by Deacon Tom Picciano
sun contributing writer
ENDICOTT — “I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life.” —-
LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI PROCLAIMING A YEAR FOR PRIESTS
There’s a bulletin board just inside the main entrance to St. Joseph’s School in Endicott. Since September, students have stopped and read a list of the names of all active and retired priests listed for the Year of the Priest.
During each morning prayer, students read a special intention: ““For all priests, especially those who have served in our local parishes and schools, may they be blessed in many ways as they continue to serve God’s people, even in their retirement days.” The names of different priests are included in the intention each day.
“I think it’s important particularly for them to know what the larger church is doing, and the larger church is recognizing the priests,” said principal Angela Tierno. “Everyone knows it’s the Year of the Priest in this school. I think that’s important or we wouldn’t have designated a whole year for the priest.”
The focus on priests goes beyond the bulletin board and daily prayer intentions. As part of a joint project with Our Lady of Sorrows/Seton School, students made care packages for the retired priests before Christmas. “We put a lot of stuff in them. There were tissues and soap,” said eighth grader Jessica Rundell. “Some of the younger kids decorated them.” Fellow eighth grader Colin LaSalle noted that the packages included messages written by students.
Other eighth graders shared what they wrote to the priests:
“I just said how much we appreciate all that they’ve done for us” said Liza Calleo.
“Even though they’re retired,” said Chris McAvey, “they still did a lot for us, our church and diocese.”
Alisyn Clock remembers “Putting in how I was grateful that they were able to serve as priests and that we were remembering them in our prayers.”
There were some responses to the packages and letters, including public recognition when a retired priest said Mass for the students. Tierno said that the priest “felt loved and remembered,” and the letters “brought joy” to the retired priests. She said it taught how “a little kindness can bring so much cheer to others.”
Tierno also received a thank you from her former pastor, now in a retirement home. He wrote that the priests he lived with were “gratified and humbled by the unusual and touching gift…Thank you for the beautiful expression of faith in us.”
Eighth grader Andrew Klawiter said the letters and packages made him feel good. “Because [the priests] know they are being appreciated for all the things they’ve done, instead of some places not realizing what they do and what a part they have in our lives.”
St. Joseph’s pastor, Father Charles Opondo-Owora, brought a message from priests who are part of the bulletin board prayer list. He thanked the students, saying the prayers mean a great deal to them.
“Every week they have the touch of Father Charles and that is a huge impact for them as well. His homilies are geared toward them and it’s an active part of their education, the priesthood and the church,” Tierno said. She adds that it may inspire those who are thinking of a religious vocation “even if it’s in the back of their mind, it’s a positive for them because they see in their daily school life the positive impact of priests.”
St. Joseph’s has played host to other active priests in the past few months. Father Joseph O’Connor, director of the Diocesan Office of Vocation Promotions, spoke to all the classes. Another visit combined a vocation message with language skills. Students didn’t speak English on the day Father Amedeo Guida taught their Spanish classes.
“That was good for them not only to learn the language, but to learn about someone who has passed to the priesthood,” said Tierno. “He actually thought he was going to be an interpreter. He went to college for that. It wasn’t until later that he discerned to become a priest.”
Prayer is part of the day at St. Joseph’s so the focus on priests, and daily prayer intentions, fits in quite well with the students.
“I think it’s good, especially for some of the younger children because they might not realize what priests do after they stop preaching in churches,” said eighth grader Emily Brown.
“Some children may not realize that priests go to retirement homes. They don’t just go home and they don’t just continue preaching until God calls them,” she said.