By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — St. John the Baptist School student body, staff and administrators were honored by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ first pastoral visit to their building on a snowy Feb. 4. The long anticipated morning began with an all-school Mass celebrated by Bishop Rhoades and St. John pastor Father Daniel Whelan and Father James Bromwich, who are in residence there.
Bishop Rhoades began the Mass by expressing his joy at sharing the day with the welcoming students and staff at St. John the Baptist School. In his homily he referenced the Gospel of the day, encouraging the students to believe in Jesus and be faithful to God. “The message,” said Bishop Rhoades, “is about faith in God and in Jesus the Son of God. With faith we experience the power of God in our lives. … Jesus is always with us and always at our side.”
Bishop Rhoades encouraged the congregation of attentive students, teachers and friends to think about those who suffer and ways, like Pope Francis who has a heart for people who have suffered, “that you can reach out to those suffering.”
Concluding the Mass the bishop expressed his gratitude for the invitation to visit and for all those who assisted at Mass praising the readers, choir, “who sounds like a chorus of angels,” and parishioners who support St. John the Baptist School.
Bishop Rhoades added, “And I thank the teachers and staff for your witness of faith and all you do to help these children grow in their Catholic faith.”
Father Whelan, a member of the Sons of St. Philip Neri, a community-in-formation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri along with Father James Bromwich, was pleased to welcome Bishop Rhoades to the parish and said, “It’s a great honor to have our chief shepherd come to the parish to celebrate Mass. … I’m happy to have the bishop see the beautiful liturgy we have here at St. John’s.”
The energetic students were respectful and attentive as Father Whelan escorted Bishop Rhoades to a classroom in each grade level, where he learned about each classroom’s adopted saint as well as the academic and religious studies taking place. Following a spirited question-and-answer period that included thought provoking questions on the Bible, saints and other information as well as personal inquiries including the bishop’s favorite leisure activities, the bishop invited the students to pray with him and receive a blessing.
Lunch was a special event at which Bishop Rhoades was charmed by the creative saint centerpieces the eighth-grade students designed for the occasion. Marking the bishop’s place was a miniature rendition of himself replete with crozier, red zucchetto and pectoral cross. Following lunch, which included a global slide show, the bishop was invited to play a Catholic trivia game with a question from each grade level. A correct answer awarded the bishop not only cheers and laughter from the student body but funds raised by St. John’s student council to be donated to his charity of choice — the Women’s Care Center. Bishop Rhoades was also gifted with a St. John the Baptist School Eagle bag with window sticker, T-shirt and blanket presented by student council president Abbey Grabner and her kindergarten buddy Alice Serrani.
Bishop Rhoades thanked the student body and staff for an impressive and enjoyable morning and asked them to pray for him as he will pray for them.
St. John the Baptist School educates the minds and hearts of 262 students grades preschool through 8 and has been considered an “anchor” in the south Fort Wayne neighborhood. St. John’s is truly a neighborhood school to which many of its students still walk or ride their bikes. Parent involvement helps create the strong family atmosphere enjoyed by the students and dedicated staff there.
The A-rated school supports morning and afternoon classes for preschool students, ages 3-4 as well as full-day kindergarten. It boasts a fine arts program, clubs and athletics as well as a before and after school program. School Choice vouchers are welcome. And in addition to its exemplary academic standards, St. John provides a safe and healthy atmosphere in which faith and moral growth can flourish.
According to the mission statement of the school, “St. John the Baptist Catholic School will provide a solid Catholic education that prepares students to lead holy and honorable lives for Christ, to become faithful leaders in the community and thus attain eternal happiness with God.”
This Christ-centered education, says interim Principal Barbara Cumberland, focuses on the whole child. “Academic success is important but with the moral and social teachings that are imparted through our Catholic faith and the love of Christ, our students have the foundation to lead a successful and, more importantly, moral life.”
Father Whelan agrees and adds, “We emphasize our faith by having strong liturgy, Eucharistic Adoration, and the love of Mary.”
Carol McArdle has taught first grade at St. John School for over 30 of her 42 years in education. She and her siblings are all alum of the school, where she has taught many of her nieces and nephews. McArdle says she enjoys “coming to work every day to be a part of the tremendous student and parent family at St. John.”
Rachael Eyrich, a parishioner since 2000, has three of her four children enrolled at St. John School. Eyrich, whose fourth-grade daughter Gianna read the first reading beautifully at the morning Mass, says she “loves the school.”
“It’s a constant in our lives. It helps us as parents to instill Catholic values in our kids,” she says.
Five of Kris Lehner’s six children are students at St. John’s. Lehner, who has been a parishioner at St. John since coming into the Church 15 years ago, says of the school, “It’s a good solid community. Father Daniel has brought so much to the school. I have confidence in sending my kids here. They’re not just learning religion, but are able to talk about it wherever they are.”
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