Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you all most abundantly! As we begin once again a new school year, I pray in a special way for all our children, in grade school, high school, and college, that our Lord may bless them with acceptance of his love, with health and growth, and with knowledge of their vocation in life; and likewise for the parents and grandparents of all school children, that their prayers may be answered and their witness be crowned with success in passing on the Catholic faith.
I also pray for all teachers and administrators, especially those who are also parents of schoolchildren, that they may have hearts of service, patience, and joy in their work, imitating Christ the teacher.
I am especially happy this year that we are able to restore the practice of having priest-chaplains in some of our Catholic schools. As you know, we used to have a great many priests serving and teaching in our schools; their witness and presence was one of the things that made our schools very strong. I am deeply grateful for the on-going presence of our priests who have maintained this commitment as pastors, even though we have not recently had “extra” priests to assign only to schools.
My hope in assigning priests who are not pastors as school chaplains (alongside their other duties) is to extend this priestly presence, to strengthen the pastoral care of students and staff, and to promote deeper discernment of students’ vocations to priesthood, religious life, and married life.
This year, we will have four such chaplains: Father Shane Deman at Bishop Heelan High School, Sioux City; Father Pat Behm at Gehlen High School, Le Mars; Father Frank Lona at St. Edmond High School, Fort Dodge and Father Brian Feller at Kuemper High School, Carroll.
Please welcome them and pray for them. I hope in the coming years to be able to assign chaplains for our other three high schools as well.
We should also recognize that the work of the church in education only builds on the work of the family, which always comes first. Our Catholic schools and our parish religious education programs, our priests and sisters and catechists, no matter how good they may be or become, cannot substitute for faithful, loving parents and grandparents in the “domestic church,” the family home.
Family stability contributes greatly to the outcomes of schooling. When children know they are safe and loved, they are more open to learning. When children are secure in their needs and daily routines, they learn better. Whatever children are learning about virtues and good habits of life in the home, they bring to school and to the parish with them.
And when parents model prayer and bring their children regularly to Mass and confession, these children are primed to grow into and begin to live the faith they received in baptism. Neither church nor school can do any of this for parents.
Therefore, I urge you strongly – parents and grandparents of schoolchildren – to renew your own commitment to live the faith for your children. If you do not pray regularly, now is the time to begin! Pray grace before meals; pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary each morning and evening, and let your children hear you pray; pray for the needs of others, teaching your children to be more attentive to them.
If you are not regularly attending Mass, please come this Sunday, and keep attending! It’s so important for you as parents to be fed with the Holy Eucharist, and it’s so important to form in your children the habit of attending Mass.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been to confession, please make an effort to go. The grace and joy of being reconciled to God and to others in this sacrament is unparalleled. You’ll be better parents because of it.
Finally, as we celebrate this weekend, the secular holiday of Labor Day, I pray for your safety and happiness. Please pray also for me. I also ask you to pray in a special way for all those who are in need of work and cannot find it and for all those whose labor is so necessary and so often overlooked – in public health and safety, for example, doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, and firefighters – and all the farmers who grow our food. When we need them or what they offer, we expect them to be there for us. So let us pray for them, so that they will indeed be available to serve those in need.
May the intercession of our patrons, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Joseph the Worker, preserve you and bring you every grace and good thing in the coming year!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City