ROCHESTER -- Feb. 1 started mighty early for Piper Young. She arose at 5:20 a.m., leaving Elmira at 7:15 for her first trip ever to Sacred Heart Cathedral.
There, the sixth-grader had the honor of carrying the Holy Family School banner at the start of a special Catholic Schools Week liturgy with Bishop Salvatore R. Matano. Piper processed alongside banner-bearing students from all over the Rochester Diocese.
Some 600 young people, as well as faculty and staff members, descended upon the cathedral in buses traveling from near and far -- Monroe County, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier. They packed the facility almost to capacity, with many youngsters pausing upon entering the building to look around and take it all in.
Patrick McNulty, a first-grader at St. Kateri School in Irondequoit, receives a blessing from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during Communion at the Catholic Schools Week Mass at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Feb. 1.
Seeing such a vast crowd prompted Anthony S. Cook III, diocesan superintendent of schools, to declare to the congregation before Mass that he considered that Wednesday "my proudest day of the year."
Bishop Matano acknowledged Cook's remark during his homily, saying, "So too for me -- to see this beautiful church filled with our children who will be our future leaders, please God, in our church and our society. The abilities that are recognized in this church are extraordinary."
Many students assisted at the mid-morning Mass as lectors, altar servers, choir members and gift-bearers. One such person was Chris O'Neill, 10, an altar server who performed the role of cross-bearer. The fourth-grader at St. Mary School in Canandaigua said he wasn't nervous serving for the bishop, since he altar-serves regularly at his parish, St. John of Rochester in Perinton.
Chris also remarked that he enjoyed meeting up with fellow Catholic-school students for the large celebration.
"I like it when different schools are all together, because it's like a big huge family," he said.
Piper, 11, shared Chris' sentiment, saying that the Feb. 1 event "makes me feel good. It's something we can all get together for."
This marked Chris' second straight year of attending the Catholic Schools Week Mass, whereas it was the first for Piper. Cook noted that the cathedral liturgy was instituted in 2016 as an important addition to Catholic Schools Week, which traditionally features an array of fun and faith-filled activities. Cook explained that the Mass serves to directly connect Catholic-school students with their bishop while exposing them to the beauty of the diocese's mother church.
"A lot of kids might never come to the cathedral otherwise," he said.
Piper, for one, was glad she got to attend Mass at Sacred Heart despite Holy Family having the longest distance to travel among all participating schools Feb. 1.
"I think it's very pretty," she said of the cathedral.