SENECA FALLS — All diocesan Catholic schools opened their doors to visitors on Jan. 31, which was “Visit a Catholic School Day,” and St. John Bosco School was no exception. Bishop Matthew H. Clark visited the school and celebrated Mass for the students on that day, which also happened to be the feast day of St. John Bosco.
“It’s a special pleasure to celebrate with you on the feast of the patron of your school, a wonderful saint who loved young people and gave his life to service,” Bishop Clark said at the start of the Mass in St. Patrick Church. “It’s a wonderful sight to see all of our children gathered in church this morning. It’s good to be with you.”
After the Mass Bishop Clark paid his first visit to St. John Bosco School, which opened in 2005 when St. Mary School in Waterloo and St. Patrick School in Seneca Falls merged. The school is located in the former St. Patrick School building.
“We have not had an opportunity to show him our school since we opened a merged school last year. The feast of St. John Bosco always falls during Catholic Schools Week … so I decided I was going to write to invite (Bishop Clark) to come visit our school,” explained Principal Mary Caffrey.
Caffrey and the rest of the faculty were very excited when Bishop Clark accepted their invitation, and they eagerly awaited his visit. Many of the students had never met the bishop before, but they seemed to catch the adults’ enthusiasm.
“I think that they are excited because the adults are excited. I don’t think that they understand how rare this is, or how special it is. We do, so we’re very excited about his coming,” Caffrey said.
Eighth-grader Jessica Minguez said before the Mass began that she had been looking forward to the bishop’s visit because it was something new and different. She had already met the bishop before, but Dylan McMillan and Alexandra Erskine, the two first-graders in the pew next to her, had never seen him.
“It’s a pleasure to have him,” Alexandra’s brother, Andrew, piped up from the next pew.
Andrew, a fourth-grader, was sitting with second-grader Jake Jones, and both had been looking forward to the Mass, which was one of the highlights of the school’s Catholic Schools Week activities.
“It’s cool because we’ve never had the bishop here before,” Jake said.
When the Mass began, all eyes turned toward Bishop Clark, who slowly made his way to the sanctuary, stopping occasionally to smile at and shake hands with students. Several minutes later, he began his homily by asking the students to tell him whether a few statements about St. John Bosco were true or false. While most of the students didn’t know which religious order their patron saint belonged to and only a few knew he was Italian, they all knew he devoted his life to serving young people.
“We have in him such a wonderful model of the Christian life. He loved young people, and he spent his life trying to educate them, encourage them and love them,” Bishop Clark said. “We’re all God’s children, and we all have a place with God.”
The Mass provided a good opportunity for adults to reflect on St. John Bosco’s life and think about the ways in which they can encourage and support the children they work with, and to provide positive role models for them, Bishop Clark said. The saint preached that adults must be firm and clear with children and offer them direction, but at the same time, adults should not be too harsh on children, the bishop said.
“We the adults will pass on to those young people what is inside us. We have to be more strict with ourselves than we are with those in our charge, so that the compassion of Christ always shows through in what we do,” he said.
Before concluding his homily, Bishop Clark thanked the adults for their presence and support of the children, who had been blessed with many gifts.
“You will discover as you grow older more and more of the richness of the gifts that God has given you,” he told the students.
Right before the closing prayer, Bishop Clark received a gift of his own, this one from St. John Bosco’s students and faculty.
“Do I have to wait for Christmas to open this?” he asked, holding up the gift bag.
“No!” the students quickly answered.
His next question, “Do I have to wait for my birthday?” earned him another resounding “No!” from the students.
“Can I open it now?” he finally asked.
“Yes!” they shouted.
Bishop Clark reached into the bag and pulled out a bright red winter hat emblazoned with the logo of the St. John Bosco Bulldogs. Taking off his zucchetto, or bishop’s skull cap, he quickly replaced it with his new hat.
“I really appreciate the gift, especially as the years go by and I have less and less protection at the top of my head,” Bishop Clark said.
“It was really funny,” second-grader Katelyn Watkins said later. “I loved (the Mass) because the bishop was there. I think he was nice.”
“It’s cool to have him at our church,” her sister, Ashli, added, as she and her third-grade classmates ate lunch and visited with the bishop afterwards.
The bishop’s visit was a great way for the school community to celebrate its accomplishments over the past two years, Caffrey said. Life at the school has settled down, and students, parents and faculty alike have settled into a routine, she said.
“The first year was kind of awkward, but now we kind of know what we’re doing,” agreed Jessica Minguez.
“I think that the faculty from the two schools worked well together last year. This year, they’re just one faculty, with a common purpose, common ideals,” Caffrey said. “Now it’s what we have. It’s not something new and different; it’s just who we are.”