Last September, Principal Suzanne Pohorence issued an invitation to the students at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva.
“Take your family to Mass.”
That invitation also is the name of a new initiative the school launched this fall with help from the pastors at several local parishes. On designated Sundays during the first three months of the school year, Pohorence visited three local churches to thank parishioners for supporting the school, which draws students from well beyond Geneva’s borders. During these Masses, St. Francis-St Stephen students — clad in their school uniforms — served as altar servers, lectors and greeters, while fellow students participated from the pews with their families.
Several Finger Lakes-area parishes support Geneva Catholic school
The Take Your Family to Mass initiative grew out of a discussion Pohorence had last winter with Father James Fennessy, pastor at St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Waterloo and Seneca Falls. In the weeks leading up to and following Catholic Schools Week, Pohorence visited several of the home parishes of St. Francis-St. Stephen students, including St. Francis and St. Clare. In each church, she addressed parishioners from the pulpit and thanked them for supporting the school, and was surprised when many parishioners stopped to talk to her after Mass.
“These parishioners expressed how they donate often to the Sunday collection, not only to their parish but also to our school. They told me how often they pray for the school and for an increase in our enrollment,” Pohorence said.
Many of these parishioners were Catholic-school alumni themselves, she said. Some had attended St. Francis-St. Stephen, while others had been students at Catholic schools that have since closed.
“When they started talking, reminiscing, you could tell how important Catholic education was for them, and how important it is for them to know there is still a Catholic school in the area,” Pohorence said. “I chatted afterwards with Father Fennessy about how parishioners responded, and he invited me to come back, and even suggested our students be part of the Mass next time. He mentioned how much the parishioners would love to see the students in their uniforms.”
Pohorence and Father Fennessy considered bringing students to one of St. Francis and St. Clare’s weekday Masses, but determined it would not be possible to transport students from the school in Geneva to either Waterloo or Seneca Falls in time for Mass. Once they started considering weekend Masses instead, they realized they had an opportunity to involve entire families rather than just the students themselves.
Special Masses highlight the community formed by Catholic education
Fifteen St. Francis-St. Stephen families attended the first Take Your Family to Mass event, which took place Sept. 17 at St. Stephen Church in Geneva, which is one of the worship sites of Our Lady of Peace Parish. Not all of St. Francis-St. Stephen’s families are Catholic, and one of the non-Catholic families reached out to Pohorence ahead of time and asked if it would be appropriate for them to attend the Mass.
“Of course we said yes,” Pohorence remarked, noting that Father Thomas Mull and Father Carlos Sanchez, Our Lady of Peace’s pastor and parochial vicar, respectively, concelebrated the Mass. “Father Carlos did a really nice explanation of what to know and how to participate.”
Seven St. Francis-St. Stephen families participated in the Oct. 15 Mass at St. Mary Church, which is part of St. Francis and St. Clare. Some of these families regularly worship there, while others traveled to Waterloo because they wanted to participate in Take Your Family to Mass, Pohorence said.
Such participation highlighted the community that forms around Catholic education, she added. Parishioners came up to St. Francis-St. Stephen students to share their own experiences in Catholic schools, which allowed current students to start to realize how special Catholic education is, she said.
“The students get to hear that being a student in a Catholic school is a memory that stays with you,” Pohorence said. “We’re part of a whole network, a whole community of people that understand the value of Catholic education. It’s a nice faith community that expands beyond just our school.”
Visiting different churches helps students learn about church’s universal nature
The third Take Your Family to Mass event took place Nov. 12 at St. Michael Church in Newark, and the fourth is scheduled for Dec. 10 at one of the worship sites of St. Peter Parish in Ontario County. The experience of worshipping in a church other than their home church was new for many students, but they enjoyed it, Pohorence said. Students have commented on differences they’ve noted — such as different stained-glass windows or the use of bells during the eucharistic prayer in two of the churches but not the third — while learning about the universal nature of the Catholic Church.
“It opens a nice little dialogue,” she said.Tags: Catholic Schools, Ontario County News, Seneca County News, Wayne County News