By Claudia Mathis
DEWITT — Faculty, administrators, religious and many priests of the diocese began the new school year on a high note when they attended the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 6 at Holy Cross Church in Dewitt.
Many of the participants came away with a renewed commitment to their vocation after attending the Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham.
In his homily, Bishop Cunningham told the educators that they would soon begin a new school year filled with challenges and joys.
“We gather at His table, nourished by His word and His Sacrament,” said Bishop Cunningham. “It’s at this table that we find the nourishment we need for the journey of the new year.”
The bishop stated that the Scripture readings for the Mass that day set the tone for the beginning days of the school year. The first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, spoke of hope to the exiles in Babylon: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you … You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people and I shall be your God.”
“The promise of a new heart and a new spirit are fulfilled in the covenant written and chosen by Jesus’ death and resurrection,” said Bishop Cunningham. He said that school is a sacred place, where students have the opportunity to hear and see what it means to live the covenant relationship with God.
The second Scripture reading, from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, speaks of the different forms of service intended to build up the church. The bishop stressed the importance of students learning that they are not isolated individuals and that the world does not revolve around them.
“You are the ones who are entrusted with the responsibility to make sure they see it, not only by your words, but by every gesture of your behavior,” Bishop Cunningham told the educators.
The third reading was from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus came to Nazareth, proclaiming the Gospel. “Our Catholic school is a means of evangelization,” said Bishop Cunningham. “In the sacred place of our schools, the Gospel is proclaimed.”
Bishop Cunningham concluded his homily by expressing his gratitude to the educators for their commitment to Catholic schools. He assured them that he would support them in their endeavors.
Janet Driscoll, a counselor at Blessed Sacrament School, Most Holy Rosary School and Cathedral Academy at Pompei in Syracuse, said she felt inspired to enrich her prayer life after attending the Mass. She made a resolution to attend daily Mass before each school day. “This was a reminder that you are always a witness,” said Driscoll. “What you do is important.”
Driscoll said she also planned to continue a discussion that began last school year with other educators about initiating some after-school healthy cooking and sewing classes at the schools where she serves. “We want to offer the students more opportunities to be part of something,” Driscoll said. “It’s great to be part of the Catholic School system and the church.”
After the Mass, Christopher Mominey, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools, addressed those in attendance, extending a special welcome to the new staff members.
Mominey expressed his gratitude and admiration for the teachers’ dedication to the mission of the diocese’s Catholic education. “The vocation to which you have been called requires you to animate the Gospel message in the halls of our schools so that each student entrusted to our care comes to know the person of Jesus Christ in a more meaningful way,” Mominey told the teachers. He said that it is the role of the teacher, the one who reaches out to touch the heart of the student each day, that makes the most difference in the life of the Catholic school.
Portia Nelson, American actress and poet, inspired Mominey’s presentation. Her story, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, captures the image of what is needed in Catholic schools today.
“It’s time to reinvent who we are, recreate what we do and re-imagine what we can become,” said Mominey.
Mominey encouraged and challenged the educators to look beyond the crisis facing Catholic schools to embrace the opportunity to ensure the religious formation and spiritual development of students. He listed three opportunities. The first opportunity, Mominey told the teachers, is to not be so humble about their passion for young people, and to tell the world that what they do is making a difference.
The second opportunity is to take control of the school’s destiny. “It’s time that we become more intentional about leadership, board development and enrollment management,” Mominey advised.
The third is to collaborate and innovate, setting the stage for a sustainable model of schools. “Without the apostolate of Catholic schools the church of Syracuse would suffer greatly,” Mominey said. “So we must seize this third opportunity with enthusiasm and rededicate ourselves to the vocation to which we have been called.”
Martha Ponge, computer teacher at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, came away from the gathering with a renewed spirit. “I love to hear Mr. Mominey speak,” said Ponge. “It inspires us to continue our work. As teachers, we all have to grow and change. I feel encouraged to do something different this year.”