Roller skating parties, open houses, ice cream socials and carnivals — those are just some of the activities and events associated with Catholic Schools Week, an annual weeklong celebration conducted at the end of January/beginning of February to showcase Catholic education.
Although Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated this year Jan. 31-Feb. 6, many of the usual celebratory activities and events cannot take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said James Tauzel, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.
“We are working on some creative ways to do things virtually or from a distance,” Tauzel said.
One activity that has been modified is the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass. Each year, students and faculty representing the 16 Catholic schools in the diocese attend a Mass celebrated by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano. This year, Bishop Matano will celebrate a private Mass in the chapel at the Diocese of Rochester’s Pastoral Center that will be livestreamed by the Catholic Courier Feb. 2. Students and faculty will participate in the Mass by livestream in their respective schools.
The Office of Catholic Schools and the school principals also are working to put together a virtual diocesan art show featuring students’ artwork, Tauzel said. The schools also will be collecting canned goods throughout the week that will be donated to local food banks.
In addition to the diocesan Catholic Schools Week activities, individual schools also are planning their own weeklong activities and projects.
At St. Pius Tenth School in Chili, Principal Maria Cahill said the school will continue its Catholic Schools Week dress-down days, but such activities as family bingo and the Scholastic book fair will take place virtually this year. In addition to collecting canned goods, students also will collect items to assemble personal hygiene kits for the Open Door Mission Coldwater Home in Gates.
The school’s open house held during Catholic Schools Week also will look different, according to Cahill, as the school will forgo its in-person event and instead conduct a virtual one featuring a video with messages from current St. Pius Tenth families.
One event for Catholic Schools Week that will be held in person is the school’s Mass.
“We have been very blessed to get all of our students into the church for our monthly liturgies,” Cahill said, noting that the school celebrates Mass for First Friday each month.
At Seton Catholic School in Brighton, Principal Patricia Selig said the school is keeping almost all of its Catholic Schools Week traditions, with slight modifications for safety reasons. Each year, grade levels work together on a making valentines for the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse and Our Lady of Lourdes Church shut-ins. This year, the first-grade students will start work on the valentines, and then a few days later, the sixth-grade students will finish them, explained Selig.
“They will still be working collaboratively, but not at the same time and in the same space,” she added.
Schoolwide celebrations also had to be altered, Selig noted. Instead of the school community gathering together for bingo, the students will remain in their classrooms, with the game being conducted over Zoom and Selig calling the numbers from her office. The students also will stay in their respective classrooms and vote on a movie to watch together as a class for “Seton Cinema,” the school’s annual movie day that normally features a different movie played in each classroom, with the kids in each classroom picking the movie to watch.
While many of Seton’s Catholic School Week traditions are being adjusted to accommodate safety precautions, one event will not be conducted in its usual format. Selig said the school is not able to present its annual winter carnival, an event that the school community looks forward to each year at the conclusion of Catholic Schools Week. Instead, parents, students and staff are organizing a Family Scavenger Hunt around the neighborhood.
“I’m really excited about it (the scavenger hunt),” Selig exclaimed. “I think it is going to be a nice community building (event), and they are going to have fun with it.”
Despite the adjustments and modifications to traditions, Cahill and Selig both see Catholic Schools Weeks as an important celebration, not only for their school communities, but for the surrounding communities as a whole.
“It is so important for building our community,” Selig said. “Part of Catholic schools is being part of this community of faith and learning.”
“Catholic schools have been the schools that have been in-person five days a week since the beginning of the school year, and I think we are finally being recognized for all of the absolutely incredible things that we do, so I think it is absolutely critical that we continue on the same mission,” Cahill added. “So it may look different, but faith, knowledge and service — that is what we do, and we will do everything that we need to do to carry on that mission.”