A sea of suit jackets, button-down shirts, plaid skirts, khakis and polos filled St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage as more than 300 students gathered for the annual Catholic Schools Mass on Feb. 3.
Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz commented on the size of the growing number of Catholic students at the annual liturgy.
“Each year, the student body is growing a larger number of students,” he said. “It’s really a blessing for us — for the whole archdiocese.”
Indeed enrollment has increased. In particular, Our Lady of the Valley has nearly doubled last year’s enrollment and has launched a new preschool program this year. The school now educates 56 students.
Holy Rosary, Lumen Christi, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Mary in Kodiak also report increased enrollment across the board.
Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz celebrated the recent Catholic School Mass, which serves as a climax to Catholic Schools Week, an event celebrated across the nation. From Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, students observed the week with liturgies, activities and community outreach.
During the recent Mass, students of all ages filled the sanctuary.
“It was beautiful to see all of the schools come together for Mass,” said Elizabeth Loeffler, Campus Minister at Lumen Christi High School. “There is certain tenderness in seeing children kindergarten through young adults, 12th grade worshiping together as one community, a tenderness that melts the heart and gives great hope for our future as a faith community.”
Students participated in various liturgical ministries, including singing in the multi-school choir and providing readings during the Mass. During the presentation of the gifts, each school brought two items to the altar, representing their schools, faith and mission.
“It’s certainly wonderful to see all of you here as we ask the Holy Spirit to guide the coming semester and guide all of you students as you continue to learn and grow at the same time,” Archbishop Schwietz told the students.
Archbishop Schwietz celebrated his 26th anniversary of being ordained bishop on Feb. 2. During his homily with the students, he explained that he chose Feb. 2 because it is the feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple. He noted that all Catholics are called to do what Mary did: bring Jesus to others, and give him away.
“When you have difficult times in your life, when someone hurts you or when something goes wrong, just think back on how Mary, your Mother, wants to give you Jesus,” he told students. “And he wants to be with you and to realize how much love he has for you. The Lord helps us all as we go through our years of experience growing up: to learn how to love. Because that’s the only way we will ever be God’s.”
Although students from St. Mary were not able to participate in the Mass, the school celebrated Catholic Schools Week in Kodiak.
“We ended our week celebrating our families and greater community with our traditional brown bag lunch,” explained co-principal Teri Schneider. “Families, personal friends and community friends of St. Mary’s School filled our gymnasium to enjoy a simple lunch while visiting and celebrating.”
During Catholic Schools Week, area schools reached out in various ways to the larger community through works of mercy, a theme Catholic schools have long emphasized.
Students from Our Lady of the Valley visited the Alaska Pioneer Home, Palmer Senior Center, patients at the Providence Hospital Cancer Center and Beans Café in Anchorage.
“Students brought their songs of hope and joy and fellowship to others as they answer Pope Francis’s call of mercy to others,” Lund explained. “These students not only learn about the corporal works of mercy…they put them into practice.”