Jennifer Barton
October 25, 2022 // Bishop

Road to Saintly Mass Begins at Home, in Classroom

Jennifer Barton

Becoming a saint takes work. Fourth-grade students at St. Jude School in Fort Wayne work both in the classroom and at home to become Peter, Joan of Arc, or Elizabeth Ann Seton. These children learn their histories and dress the part – literally. Every year, fourth graders from around the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend get the opportunity to be a saint for a day, but what does it take to become Kateri Tekakwitha or Philip Neri?

Click here for more photos from the Fort Wayne event.

Click here for more photos from the South Bend event.

At School

Teachers Ali Stineburg and Mary Saillant work to prepare their students well in advance for the All Schools Mass, roughly eight weeks beforehand, introducing students to saints through books and videos. Stineburg has four years of experience in this area; Saillant has two. In a joint email, the two teachers explained that once their students become familiar with various saints, they are then tasked with choosing one to learn about and portray. 

Photos by Jennifer Barton
At the Purcell Pavilion on the campus of the University of Notre Dame on Oct. 21, Mari Miller and Caroline Brown from St. Joseph Grade School dress as their chosen saints of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Many of the students chose saints based on such factors as their birthday falling on the saint’s feast day or because they or a relative share a name. One young boy named Sammy chose Carlo Acutis “because he is the patron of the internet, and I like to watch videos about saints.”

On a more somber note, another boy chose St. Peregrine, the patron saint of those with cancer because his father had cancer.

Milla said she “picked St. Catherine (of Alexandria) because she cared for others more than herself. She was the patron of young girl students.”

Catholic schools help build the “foundation for spiritual development” for these young students, as Stineburg and Saillant wrote. “Studying the lives of saints is important in developing faith-filled young Catholics. The saints become our students’ holy heroes. Everyone needs a hero, especially young children.”

Instead of looking up to fictional superheroes, the two teachers agree that: “Studying the lives of saints gives our fourth graders lifelong role models that will never disappoint.”

The longstanding tradition of fourth-grade students dressing as saints for the All Schools Mass continues this year in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as students bring forth food donations to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 17.

At home

Charlene Thurber’s daughter Mia is a third-generation student at St. Jude. Charlene’s mother, along with Charlene and her siblings are all St. Jude alumni, and now her own children attend the school, with Mia in fourth grade. Charlene’s sister also has a son in the same grade at St. Jude. 

Charlene remembers dressing as then-Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha when she was in fourth grade. For her saint, Mia chose St. Philomena. Watching her daughter go through a similar process was an enjoyable experience for Charlene. “It was kind of cool to see why she chose who she chose” and watching Mia learn about St. Philomena. Mia brought home a book that she would read in the car and told her parents different things about her chosen saint. In her research, Mia learned that St. Philomena was actually removed from the calendar of saints due to lack of evidence of her existence. 

Mia did the research and created her own Power Point slide presentation for the class; Charlene helped outfit her for the day. Searching for pictures online of St. Philomena, Charlene and Mia were able to agree on the general idea of what her costume could look like. Part of the appeal of St. Philomena was that she was often pictured in pink, Mia’s favorite color. “But it worked out because she’s the patron saint of something you like,” Charlene said to her daughter.

According to Mia, St. Philomena is the patroness of infants and children, and Mia would like to become a teacher when she grows up.

Fourth graders Lucy Ryan and Mary Darling represent St. Philomena and Our Lady of Fatima, respectively. They are students at St. Charles Borromeo School in Fort Wayne.

At Mass

Gray skies and a chilly wind greeted students on both sides of the diocese for the big day. In Fort Wayne, the Bishop Luers High School choir sang for the Mass. At the South Bend Mass, a choir made up of students from multiple Catholic schools and led by Jeremy Cole performed, with a beautiful Litany of the Saints sung prior to the celebration, while an instrumental and handbell choir accompanied singers throughout the liturgy. 

On the Fort Wayne side, the All Schools Mass took place on Oct. 17, the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch; Oct. 20 was the feast of St. Paul of the Cross as students traveled to the University of Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion for Mass. 

Though there were bishops and priests aplenty in both saintly crowds or youngsters, but Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades could not find any student who had chosen to impersonate the early Church father or the founder of the Passionists. He began his homily, then, by speaking about the great King David of Israel, whose anointing was the focus of the Old Testament reading. “This is a story that’s good for all of us to think about, how God chooses us. He has a plan for each one of us; He looks into our hearts, and He knows what He wants us to do.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades points out that the priests concelebrating Mass in South Bend were chosen by God for their vocation, as all God’s children are chosen to love and serve God in some manner.

Bishop Rhoades then pointed to the priests representing their parish schools, saying that God chose those men to be priests. Then he spoke to the children of their anointing in baptism. “Because you were anointed, you were chosen to be Christians. God chose you to be His adopted sons and daughters; to be united to His Son, Jesus. We’ve all been anointed, and we have a mission.”

He spoke about obedience in allowing God to work His will in the lives of His children, with the Blessed Mother as the prime example of humble obedience. “All of the saints were chosen by God with a mission.” That mission is to cooperate with God’s will and to grow in holiness, to be with Christ forever in heaven.

Erika Barron
In Ali Stineburg’s fourth-grade classroom at St. Jude School in Fort Wayne, students learn about the saints and how they will give a presentation to their fellow students about the saint they chose to represent.

Stineburg and Saillant affirmed the bishop’s message when they wrote in their email: “We are all called to be saints. In learning about the saints, students learn how people just like us became saints and now live in the kingdom of heaven. This lays the groundwork for them to begin their journey to sainthood as young Catholics.”

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