Deacon Tom Picciano
sun contributing writing

BINGHAMTON — Bishop Robert Cunningham was welcomed as a “Saint” at Seton Catholic Central on Sept. 11. The bishop was presented with a green bag filled with several items — including a sweatshirt and foam finger — so he can attend sporting events in support of the SCC Saints teams.

Bishop Cunningham was the main celebrant for a Mass of the Holy Spirit to open the school year. He said it’s a tradition dating back to the great medieval universities to ask the Spirit’s intercession to enlighten and strengthen academic pursuits.

He issued a three-word challenge to students, faculty and parents for the coming school year and for life: confidence, charity and courage.

“It is very important for you to have confidence in yourselves. You know how important and valued you are, not because of the marks you receive in school, for the special athletic promise that you have, for the musical talent with which you are blessed, for your warm and outgoing personality,” the bishop said.

“Each of you is special because you have been created in the image and likeness of God.

“The Holy Spirit dwells within you. You are a blessing to the church and to this school. Always remember who you are, you are sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.”

The bishop urged the students to be charitable. “Don’t let anybody feel rejected or isolated,” he said. “Before you speak, ask yourselves whether what you say would offend anyone. Be kind to everyone and let everyone feel welcome in your group. This is charity in action and it costs absolutely nothing.”

Catholic school students, the bishop added, should remember that charity includes respect for human life from conception to natural death.

“We preach the Gospel of life which calls us to manifest our charity, our love for God and neighbor by profound respect for life,” he said.

Bishop Cunningham noted that the saints are wonderful examples of courage, including the patron of the school, Elizabeth Ann Seton. She was a wife, mother, protector of orphans as well as founder of the Sisters of Charity and the Catholic School System in the U.S.

“The saints can show us we can get sanctity in different ways,” the bishop said.  “When all of them became saints, all of them realized that their fundamental call in life was a call to holiness. Don’t ever let anything influence your life or take you away from that call to sanctity.”

The bishop said confidence, charity and courage are challenges to a Christian life. “Always keep in mind confidence in yourself as a son or daughter of God. Sharing what should be the hallmark of every Christian. The courage to do what is right and just.”

Bishop Cunningham also told students to pray and reflect. He asked them to listen to the “whisper of God” about a possible religious vocation.

As the Mass concluded, a group of student leaders came up to officially welcome the bishop, and present him with “Saints” items from the school.

“This is a great joy for us. It is our full reason to exist that you join us here in prayer,” said SCC Principal Kathleen Dwyer. “It’s such an honor to have you with us this morning Bishop Cunningham as we open this new school year. We’re very gratefull, honored and pleased.”

“The start of the school year is always an exciting time, but I think this year is a special emphasis on newness and a new era,” said Christopher Mominey, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools. Mominey accompanied Bishop Cunningham to SCC and several other schools in the last week. “We had a great ride down. I enjoy spending time with him. He’s wonderful. A big supporter of Catholic schools.”

After the Mass, the bishop stood in the hallway to meet with students and others. He took time to speak with some, and pose for photos with others. A few minutes later, just before a lunch with a group of students in the library, the bishop reflected on his time at Seton Catholic Central.

“This is a wonderful time of the year as new students begin to come to the school to learn new things and always to deepen their relationship with the Lord. The purpose of a catholic high school is not only to prepare them for life but to prepare them for eternal life,” the bishop said. “Seton Catholic does a wonderful job with that. The enthusiasm this morning, the wonderful show of support on the part of priests and people from the community and the student body have all been very impressive and very admirable. I’m very delighted to be here.”

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