School principals commissioned during Nazareth House retreat

HENRY — Principals of Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria were called to be “ministers of mystery, of awe, of wonder” by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC last week as they were commissioned for the new school year.

In a break from tradition, the liturgy took place during their annual retreat at Nazareth House Retreat Center instead of the chapel at the Spalding Renewal Center in Peoria. The responses were the same, however, as Bishop Jenky asked if they would place their talents, skills and obedience at the service of the diocese, foster justice and compassion within their school community, and offer “a vision of life inspired by the example of Jesus Christ.”

Saying, “With God’s help, we will,” the principals also pledged to pray for each other regularly.

“Archbishop Sheen once said, ‘Believe the incredible and you can do the impossible.’ Through the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen, may your faith in our Lord be strengthened so that you may go forth and boldly proclaim Christ and renew his church,” Bishop Jenky said before presenting a framed copy of that quote and a photo of the sainthood candidate to each person.

(In the photo above, Lisa Gray of Sts. Peter and Paul School in Nauvoo receives her framed Sheen quote from Bishop Jenky during the commissioning ceremony.)

In his homily, Bishop Jenky said Catholic schools strive to provide an excellent education, just as any other fine school would.

“But at the heart of Catholic education is something, finally, that’s like God — ineffable,” he told the principals. “For the mystery of who God is hopefully is shared with grammar school kids and high school kids and their families, their parents, their friends, for it is the Lord we are serving in Catholic education.”

Bishop Jenky said if the students get a sense of wonder and awe in their lives and know they are part of a great God, “that’s going to fill their lives with meaning. That’s what’s going to give conviction to them. That’s what’s going to get them through the tough times. That’s what’s going to give them a glimpse of the glory of heaven even here on earth.”

That need to live their Catholic faith in an intensely authentic way has never been more important, he told them after dinner during a session of “Stump the Bishop.”

“We will have to be more intentional, even if we win on this HHS thing,” he said, answering a question about the Affordable Care Act and the lawsuits pending about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and abortion.

“We’re facing a major, major, major — and it’s not the first time the church has faced it — confrontation with a dominant secular culture. In the end, of course, God always wins, but we could have some tough times,” Bishop Jenky said. “The battles aren’t over, even if we win this HHS thing.”

The principals asked lighter questions, too, such as what he would offer as the 11th Commandment if prompted by the Lord: “Thou must always cheer for the University of Notre Dame!”

The only time he truly seemed stumped, however, was when he was asked what would be on his “bucket list.” It soon became clear that it wasn’t that he didn’t have anything to say, he just wasn’t familiar with the term.

At the top of his list was strengthening Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria, which will require looking at old things in new ways, Bishop Jenky said. That includes greater collaboration between parishes, schools, Newman Centers and other ministries throughout central Illinois.

“We’re one church,” he said. “We have to start thinking as a local church working together.”

He called the schools “engines of evangelization” since they touch so many lives and said they can guide people to a personal encounter with Christ.
“Without that, everything we do means nothing,” Bishop Jenky said.

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