Bishop celebrates regional Masses to open Catholic Schools Week

Photo Caption: Banners representing the schools of Region 1 are held by student representatives before a Catholic Schools Week Mass Feb. 1 at St. Jude Church in Peoria.

By: Jennifer Willems

Students, teachers and principals had much to keep them busy with Catholic Schools Week activities planned each day from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5, but they devoted time at the beginning of the week to honoring and thanking the primary Teacher in their schools.

Leading them was the primary catechist of the Diocese of Peoria, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who joined them for regional Masses at St. Matthew’s Church in Champaign and St. Jude’s Church in Peoria on Feb. 1, and at St. Patrick’s Church in LaSalle and St. Mary’s Church in Kewanee on Feb. 2. At each liturgy he told the students how much he enjoyed being with them and reminded them why Catholic schools exist.

“We have Catholic schools so that Jesus can be our teacher now, in the future and forever,” the bishop told representatives from the 14 schools in Region II who gathered at St. Matthew’s on Monday morning and those from the 13 schools in Region I who filled St. Jude’s Church that afternoon.

Urging them to study hard — especially how to listen for the voice of Jesus and follow him unfailingly — Bishop Jenky said, “Let’s celebrate Catholic Schools Week, but remember the Lord, who is all good, and let him be our guide and our confidence.”

The bishop had a similar message the following day, which was the Presentation of the Lord. At the beginning of the Masses in LaSalle and Kewanee he blessed candles and then watched as those in the sanctuaries of St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s churches were lit by altar servers.

“The purpose of today’s feast and the purpose of Catholic schools is that they always recognize the Lord,” Bishop Jenky said. “There are lots of things you learn about in school, necessary things that turn on lights in your mind: science, mathematics, history, language — all sorts of things that make this world brighter and richer and more wonderful.

“But the greatest light you will learn about in any Catholic school is to see Jesus Christ as the light of your life,” he told the students and faculty from the 12 schools in Region III who came together for Mass in LaSalle and the representatives from the 10 schools in Region IV who celebrated with him in Kewanee.

In all four corners of the Diocese of Peoria, Bishop Jenky told the young people he thanks God for Catholic schools.

“I love celebrating these Masses with you. You are the future and the hope of the local church in central Illinois, but you have a responsibility as Catholic students to be a light in your families, to be a light in your schools, to be a light to your neighbors, to be a light to the stranger,” he said. “Every one of us should be carrying the light of Christ by what we say and what we do.”

While the music was largely the same for each celebration and the readings of the day were used, special touches made each liturgy unique at the same time.

At St. Jude’s, the newest school in the diocese, visiting schools were greeted by the kindergarteners and first-graders and invited to carry a banner that was made especially for them in the opening procession. Each banner proclaimed the name of the school and the year it was established.

The banner for St. Mary’s School in Kickapoo, which was established in 1861, graced one side of the sanctuary and the banner for St. Jude’s School, which opened last fall, graced the other.

At St. Matthew’s in Champaign, a bell choir enhanced the music led by the student choir, while the third- and fourth-graders from Visitation School joyfully served as song leaders for the Mass at St. Mary’s in Kewanee. In addition, the students of St. Bede Academy in Peru offered their musical talents for the liturgy at St. Patrick’s in LaSalle.

Bishop Jenky praised the young music makers and was the first to show his appreciation with sustained applause. He also asked the clergy, principals and teachers to stand and be recognized for their work in continuing the mission of Catholic school education in central Illinois, saying, “There has never been a time in the history of the state and in the history of this nation that we’ve needed Catholic schools more.”

In LaSalle, Father Robert Rayson turned the tables on the bishop. After thanking Bishop Jenky for being with them that morning and telling him how much his support meant to the clergy and school communities, the pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. Hyacinth’s parishes, started a round of applause that filled the church.

A joint project of the National Catholic Educational Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Schools Week begins on the last Sunday of January. This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Dividends for Life.”

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