — erupting after every question where Jesus’ Fav pulled further ahead of The Three Amigos. Some trick questions slowed team Jesus’ Fav answering time enough for The Three Amigos to creep closer in points. The Three Amigos were able to pull ahead when asked what Saints had a special bond through motherhood (the answer was St. Elizabeth and Mother Mary) and the gym went crazy. However, they did not hold the lead and ultimately lost with fewer points than what Jesus’ Fav had — 1,462 — making them the winners.

Widner and Assistant Principal Chris Schuhler concluded the assembly by asking Bishop Rhoades to bless St. Michael window clings donated by Jessica Beckler’s shop that would go home with students for Catholic Schools Week. Before asking the bishop to give a blessing, they thanked him for spending the day touring the school and experiencing the day with students.

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