“Anyone can go to any school and learn where the New England Patriots are from. Anyone can go to school and learn what R-O-U-G-H spells. But Catholic schools are something different. They not only teach the mind and the body, they also teach the soul. It’s important to know that God made you, and that God loves you as you.”
With these words Father Frank Reitter’s homily challenged a gathering of more than 400 Catholic school students who traveled from across the Anchorage Archdiocese to attend a Mass that was celebrated as part of the nationwide Catholic Schools’ Week.
Representatives of the five Catholic schools gathered at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for Mass celebrated by Father Leo Walsh, pastor of St. Benedict Church in Anchorage, which sponsors Lumen Christi High School.
The Jan. 28 liturgy fell on the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, patron of schools. Students from Holy Rosary Academy, Lumen Christi, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School came together for the celebration. During his welcome to all present, Father Tom Lilly, pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, reminded the congregation that although teachers and students from St. Mary’s School in Kodiak were unable to make the trip to Anchorage for the Mass, their school’s pastor, Father Reitter, was present as a representative of his parish school. Father Lilly also reminded the congregation that the students of St. Mary’s were with them in spirit.
The Mass readings reflected the theme of Catholic education: the first text recounting Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, and the second reading from Saint Paul enumerating the different gifts people bring to the church, including the gift of teaching.
Father Reitter preached the homily, which focused on the beauty and purpose of Catholic education. He began with a lively exchange between himself and students, quizzing their knowledge on various academic subjects. This enthusiastic introduction immediately engaged the students, and held their attention throughout the homily. He segued into Catholic education after first drilling the students on questions of math, history and spelling before asking questions on religion, and pointing out God’s love for each person.
Father Reitter told students that God gave each of them unique gifts, and that God wants them to use those gifts to serve him and one another.
“That’s what Catholic education is all about,” he said, adding that Catholic schools teach students to do the most important thing that we can do in this life: to love God and love neighbor, and that without love, nothing else we do matters.
“Life does not end in death,” he emphasized. “When we go to meet God, we bring to him all the love we had for God and for our neighbor.”
This, Father Reitter said is the point of Catholic Schools Week: to not only celebrate the students’ success and advances in knowledge, but to grow in love, so that when we die, we may be prepared to meet God, and enjoy eternity with him in heaven.
At the presentation of the gifts during Mass, students brought up items symbolic of their Catholic education, asking that God continue to bless the efforts of their schools. Items set before the altar included a Bible, theology textbook, basket of food, a copy of the mission statement of each of the five schools and a portrait of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the first Catholic School in the United States.
In addition to the Mass, each school undertook individual activities to mark Catholic Schools’ Week. These activities emphasized the unique mission of Catholic schools: to educate while helping to form the next generation of saints.