FORT WAYNE — In an unscheduled question-and-answer session with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, the students at Bishop Dwenger High School received a rare and special gift. It came just before the final blessing at the first all-school Mass of the new year on Monday morning, Jan. 14. Bishop Rhoades stepped down from the altar area, took the microphone and opened the floor to questions from the Saints.
Jason Schiffli, who was named principal in 2004, told students before dismissal from the gymnasium back to the classrooms they were just given a treasure.
“We are running about an hour behind and will have to skip third period today,” he said, “but it is okay. This was a great opportunity to get to know your bishop on a personal level. Growing up, I only knew Bishop John D’Arcy as the head of our diocese. It was not until my administrative years that I had the privilege to get to know him on a personal level.”
Schiffli was also pleased with the students’ behavior. “The bishop is always impressed with our reverence here at Bishop Dwenger, but it is good to have some fun, loosen up and be flexible, too,” Schiffli added.
And have some fun they did. Bishop Rhoades shared all about his recent vacation to Florida, his front row seats for the bowl game and how he was able to play tennis for four days straight in the warm sunshine. Then for nearly one hour, students asked Bishop Rhoades questions about everything from his favorite prayers to his favorite sports teams.
The topics ranged from light-hearted stories about old high school sweethearts to his most moving spiritual experiences and his deep discernment and call to the priesthood. Bishop Rhoades seemed in no rush and was thoroughly enjoying his leave from the office, which he referred to as “just like a vacation day,” spending time in one of his favorite ways — with the young people of the diocese.
Bishop Rhoades opened Mass asking students to join him in the Hail Mary for Bishop D’Arcy. He updated them on the bishop emeritus’ battle with cancer and assured them he has spoken often with the former shepherd of the diocese. Bishop Rhoades asked all to pray for a special intention — that Bishop D’Arcy will have the strength after his radiation treatments to be able to return to the Fort Wayne area.
Bishop Rhoades’ homily for the Saints centered around the beginning of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus begins His public ministry and performs His first miracle, casting out the demon from the man with the unclean spirit. Bishop Rhoades explained how it made perfect sense that the Son of God who came to destroy all evil would immediately be assaulted by the devil and went on to share his own experiences with exorcisms.
The bishop told about the many signs of a possessed person and how careful he must be when making the determination to warrant an exorcism. Although he has never executed one personally, Bishop Rhoades has had the duty of assigning priests to perform exorcisms and captivated his audience with the details of removing the infestation of a demon from a couple’s home as a young priest in Harrisburg.
“It was bizarre to see furniture moving and windows opening for unexplainable reasons,” Bishop Rhoades explained. He went on with his story that after research they discovered the previous owners were drug dealers involved in satanic rituals.
Next, the bishop shared his own personal spiritual reality when he felt the incomprehensible urge to get off of a train. He was 22 years old. After visiting relatives in Greece, he and a buddy planned a trip via the Eurail traveling up from the boot of Italy to Austria in August 1980 while in the seminary. Early in their well-planned journey, Bishop Rhoades insisted they change their course and get off at the first stop in Bari to visit the tomb of St. Nicholas.
“Something unexplainable came over me. It was very uncharacteristic for me to stray from a schedule, but I knew we had to get off that train,” he described. The tourists spent the day in Bari praying at the tomb and found a youth hostile for the night. The next morning they read the headlines of the Bologna massacre — terrorists bombed their very train at the next stop and 85 were killed.
He summed up his message warning the teenagers to always be aware of the spiritual beings among us — both angels and demons — “Be attentive to your spiritual lives. We all have temptations, but Christ’s power is greater than any of our weaknesses. Keep in the state of grace. Keep in close friendship with God. Receive the sacraments often so that you can receive His joy even in your times of trial. Form the habit of daily prayer and Satan will have no power over you.”
In his final remarks at Mass, Bishop Rhoades commended the choir for their fine performance. “When I closed my eyes and listened to you sing, I felt as if I was at St. Peter’s Basilica, not a high school gymnasium,” he said.
Bishop Rhoades encouraged the Saints to add to the 17,000 recorded on-site chapel visits and continue their great contributions to the vocations of the diocese. He was pleased to learn that 43 percent of the current seminarians are Bishop Dwenger graduates. And he challenged them to be on fire with their faith during this Year of Faith.
The rest of the day was slightly abbreviated but Bishop Rhoades was able to visit three different classrooms. In Tom Kenny’s Sacred Scripture class Bishop Rhoades told seniors how much he loved the connections between the Old and New Testaments.
“We begin our journey to the promised land through our Baptism. Keep studying Scripture all your lives,” he said.
Bishop Rhoades found seniors in Greg Bercaw’s ecumenism class currently studying an article he wrote for Today’s Catholic newspaper. He told them about his international efforts and leadership role in dialogues with other faiths. The bishop encouraged the students to always work towards Christian unity, and said, “Build on what you have in common and never be satisfied that there is division among Christians.”
In his final drop in, he stressed the importance of always standing up for the truth to the juniors in Jessica Hayes’ morality class.
After a decade of the rosary and before meal prayer with a group of students in the chapel, the student council reserved a special spot for the bishop at their lunch table as they tried to sway him to start a Twitter account during their conversation.
Ben Evans, senior member of the student council and stand-out wrestler weighing in 182 pounds, marveled, “I enjoyed the question-and-answer session and being able to get to know the bishop a little better.”
Students then presented the bishop with a gigantic paper prayer chain. A similar set of colorful links is being mailed to Bishop D’Arcy.
Bishop Rhoades ended his visit meeting with the campus ministry and theology teachers and a one-on-one with Principal Schiffli.
“It has been a great day. The students always look forward to the bishop’s visit,” summarized Amy Johns, assistant principal-director of curriculum and tour guide for the day.
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