There was added excitement as students filed in for the start of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School’s weekly Mass on Sept. 14. Shirts were pressed, pants ironed, hair in bows, shoes shined.
“See him, over there?’ whispered one young student to another, pointing to Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, standing out in his mitre and crozier (bishops hat and staff). “That’s the pope.”
Not quite, but the students of the south Anchorage school were palpably energized about their annual visit from the archbishop. Before Mass, teachers reminded students to be on their best behavior, and children in the choir practiced songs they would sing during Mass.
The liturgy coincided with the Catholic Church’s universal celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Archbishop Schwietz was joined by Father Patrick Brosamer, the associate pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Both men wore red vestments for the special celebration of the Holy Cross, and the Archbishop made it the cornerstone of his homily.
“How many crosses are in this church?” Archbishop Schwietz asked students as he moved among them, walking between sections of the pews. Arms shot up. “One!” called one student, pointing triumphantly to the giant, gold crucifix that hangs in front of the parish.
“More than that, try again!” Archbishop Schwietz encouraged.
“Fifteen, because you have to count all the Stations of the Cross!” exclaimed one fourth grader.
“Getting closer,” Archbishop Schwietz responded.
Finally, after including the processional cross, baptismal candle cross, and the crosses on his and Father Brosamer’s vestments, Archbishop Schwietz said the number was closer to 20.
More importantly, he continued, was the significance of the cross to Catholic faith.
“The cross is so central to our faith that we put it everywhere: in our homes, classrooms and, of course, in church,” Archbishop Schwietz observed. “The cross is the most visible reminder of Jesus and the special gift he gave us in the Holy Spirit. We ask Jesus to watch over us, we thank him for his goodness, and his willingness to die for us. Jesus is our good friend and today we celebrate the great power of the cross.”
After Mass, students and parents went through a receiving line to greet Archbishop Schwietz. He was beaming.
“It is so wonderful to be here,” he said. “It is so heartening to see these children with all of their hope for life, in such a good school, happy and fulfilled. They listen so carefully to the liturgy, and it is just a blessing to be here with them.’
Father Brosamer noted that the archbishop’s annual visit is an important part of the students’ faith development.
“For many of the kids at the school it is their only opportunity to see the local head of the church,” he said. “The weekly school Mass that the pastor does is important and has a powerful effect on the kids’ prayer lives. The annual archbishop’s school Mass is even more important.”
Following the school Mass, Principal Kathy Gustafson explained why the yearly liturgy is one of the highlights of the school year.
“They can now identify who the archbishop of Anchorage is,” she said. “They now know who oversees all the Catholic parishes. The students are always very excited to see the bishop, and his clothing for Mass is different from our parish priest.”
Also lingering after Mass was one of the school’s new parents, Annabel Moreno. Her sons, Cesar and Giovanni, are in kindergarten this year and she sets aside time to attend the weekly school Mass with her boys.
“It was a special treat to see the archbishop here, and the commitment to faith is one of the reasons the boys go to the school.”
Parent Kara Moriarty also made attending Mass with the archbishop a priority.
“It’s an important aspect of Catholic education for the kids to be exposed to our leaders in the church,” she said.