Mass celebration opens school year

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

DEWITT — Holy Cross Church in Dewitt was the setting for a Mass on Sept. 8, one that celebrated the opening of a new school year on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The church was filled to capacity as many of those in attendance renewed their acquaintances after the summer. The mood was upbeat as faculty, administrators, religious and numerous priests gathered to pray and ask God’s blessings for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Bishop Robert Cunningham served as the celebrant and homilist at the Mass.

In his homily, Bishop Cunningham said that it was fitting that the opening Mass for schools was celebrated on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He asked the teachers to consider the similarity between their role as a Catholic schoolteacher and Mary’s role. “Just as Mary brought Christ into the world, so too, you carry the Word of God with you. Hopefully, you embody that in your teaching and impart the good news of Jesus Christ to all who sit before you,” said Bishop Cunningham.”

He told the teachers that when school opens this year, they have an opportunity to “form their minds and to open their hearts to the teachings of Christ and His Church.”

Bishop Cunningham believes that parents should receive help from the church with the responsibility of educating their children in reference to spiritual matters and faith. “As a Catholic school teacher, you function as a surrogate for parents in teaching,” he told them. “You help parents in the human formation of their child. Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that Catholic school teachers help Christianize our culture as they integrate learning with the good news of the Gospel.”

Bishop Cunningham said that Catholic schoolteachers help young people to pursue truth, foster a sense of values and develop a capacity for sound judgment. He also said that teachers also transmit a rich cultural heritage, which includes transmitting the truths of the Catholic faith and they form young people to be open to God’s plan for their lives.

Bishop Cunningham listed four pillars of faith embraced by the educational mission of the Catholic school — doctrine (message), community life, service to the human community and liturgy.

At the conclusion of his homily, Bishop Cunningham stressed the importance of teachers embodying values in their lives that are pleasing to God, not only in their profession, but also in their daily lives.

“Our students are bright and inquisitive,” said Bishop Cunningham. “They are observant and they are influenced by what they see. If you have your act together, you may see that in their response as well. Here is your challenge: live in such a way that others see anew a synthesis of culture and faith, a vision which they may choose to be their own. Go for it!”

After the Mass, Danielle Cummings, Assistant Chancellor and Director of the Communications Office, expressed her gratitude for the work of those in attendance.

Cummings introduced Chris Mominey, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office, describing him as “a man of great faith.” Mominey succeeded Michael Colabufo, who retired in June.

Mominey expressed his admiration for the teachers’ dedication to Catholic education and assured them that the Catholic School Office would support them. “You are not in this alone,” Mominey assured them.

“My style of leadership is one of collaboration,” said Mominey. “Our goal is to seek a variety of viewpoints and then take action.”

Looking back on his education in Catholic schools, Mominey said what mattered the most to him was the relationships he had with his teachers. “They engaged me in a relationship,” he said. “I learned from their example and their love. Remember this — as Catholic educators, we are in the business of building relationships. We know neither the time nor the place when God will enter their lives, but we know that God is calling us to be instruments.”

Mominey said that the role of Catholic education has changed to such a great extent over the past 25 years that educators are called to love students as if they were their own children now more than ever. “Your life is the only Gospel that some children will ever read,” he said.

Mominey outlined plans for a new vision for the future of Catholic schools in the diocese. “We must set in place five more pillars that will serve as the structure for our success,” said Mominey. He listed them as renewal of Catholic identity in light for the needs of the 21st century church, quality administration of Catholic education and instruction from the offices to the classrooms and to the fields, commitment to reshaping Catholic education in order to accommodate the needs of students that are “born digital,” sound fiscal stewardship that looks at innovative ways of funding Catholic education with special emphasis on development and bold and innovative initiatives across the diocese that set Catholic schools apart from all others.

“The result is that we will create the premiere system of Catholic education academically and spiritually,” said Mominey.

Sean Horan, math teacher at Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Utica, was bolstered by the presentations. “It was definitely inspiring,” said Horan. “It’s good to see all the schools in the diocese come together as a community and to set goals and talk about the challenges that lie ahead.”

Nancy Perry also attended the Mass. She will teach math to grades nine through 12 this school year at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton. She previously taught math in public schools for the last 20 years. “This is a good way to start the school year,” said Perry. “It made me feel appreciated.”

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