ROCHESTER — The third time was apparently the charm for students from St. Mary School in Canandaigua, who were finally able to visit Sacred Heart Cathedral April 23 for a Mass with Bishop Matthew H. Clark.
The Mass had previously been scheduled twice before — once during Catholic Schools Week in January and again in March — but each time it was postponed because Bishop Clark had to preside over the funeral of a diocesan priest who’d passed away. The students, however, seemed to think the event was worth the wait, judging from the excited chattering that could be heard as they filed into the cathedral under sunny skies and unusually warm, summer-like weather.
The Mass with the bishop had originally been scheduled because the school likes to emphasize vocations during Catholic Schools Week, according to Ann Marie Deutsch, principal. The school’s students are used to seeing priests and deacons, but she said a visit to the cathedral would give them an opportunity to learn more about some of the other religious vocations.
“They don’t have a good understanding of the bishop or who he is or where he resides,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch also invited representatives from several other vocations to participate in the Mass, including Father Thomas Mull, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua; Father Mark Brewer, parochial vicar at St. Mary; Sister of St. Joseph Margaret Mancuso, assistant diocesan superintendent for curriculum and instruction; and Deacon Kevin Carges, who serves at St. Patrick Parish in Macedon and has two children enrolled at St. Mary School. Coincidentally, Father Mull was unable to attend because he was presiding over a funeral liturgy back at the Canandaigua parish.
The cathedral also is the mother church for the entire Diocese of Rochester, so the visit was an opportunity to help the students understand that the local church is larger than their own individual parishes, she said.
“We wanted to introduce them to the whole church,” Deutsch added.
Bishop Clark emphasized the same point during his homily as he welcomed the students, many of whom were paying their first visit to the cathedral.
“The cathedral church is in a special way a church for all of our people of the diocese,” Bishop Clark noted, explaining that bishops usually reside on cathedral grounds and preside over most of the liturgies and functions that occur there. “Since the cathedral church is the church of our bishop, it is the special gathering place of all the people in our diocese.”
Bishop Clark then helped the students understand the scope of the diocese, explaining that it includes 12 counties, about 160 parishes and approximately 300,000 Catholics. After talking a little bit about the readings and a few sources of good “spiritual foods” — like prayer, friends and good deeds — Bishop Clark asked the students if they had any questions about the cathedral, and a half-dozen small hands immediately shot into the air.
The students asked Bishop Clark a number of questions about the stained-glass windows, the sculptures of saints and the meanings of the religious symbols depicted on shields held by the sculpted angels high above their heads. One child asked the bishop why the different sections of the cathedral — the nave, transepts and sanctuary — formed the shape of a cross.
“It’s a reminder of the way Christ saved us by suffering on a cross,” Bishop Clark responded.
“Why is there a pool there?” piped up another student, pointing to the large baptismal font. Bishop Clark explained that the “pool” serves as a symbol of baptism and is used for full-immersion baptisms, which are often mentioned in the New Testament.
Students also asked questions about the eight coats of arms hanging on the choir loft, and Bishop Clark explained they are representative of the eight bishops of Rochester. They asked about the candles mounted on the pillars lining the cathedral, the rood beam and cross above the altar, and even the bishop’s vestments. The final question of the day — about a small black object mounted on the wall above the sanctuary — proved the students had been examining the cathedral down to its most minute details.
“That black thing on the wall way above the cross? That’s a smoke alarm,” Bishop Clark answered with a grin.
Many of the students were impressed with the way Bishop Clark expressed an interest in them and the time he spent answering their questions.
“It was really nice how he was answering kids’ questions. I thought that was nice that he was including the younger kids,” said seventh-grader Lexie Chapman.
“He seemed really nice,” added eighth-grader Ben Meath, who was visiting the cathedral for the first time.
Seventh-grader Kyle Lay said he was surprised to learn Canandaigua’s own Father Mull was pastor at Sacred Heart until 2000, and classmate Sean Buckley said he enjoyed learning more about the cathedral.
“There’s a lot of details in the church we never know about,” noted seventh-grader Joshua Chapin.
“We liked just being here,” added fellow seventh-grader Austin Cowan.