Students at St. Vincent de Paul School had been back in the classroom for a little more than a month when they welcomed Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to their parish on Sept. 27. He began his pastoral visit by celebrating Mass with the students and educators.
Concelebrating the Mass were Father Brian Isenbarger and Father Polycarp Fernando, both parochial vicars at the parish. Pastor Father Daniel Scheidt was in Rome to witness the ordination of Samuel Anderson, a son of the parish and graduate of St. Vincent, to the diaconate.
During the homily, Bishop Rhoades reminded those gathered that, on Sept. 27, the Church celebrates the feast of the parish’s patron saint, St. Vincent de Paul.
“Four hundred years ago, there was a very good shepherd: a man who became a priest, who had a great love for the sheep, especially for the poor and the sick. And the slaves – the suffering. And do you know who that priest was? Vincent De Paul.”
The bishop continued to tell the students about the life of St. Vincent de Paul, from his early years on the family farm, to being ordained at a young age. Bishop recalled that, although St. Vincent de Paul had initially been quite interested in material things, he eventually “realized that life wasn’t about making money. But God was calling him to serve the poor. In his early years, as a priest, he was working in a couple of different parishes. And he was very committed to the poor. As a matter of fact, he started organizing groups of women in the parish, and some were wealthy women. And they were very good. They really wanted to help the poor.”
Bishop Rhoades then applied this to the lives of the students, telling them that they should model the charitable attitude of their patron saint, not just in mind and heart, but in actions.
“It’s not enough to worship the Eucharist. That’s really important, but we also are called to live the Eucharist. Actually imitate Jesus’s self-giving love and service. Jesus, who healed the sick – who fed the hungry. I want you all to think about that today. Think about your patron saint. And remember that love and care and service for the sick and the poor and the suffering isn’t just something for great saints like Vincent de Paul. It’s part of the mission of every parish and every Catholic school.”
After Mass, the student body prayed a rosary in the church before Bishop Rhoades opened the floor to questions about the episcopacy and the faith.
He told students, some of whom are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, that he chose the Apostle John as his confirmation name.
“I chose this apostle, who I thought was Jesus’ best friend because I felt a close friendship with Jesus,” he said. “I love Jesus very much. I wanted Him to be my best friend. So I chose John, and my friendship with Jesus grew. When I went to college, I started to go to Mass every day, and became even closer to Jesus. And then, when I was a sophomore, my second year of college, I really knew. I prayed and I knew that Jesus was calling me to be a priest.”
One student asked Bishop Rhoades what his favorite prayer is. “Wow. I would have to say, although it’s several prayers, the rosary. I love to pray the rosary. But the Our Father is the greatest prayer because Jesus gave us the Our Father.”
Principal Zachary Coyle and Father Isenbarger then led Bishop Rhoades to various classrooms to show the bishop the innovative education programs that have been implemented at St. Vincent in recent years.
“We take both halves of our mission extremely seriously,” said Coyle. “The first half is we empower the students to live and share their Catholic faith. The second half is that students grow in academic success. We’re really intentional about that.”
Coyle explained that, while the classes of 30 students might be a bit higher than many comparable schools in the area, each of those classrooms has a teaching assistant. The school also tests the academic classroom performance of students three times each year to collect data on areas where individual students might need more help, or if students would be better challenged by a more advanced curriculum.
Bishop Rhoades visited a computer science classroom which offers a robotics elective to students three times each week.
Coyle said that the junior- high elective program is something that makes St. Vincent unique, and that the program allows students “to meet in a class that they are passionate about. And they can change electives, quarter to quarter.”
He also mentioned several other electives that the students can choose. “They are watching films, they’re looking at the study of making films, they actually are making short clips as well. But they’re really especially looking for that in a way to evangelize and share our faith. We’ve got our art teachers offering clay and paper maché. We actually have a kiln; we do pottery here. We also have, from the art side, portraiture. The students are learning how to paint self-portraits and portraits of others.”
Coyle also mentioned that St. Vincent has a leadership team comprised of teachers from every department of the school who help to advise him and give him “meaningful feedback” on what works and what does not work.
The principal, reflecting on the day, said that he is “so inspired that our students were in the church for two and a half hours with real, actual joy about speaking with Bishop Rhoades. I think they received him with this feeling that they were welcomed by their bishop: they knew that they could ask him whatever. They were comfortable. They were inherently at peace speaking with our successor to the apostles in a way that speaks to Bishop Rhoades’ leadership and goodness as a pastor – as the shepherd of the diocese. It speaks to his desire to engage with them.”
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