GREEN BAY — What first appeared to be a pep rally was actually the second diocesan all-school Mass welcoming approximately 10,000 students, faculty and staff representing 62 schools on Oct. 21.
The Diocesan Association of School Administrators (DASA) hosted the Mass, along with the assistance of the diocesan Department of Education. Bishop David L. Ricken presided at the Mass and was joined by more than 30 area priests.
It all started at the doors of the Resch Center, where Missionary of the Word sisters gave high fives to students entering the building.
Catholic elementary and high schools of all sizes were represented — from larger schools like St. Bernard and Notre Dame Academy of Green Bay to the smallest, St. John Paul II Classical School. Some buses had only a 15-minute drive while others, like All Saints in Antigo, traveled around 90 minutes to get to Green Bay.
All Saints middle school teacher Karl Hanke, who teaches social studies along with religion, smiled as he watched his entire school, minus pre-K students, file into the Resch Center. “I believe we came the farthest,” he said.
A kind of roll call was taken as each school gave a proud shout out when its name was called. Large school or small school, voices of children as well as mature deeper high school voices filled a venue that usually hosts concerts, hockey games and monster truck competitions.
A combined choir and band comprised of students from the diocesan high schools sang and played before Mass. Building Permit, a Catholic praise and worship band whose seven members come from parishes in Neenah, Appleton and Kimberly/Darboy, donated their time to lead the students in the liturgical music as well as perform a concert while everyone ate their bag lunches. Students swayed to the music and did “the wave” as if attending a sporting event or rock concert.
Maddie Spencer, an eighth grader at All Saints, who has been at the school since pre-K, follows Green Bay Gamblers hockey and makes regular visits to the Resch Center. On this day she celebrated her faith with fellow Catholic school students. Spencer said she didn’t remember attending the first all-diocesan Mass when she was just in second grade in 2010, so she and her fellow eighth graders in attendance experienced the event from a different vantage point. When asked about the day, Spencer, along with her school of 190 students, all wearing the same T-shirts, was excited for the event and said it was “cool.”
Technology teacher Stacy Beck said it is such a benefit for a small-town school to gather with the rest of the diocese. “We are the only Catholic school in our city, so for the kids to see all of the other kids is an exciting time.”
In his homily, Bishop Ricken dusted off one of the most important components of the catechism. He asked the students, “Who made you?” And many students chimed in with the correct answer, “God made you.”
He continued, “Why did God make you? To know him to love him and to serve him in this life and be happy with him in this life and the next.”
The message of discipleship and friendship was also woven into the homily. “We are all called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. You might ask, what is a disciple? A disciple is first of all a friend of Jesus, personally.”
He said each person is called to be a friend of Jesus.
“The beautiful thing about our Lord is that he can be the deepest and best friend of each one of us and he invites us into personal friendship with himself and he can do that,” said Bishop Ricken.
The bishop encouraged students and adults to get to know Jesus best by spending time in prayer, “maybe five, 10, 15 minutes a day just listening. Keeping our eyes shut, keeping our hands off of social media.”
Bishop Ricken quizzed the students: What’s the most important day of the week? “Sunday,” shouted the students. Bishop Ricken continued that Sunday is the first day of the week and that everyone needs to thank the Lord for the week ahead and thank him for the grace giving the first day to him.
Shelly Coyle, mother of four, home-school teacher and member of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, particularly appreciated feeling that connection to the larger church. “I loved seeing the thousands of students all gathered together. It made me realize that even though each individual family or school may be small, we are in the good company of many others who love the Lord and were gathered today in a spirit of worship and thanksgiving to receive him,” she said. “Imagine what we can all do going forward to live and spread the Gospel.”
Coyle’s description of the day seemed to agree with the organizers’ goal: “The all-schools Mass makes the body of Christ very visible and palpable.”