Parish offers blessing at school year’s start

Gavin McLain, 7, and Maeghan McLain, 8, of Columbus, Ohio, who were in town visiting their grandmother Noreen Morris, participated in St. Patrick’s “backpack blessing.” Sun photo | Dyann Nashton

There is a popular tool used today for education and communication. It transmits vital information about school events, curriculum, home studies and even the occasional, but often dreaded, personal note. This handy, low-tech resource is in need of prayers. St. Patrick’s Parish in Oneida provided just that when it sent its young parishioners back to school this week with a blessing of the backpacks.   Following Mass, school children of all ages were called to the front of the sanctuary where a small table against the altar featured a backpack brimming with notebooks, crayons and assorted school supplies. Brightly hued metallic key rings in the shape of the Christian “fish” symbol ichthys were scattered on the table like autumn leaves at the foot of a tree. Key rings are popular with the younger set as backpack accessories.

Father Richard Kapral invited students forward and after a few moments of shyness, the first brave, young souls stepped forward. By the time the little gathering was assembled, a few lanky teens had joined in, looking over the tops of elementary students’ heads. Father Kapral and the congregation offered a blessing over the students, who each got to take a key ring.

“This is not just something for Father Kapral to do,” said Lisa Spooner, director of faith formation. “The entire parish and community are blessing the children. We wanted the parish family to do this as participants, not just observers,” she said, “It is to acknowledge the simple things that go on in everyday life. It reminds us of simple blessings.”

Spooner said Connie Armstrong, Northern Region director of faith formation, first made her aware of the concept and introduced her to Milestone Ministries, whose mission is “to provide congregations and households with resources… to nurture the Christian faith and reach out to others with the love of God in Christ.” This was the second year Oneida’s St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s parishes had blessed the backpacks, said Spooner. St. Joseph’s Parish will administer the blessing next Sunday.

Parishioner Noreen Morris, whose grandchildren were visiting from out of state, said with a note of relief, “I’m happy, as a teacher, to have the backpack blessing.” Indeed, prayer intentions were set not only for the backpacks but for the children, their parents and educators. The blessing read in part: “And as they grow in knowledge, help them also to grow in kindness and compassion, learning respect for themselves and for others. We ask your blessing on parents, teachers, school staff, and all those who care for these students. Strengthen these students with encouragement, support, and love.”

Morris added that it was nice to see high school students participate with younger children as well. Her grandchildren remembered last year’s blessing when they entered the pew and saw the “Backpack Blessing,” printed on bright orange half-sheets. Morris reported, “They said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s backpack Sunday!”

Spooner said part of raising awareness for everyday blessings is nudging parishioners to look beyond their own present life experiences. Older parishioners can remember the excitement of their own families in the fall and think about others at a different stage of life. “Taking note of daily occurrences and considering them as blessings can bring a community together,” she said.

Dyann Nashton is the development associate at Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Utica, a freelance writer and a contributing writer to the Sun.

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