Diocesan Educators begin school year with annual Convocation Mass

During the Convocation Mass Aug. 14, as Bishop Johnston raises the chalice of the blood of Christ, Fathers Sly, McCaffery, Hansen and Rueb participate in the Consecration, while the hundreds of educators bow their heads in prayer. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — They came from all over the diocese — around 600 diocesan principals, teachers, preschool directors — on August 14 to celebrate the new school year with the Convocation Mass at St. John Francis Regis Church. The principal celebrant was Bishop James Johnston, Jr. with fathers Sean McCaffery, pastor of St. Regis, Stephen Hansen, pastor of the Cathedral of St. Joseph and St. Mary’s parish – St. Joseph, Nathan Rueb, pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle and St. Pius X high school chaplain, and Randolph Sly, president of St. Michael the Archangel High School, concelebrating.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston said it was “a wonderful honor and privilege” to see all the educators together for “the centerpiece of the convocation, the Eucharist.”

He told the educators of his gratitude that they had taken on this role: to teach and to teach in Catholic schools, a mission of the church; for taking up this charge with joy and enthusiasm. He talked about spending a few days at the Lake of the Ozarks with 23 diocesan seminarians and his advice to them on being a good Father, maturing. His advice all began with the letter “G” — Be good, full of gratitude, have generous hearts and have some grit — a certain toughness in the face of adversity, a resiliency and requires courage. He said those things are necessary for young men and for young women.

He recounted also his recommendation that the seminarians “develop a great, intimate relationship” with the spiritual director of Jesus Christ and of the Church, his mother, Mary. He then spoke about St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan missionary priest who “rekindled the faith in Japan” an early advocate of using the media to spread the Word of God and one of the modern-day martyrs. Ha also had a great devotion to Our Lady and her Immaculate Heart. He’s best known for volunteering to take the place of a married man with children in a death cell at Auschwitz. His feast day is Aug. 14. He also had a great devotion to Mary. He was canonized by St. John Paul II in 1982, and the man and his family were in attendance.

Bishop Johnston then reminded the educators of the day’s Gospel reading, John 15:12-16. (Jesus said to his disciples: “‘This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”) The reading is well known as it is about Christ telling his disciples he was going to lay down his life for them and for us. Bishop Johnston related it to St. Maximillian, who laid down his life for a stranger. But, he said, “There are many different ways other than martyrdom to lay down our lives for one another. Your role in the schools is, in a sense, to lay down your lives for those you love, your students, you’re laying down your lives every day, to help them to advance in goodness, to help them advance in gratitude, to help them advance with generosity and to help them to advance by developing some grit! You are helping your students, through their years in school, to develop “some “resiliency, some courage and a holy, sacred toughness to face the challenges of life , the temptations that lie ahead of them,” he said. He thanked the educators for modeling a Christian life.

He described Catholic educators as providing quality academic formation, wholesome extracurricular experiences and helping children know the love of Christ in their lives and respond to that love with love of their own. “And realize that Jesus is the fulcrum on which their lives turn,” he said.

He mentioned reading an interview with J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy, who came into the Catholic Church in early August. Vance was asked why, with all the chaos and scandals in the Church today, why did he decide to become a Catholic? The author said he was attracted by the beauty of the truth. ‘I became persuaded over time that Catholicism was true.” He said he was raised Christian but never baptized in any denomination or connected with any. “When I returned to Christianity, I returned to what appealed most to me intellectually. St. Augustine helped me a lot. He gave me a way to understand Christianity in a strongly intellectual way.

Vance had “come from a world that wasn’t super-intellectual about the Christian faith.” He also “went through an angry atheist phase, spent a lot of time buying into the lie that you have to be stupid to be a Christian. St. Augustine demonstrated in a moving way, that’s not true.”

Bishop Johnston argued that this made Catholic education very important. He said that often faith is presented as sentiment, mere emotion or subjective feeling with no intellectual path to it. Faith is presented as not really grounded in reason, and that is a big part of why young people are abandoning the church when they go to college. Many young people don’t have an intellectual foundation to support our Catholic faith, he said. Catholic schools are more important than ever, to teach our kids that faith is grounded in reason.

To the teachers he said, “Your work in our schools is the work of grace over the long haul and it is hard work. You are helping our kids understand that life is a process and they’re are not alone. God is on their side. Receiving the sacraments through their lives is important, frequently not just sometimes. Students need guides, teachers and coaches. So, let’s embrace this wonderful opportunity of Catholic education and, also become better, strive for excellence in our own lives. Developing a connection to Jesus Christ is the goal of every life.”

After the Mass, Dr. Dan Peters, diocesan Superintendent of Schools spoke to the teachers prior to their attending meetings for the remainder of the day.

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Thursday
November 14, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph