GENEVA — Approximately 800 students from seven Finger Lakes-area Catholic schools got the chance to rub elbows with Bishop Matthew H. Clark during an Oct. 7 Mass of the Good Shepherd at St. Stephen Church.
“I thought Bishop Clark is very, very nice,” Isabel Kenyon remarked after the Mass.
Isabel is in fifth grade at Canandaigua’s St. Mary School, which sent to the Mass all of its students in preschool through eighth grade. They were joined by the students of St. Francis-St. Stephen and DeSales High schools in Geneva as well as busloads of students from St. Michael School in Newark, St. Joseph School in Auburn, St. Michael School in Penn Yan and Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic School in Auburn.
The staff at St. Francis-St. Stephen planned the Mass to commemorate the Year for Priests, which Pope Benedict XVI has announced will extend from June 2009 through June 2010. The Mass provided students, parents and staff members with a way to recognize and thank the priests who so dutifully serve them, said Elaine Morrow, principal at St. Francis-St. Stephen.
“There are all of these schools throughout the Finger Lakes area, and there are so many priests who serve us,” she said. “People generally think of the one or two priests at their parish who serve them, but they all serve us.”
Morrow invited the bishop and all of the priests who minister at the parishes with Catholic schools, so 13 priests were on hand to concelebrate the Oct. 7 Mass.
“It’s good for the kids to see the bishop and the priests. We just thought it would be a real spiritual thing, and a learning thing,” Morrow said.
Bishop Clark said he was excited by the opportunity to celebrate the Year for Priests with his brother priests and with the students. He did admit, however, to being a bit nervous about speaking to 800 young people, and he asked the students for their support as he gave his homily.
“Pray for me while I’m speaking, would you, so that I can say something that’s helpful to your spirit, to help us reflect on the fact that Jesus is our good shepherd,” Bishop Clark said.
The bishop also asked the students and adults present to pray that he and all priests might remain faithful to their calling from God. He urged them to show their support for priests and let the priests know they’re appreciated.
“When you see them, ask how they’re doing and thank them for all the things they’re doing for you,” Bishop Clark said.
Priests and bishops are not the only ones who have special callings from God, he added. God calls to every single person in the church, from the youngest preschool students to the DeSales seniors choosing colleges, the bishop said.
“Every one of us has one shepherd who is Jesus, and every one of us is called to live our lives according to his plan for you,” he said. “Jesus will lead you in your path of life, and during that path of life you’re going to have to make choices and decisions that are very important. So I’d encourage you to pray every day, ‘Lord, who do you want me to become? How do I follow your lead?’ I pray that we can make that our daily personal prayer.”
Bishop Clark also gave the students an opportunity to ask him questions about the priesthood or the role of a bishop. He had an emphatic response to one student’s query about whether he enjoyed his role as bishop.
“I love it, especially at moments like this, when I’m with people who are trying to follow the Lord,” he responded. “When I’m with people like you, it strengthens my faith and really encourages me very much.”
He answered several other questions about Mass and the sacrament of confirmation before calling on one last student, who apparently had a very pressing question.
“Do hamsters have guardian angels?” the earnest child asked.
Bishop Clark chuckled before telling the child that God probably loves and protects hamsters, although he’s not sure of the exact form that love and protection might take.
The students seemed to appreciate Bishop Clark’s candor and friendly demeanor.
“I liked that the bishop was here,” Courtney Wlad told the Catholic Courier. Courtney, Hannah Lasch and Mica Garcia, all in eighth grade at St. Joseph, were among the many students who were able to meet the bishop after Mass and exchange a few words with him. They also enjoyed being together with students from other Catholic schools in the area, they said.
Seventh-graders Bradley Gellatly and Danny Jankowski of St. Mary said they also enjoyed getting to see the bishop and some priests they’d never met. Fifth-grader Connor Eagle, meanwhile, said he was impressed by the bishop’s zucchetto, or silk skull cap.
“I liked the purple hat,” he remarked.
Konnor Smith, Peter Karekos and Mackenzie Cowan, Connor’s classmates, said they enjoyed singing the songs and listening to the readings.
“I thought it was good, all of the priests coming together,” classmate Mac Reston added.
Second-grader Madline Tulloch and first-grader Anna Bella Phillips, both of St. Michael in Newark, said it was exciting to see the bishop and be part of the special Mass.
“I think it was great because of all the singing,” Anna Bella said.
This story was updated on Oct. 13, 2009.