Bishop Edward Malesic celebrated the significance of Catholic education in the Diocese of Cleveland at the rescheduled Catholic Schools Week Mass on April 8 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The liturgy was slated for the week of Jan. 30, but school officials decided to delay the Mass because of both a snow day and another peak in transmission rates of COVID-19.
With spring sunshine streaming through the cathedral windows, more than 20 schools filled the pews with students, educators and parents. Across the diocese, many schools watched the livestream for the Mass. They also heard a special homily message dedicated to students in 2022.
Serving as readers were students from Elyria Catholic High School in Elyria and Holy Trinity School in Avon. Eighth-graders from The Welsh Academy in Cleveland joined students from Saint Ignatius High School, also in Cleveland, as altar servers for the Mass. Choirs from Magnificat High School in Rocky River and St. Ambrose School in Brunswick led the singing.
Before Mass, Frank O’Linn, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese, greeted everyone and thanked them for joining the final event of the national Catholic Schools Week celebration, which for some took place between Jan. 30 and Feb. 5. He encouraged students to take time to reflect on the pages of the worship aid, which paid to tribute to St. Julie Billiart and Ukraine.
April 8 is the anniversary of St. Julie Billiart’s death. After spending years as a social worker and teaching the poor, she died in 1816. She also was the founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
During his homily, Bishop Malesic expanded on O’Linn’s opening remarks, explaining that St. Julie Billiart and her religious order went on to educate the young Church, train catechists and help others in need. One hundred and forty eight years ago, the Sisters of Notre Dame came to Cleveland from Germany and began to help in the diocese.
“One of her quotes that inspires is about the sunflower,” the bishop said. “’The quote reads: Be like the sunflower that follows every movement of the sun, and keep your eyes always turned towards our good God.’”
He explained how the sunflower is a curious plant that faces east at dawn and then follows the sun as it rises while eventually rotating, following the sun until it sets in the west.
“If you are a Christian, you must never take your eyes off Jesus. If you want to follow him, you must always keep in your sight. He will always give you new life,” the bishop said.
Pointing out that the sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine, he asked students to look at each sunflower and the direction it was pointing throughout the pages of the worship aid.
“May the sunflower remind us to pray for Ukraine and to pray for peace and unity wherever it is needed,” the bishop said, adding, “Sometimes that is right where we are now, within our own communities or even our homes.”
He also recognized the hard work and perseverance of faculty, staff, administrators, students and their parents and grandparents throughout the pandemic.
To the educators he said, “I am proud of you. You have shown the strength of the Catholic school, the desire to put our children first, the depth of your vocation as Christian educators and your commitment to forming young lives. Thank you.”
He commended the students for their patience during what he called “a very challenging, confusing and unnerving time for all of us. Thanks for lifting our spirits, for doing your best to follow the guidance of your schools, for encouraging us with your strength and for giving us hope for the future.”
The bishop also reminded the congregation that they have the greatest anti-bullying program any school could have: the Gospel. “Let kindness shine in all you do,” he said.
In addition, I have offered the students some advice telling them, “Be children of hope that love is always possible, peace is always within reach… it is not impossible to follow the call of Jesus to walk to that better day. You are the young Church. You are vibrant and fresh, young and filled with life. Take that energy and use it for great good.”
Each student at the Mass received a packet of sunflower seeds that featured the quote from St. Julie Billiart.
After Mass, Bishop Malesic met with each school, taking photos and learning more about the school community and students’ plans.