At Catholic Schools Mass, Bishop reminds students how to make a difference in world

Students from Red Bank Catholic process into St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, at the start of the annual Catholic Schools Mass. Craig Pittelli photo


By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent

St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral was filled with some 600 children, all wearing their respective school uniforms and big smiles, as they gathered Oct. 10 to celebrate Mass with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

The annual event is often a favorite for Catholic school students in the Diocese of Trenton who are selected to attend the Mass as a representative of their school communities.

“It’s a good way to see all of the other Catholic schools and come and pray together. It lets us see that we are not alone, that there are other people who relate to us,” said Elizabeth Gannon, an eighth-grade student at St. Raphael School, Hamilton.

Fellow eighth-grader Alex Mancino of St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold, agreed, saying, “I think it’s a good idea to come together to see how everything works, to see how awesome everybody is and to see the Bishop.”

Following a presentation by Father Peter James R. Alindogan, diocesan director of missions and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch, and Sister Ellen Anderson, a Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary, students from each school processed into the Freehold church carrying their school flags and an artifact from the different missionaries who attended Mass. Uplifting music accompanied the procession, courtesy of the choir from Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell reflected on what Jesus’ formal education may have looked like as boy growing up in Nazareth.

“We cannot say for sure that Jesus ‘went to school’ like we do, but we have no reason to doubt that his early life in Nazareth was not much different from other kids of his day,” Bishop O’Connell said. “When we read about Jesus in the Bible, however, he does seem to be well-educated, probably a combination of things he learned from his parents, from the synagogue, from people of his time.”

He continued by comparing the schools of the present day, which are attached to parish churches and dioceses, to those of Jesus’ time, likely small groups gathered in synagogue. 

“Our schools have a curriculum in math and science, English and history, language arts, music, computer technology … but like the little synagogue schools in Jesus’ time, our Catholic schools have one most important subject that makes them different from public schools: Our Catholic schools teach us our Catholic faith; they introduce us to Jesus Christ and to the Church he founded,” the Bishop said. “They teach us Catholic values and behavior so that we are prepared to give witness to our faith, to live our faith, to make a difference in the world.”

Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan vocations director and Notre Dame High School chaplain, continued the Bishop’s theme about living one’s faith by sharing his priestly vocation journey. He invited students who may feel called to the priesthood to seek additional information.

“I am confident in saying by looking at those in this Church this morning that there are a number in here called to the priesthood and religious life,” Father Parzynski said. “I would encourage you to consider it, to think about it, and to seek guidance and advice in discerning what God’s will may be for you in your life.”

After Mass, students happily gathered for a photo with Bishop O’Connell before the return trip home. 

Ethan Menon, an eighth-grade student in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Maple Shade, spoke to the importance of Catholic schools in regard to the future Catholic Church.

“We’re a giant family,” he said. “All of these students are the future of the Catholic faith, and our schools teach us how to become good Catholics.”

Jacob Grieb could relate. The junior in Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran, took time to visit with his teachers from his former grammar school, St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford. “It was nice to share what we have in common with other schools,” he said.

Those from Mother Seton Academy, Howell, said the Mass was a nice way to introduce the new school community, which was recently formed from St. Veronica and St. Aloysius Schools.

“It was a way to show people that we are here and that we are proud to be here,” said eighth-grader Isabella Novera.

Brain McKeon, an eighth-grade student in St. Dominic School, Brick, said he enjoyed the Bishop’s homily. “There’s a multitude of reasons why I like going to a Catholic school, everything we learn in religion class, all the different things that happened in our faith history. Everything we are taught, the values – it’s important.”

Harmon Hass and Liam Lugay, eighth-grade students at St. Benedict, Holmdel, were surprised at the number of students present.

“I am honored to be here, and this experience really opened up my mind to how big the community of Catholic schools is in New Jersey,” Hass shared.

Lugay agreed. “I feel the same way. I never realized how big the Diocese of Trenton was.”

Paul Gannon, a senior in Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, has attended the Mass as a student at CBA and also while in elementary school in St. Rose, Belmar.

“This Mass shows us there’s so much more going on beyond our own school,” Gannon said. “The Catholic school experience cannot be compared to anything else. Besides the great education you receive, the sense of community and character that Catholic schools build are so important. That is essential for the youth today.”

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