Teachers, principals gather for annual Convocation Mass

Faculty and staff of diocesan grade and high schools filled the pews of St. Thomas More Church for the annual Convocation Mass at the start of a new school year, Aug. 14. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — St. Thomas More Church in south Kansas City was packed Aug. 14, with teachers, principals, coaches and school staff attending the annual Convocation Mass of the new school year. Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., was principal celebrant with Father Richard Rocha concelebrating. They were assisted by Deacon Kevin Cummings.

Many familiar faces filled the pews, as well as many new.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston greeted all who carry out the yearly mission of Catholic education in the diocese, saying he regarded them as his close collaborators. “Part of the bishop’s responsibility,” he continued, “is to oversee … give direction to the handing on of the truth of our faith … the Christian way of life, … a Christian world view to our young people … I want to express my gratitude to you who have said yes to this great mission …” He recalled his childhood, growing up as the oldest of four … when not behaving as his parents wanted him to, was occasionally the recipient of corporal punishment, a switch or a fly swatter by mom or a belt by dad. He said the punishment didn’t hurt as much as it humbled him. Those occasions disappeared when he realized how much he was loved and he didn’t want to disappoint his parents. He determined that he would behave in ways that would please them.

He shared “those experiences to bring up a key theme in the Bible, fear of the Lord. The Bible speaks to how important this is.” The night before, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, he read Psalm 111, which ends with, “To fear the Lord is the first stage of wisdom. All who do so prove themselves wise.” Even the Blessed Mother says in her prayer of praise and thanksgiving known as the Magnificat, “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.”

In Deuteronomy, Moses says, “Now Israel, what does the Lord ask of you? But to fear the Lord, to fear the Lord, your God, and to follow his ways exactly, to love and serve the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” Moses then recounted God’s goodness, generosity and mercy to the Israelites.

The bishop reflected, “It’s a bit like my realization … Once it dawned on me how much they loved me and how much I loved them, I was no longer motivated to be good out of fear of punishment, but out of fear of offending and disappointing these two people … I loved. That was what motivated me, a fear grounded by my love for them, my desire to do what was necessary, what was expected, to make them happy. This is a fear born of love, for God and others, not just a love of self. Fear of the Lord, the Bible says many times, is the beginning of wisdom, … why it is key to our ministry in our Catholic schools. We’re about wisdom … smart and successful is good … our main goal is to … become wise and good. That’s what sets Catholic schools apart from all other schools. That’s why we do what we do.

“If we’re going to reach our goal, we have to cultivate and grow in the fear of the Lord. … make this a priority for yourselves before your students. … Moses gives good guidelines to do this. He urges the Israelites to remember the great events that God was a part of in their lives, to reflect with awe on God in his goodness … remember his mercy and fidelity when they were in danger … to see how much God loves them. They are also called to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over everything … he is a God of justice to whom they must render an account. Good guidelines for us too, to remember God’s goodness in our own lives, remember the many times we’ve experienced his mercy and goodness, especially in difficult times … remember that God is not … a permissive parent who turns a blind eye … God is holy and he wants us to be holy … by loving him and following in his ways. Love the Lord with all your heart and soul … follow his commandments and statutes, knowing … he is merciful and we live in a season of mercy … there will be a season of justice and judgement at the end of our lives. When we are mindful of these … we begin to act and live differently. Fear of the Lord causes us to change … for the better. Like a little boy who decides to be good, not because he’s going to be punished but because he desires to please those who love him so much. May we all grow in this foundational quality of love, the fear of the Lord, then cultivate it in … students so that they may become wise and good, and we can, too.”

After the Mass’s conclusion, Dr. Dan Peters, diocesan superintendent of schools, stepped up to the ambo and addressed the educators. … “There’s boundless hope and excitement. We look forward to great things from our faculties and students and from ourselves. We set new higher and challenging goals for ourselves, our schools and our students.

“There’s a new theme for this academic year: Daring Disciples Deliver, providing a focus to the year … assertively apply faith to actions that witness to the truth, the truth about Jesus Christ. … challenges us to reach out to those in need and provide them help … show the world what we believe and that it makes a difference in the way we act. … to invite others to join us and become an active part of the Catholic community … to be better than we’ve ever been before, doing things we’ve never done before and accomplishing things we’ve never achieved.

This year, he said, a new strategic plan for the schools is being implemented — Action Plan for Schools or APS 2.

The plan has five goals. 1 and 2. More students scoring “proficient” on the Acre and Iowa Assessments (formerly the ITBS). Schools are to develop strategies to improve the two areas where students score the lowest on both the Acre and Iowa Assessments.

3. In diocesan high schools, strategies are to be developed to improve ACT scores. There will be a common testing date and results used to develop strategies to improve their weakest areas.

4. Enrollment downward trend must stop. Schools have had declining enrollments for at least the last 15 years and many have closed. Parents must be convinced the schools are worth it. They must be worthy of be promoted.

5. Each school’s endowment will increase to provide scholarships to attract more students. Each parish and school has been asked to contribute 1 – 5 percent of fundraising dollars to their endowments, an investment in their futures.

“This cannot be accomplished without the cooperation and leadership of administrators, pastors, teachers and staff of every parish and school in the diocese,” Peters said. “I challenge you all to work to make our schools the best Catholic schools they can be. Pray that enrollment grows and be daring disciples that deliver the Good News to as many people as possible.”

Peters spent a few moments discussing an article by Bishop Johnston, “Further Challenges to start the New School Year,” and then showed a short video. After Mass, there were mentoring meetings and principals picked up certain books for their schools.


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September 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph