“All of us are little ‘S’ saints,” Father Mark Gurtner told the stadium full of elementary school students. He added that the saints in heaven, whom he called the “capital ‘S’ saints,” can be great help for us aspiring “little ‘S’ saints” in both their prayer and their example.
South Bend’s annual All-Schools Mass was celebrated on Tuesday, October 24, 2023, at the Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame. Thousands of elementary school students from the Catholic schools in the South Bend area attended the annual Mass along with teachers, administrators, staff, parents, grandparents, and many priests.
A beloved tradition at the All-Schools Mass is that the fourth-grade students dress up as saints. With Bishop Rhoades in Rome participating in the Synod of Bishops, Father Gurtner, Vicar General of the diocese, celebrated this year’s All-Schools Mass, and he asked the fourth graders some questions during his homily.
After speaking with a fourth grader dressed up as St. John the Baptist, Father Gurtner joked, “In Fort Wayne, I asked St. John the Baptist [how the saint died], and he said, ‘Cut off his head,’ and I said, ‘What does that mean?’ and he says, ‘That he’s dead.’”
After laughter from the audience died down, Father Gurtner went on to say, “But what St. John the Baptist shows us is that to be faithful to God, to preach the Gospel, sometimes is very hard [and] has hard consequences for us. And St. John the Baptist was still willing to do what God was asking of him.”
Lora Mulstay, a fourth-grade teacher at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Mishawaka, does a lot of work to prepare the fourth graders for their big day. Fourth graders research their saint for weeks before the All-Schools Mass, working both at school and at home with parents.
Mulstay has attended several All-Schools Masses, and the tradition holds a special place in her heart. “I love the All- Schools Mass,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that all of the students and teachers on this side of the diocese can get together to celebrate Mass. Even in such a big arena, it still feels intimate and special.”
It’s not only the fourth graders who have roles at the All-Schools Mass. High school students serve as cantors, altar servers, lectors, and have the opportunity to participate in a student choir, band, or handbell choir.
At the end of the Mass, Daniel Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive Officer of Quality Dining and a sponsor of the All-Schools Masses, led the auditorium in offering thanks to everyone who made the Mass – and Catholic education
– possible: ushers, teachers, parents, priests. Fitzpatrick then led the crowd in praying a Hail Mary for Bishop Rhoades. Fitzpatrick also encouraged the students present. “You are the future of our Church,” he told them.
Father Gurtner also left the students with something to think about as All Saints’ Day approached. “I want you to think about why you chose the saint you did,” he said at the end of his homily. “And I want you to think about one thing about that saint that you say to yourself and to God, ‘I want to be more like that.’ More patient, more faithful to Jesus, more love for the poor, whatever it might be. Rejoice today in the saints!”
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