It would be difficult to forget the huge contribution Sisters have made to the Catholic education in schools across the globe. In a similar way, many who have attended Catholic schools can also recall the priests who were present for catechesis classes or daily Mass, or perhaps for their First Communion or First Reconciliation.
Every Wednesday in the morning and afternoon, Fr. Bart Timmerman, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Bloomington and St. John Parish in Patch Grove, spends time in the classrooms at St. Mary School, giving catechesis. He focuses on the precepts of the Church, on the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Holy Communion. For younger students, this might be more in the line of stories, but for the older students it might involve instruction from the Catechism.
This is followed by a school Mass on Thursdays, and he said he visits intermittently during the week when he can.
“As a pastor, I feel like it’s important to be involved, to make sure we have a strong Catholic identity, to pass on the Catholic faith,” Father Timmerman said. “And it’s important for students to be exposed to the Catholic clergy and priests to promote vocations.”
Affirming Church support
In 1990, the U.S. Catholic bishops released a statement, In Support of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, in which they said, “Much progress has been made. More needs to be done. We must encourage our parents and pastors who presently are shouldering the onerous task of educating our youth in Catholic schools. In our day, it is more important than ever that they give their active support to Catholic schools.”
In their recent 2005 document, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millenium, the bishops again affirmed that, “in our role as chief teachers, we are each responsible for the total educational ministry of the local church.”
“We affirmed that ‘the entire ecclesial community . . . is called to value ever more deeply the importance of this task and mission, and to continue to give it full and enthusiastic support,’” the U.S. bishops wrote. “These Catholic schools afford the fullest and best opportunity to realize the fourfold purpose of Christian education, namely to provide an atmosphere in which the Gospel message is proclaimed, community in Christ is experienced, service to our sisters and brothers is the norm, and thanksgiving and worship of our God is cultivated.”
Sharing the experience
Pastors, administrators, parochial vicars, and religious order priests in the Diocese of Madison have had a long tradition of being involved in Catholic schools. Even as the number of priests in the diocese has decreased, many priests remain actively supportive of the parish schools in their cluster or linkage.
Recently, the Catholic Herald held a fall youth contest with the theme “Year for Priests: Thank You, God, for Father.” Students were asked to draw a card and write a brief message about why they thank God for their favorite priest.
Within a week after the contest began, entries began flowing in from school students, homeschoolers, and religious education students around the Diocese of Madison, showing how much their favorite priests meant to them.
Every card highlighted something that made their priest special and, to them, unique. Students shared memories including a special Nativity story told every Christmas, their priest’s presence at all the important events, taking them to the water park, and sharing candy after Mass. From their smile and joyful presence to their way of bringing God’s word down to their level of understanding, it is clear that priests have made an impression on many Catholic youth.
Principals around the diocese have shared examples of their priests and pastors becoming a part of the Catholic school education. Throughout this special section are photos showing their involvement.
Jill Conaway, principal at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School in Sun Prairie, shared the following about the priests in their parish cluster: “Sacred Hearts School is blessed to have our pastor, Msgr. Duane Moellenberndt, and associate pastor, Fr. Brian Dulli, as well as Msgr. Terry Connors of St. Albert the Great Parish. Both in Mass, visits to classrooms, and at special programs, they enrich the faith life of our students in many ways. We are blessed with an active parent base, gifted teachers, and priests who truly play a part in the moral and faith formation of our students so they can learn the Gospel values that Christ taught us. This year Sacred Hearts School also dedicates our annual report to the 22 priests of Sacred Hearts Church who have graced our school for the past 116 years.”
At St. John the Evangelist School in Spring Green and St. Luke School in Plain, Fr. Mike Resop, pastor, makes an effort to become involved in the schools at each parish.
“All this and he still finds time to seek out dust bunnies and wash a window here and there,” said Cindy Haag, principal at St. Luke School in Plain. “He is a bundle of energy most of the time.”
“In this special Year of the Priests, St. John the Evangelist School in Spring Green is blessed with our pastor Fr. Mike Resop. Father Mike is active in the lives of our students,” said Karen Marklein, principal at St. John the Evangelist School. “Father Mike celebrates Mass with students during the week and a children’s liturgy once a month where all children may gather around to listen to his homily. Teachers and students look forward to his classroom visits where Father Mike teaches religion. Thank you, Father Mike, for sharing your time and talent with us.”
Part of the family
This Catholic Schools Week, Father Timmerman is continuing his support of his school by going skiing for the first time with the students. He’s often involved in the field trips and Catholic Schools Week activities.
“I feel as if I’m part of the family,” he said. “The pastor is the one that is responsible for educating and leading the students.”
It’s not always an easy task, Father Timmerman said.
“Sometimes I feel a little stressed out, but I always am energized and I always have a great experience over at the school, to share the faith and learn what’s happening in their lives,” he said. “They ask a lot of questions — and they make me want to explore the faith and my own faith journey.”