Students in Catholic schools of the Diocese of Sioux City joined nearly two million students in schools throughout the nation to celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.
A mix of activities – some prayer-filled, some service and some fun – were held throughout the week tied into the national theme, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”
All-school Masses were part of the festivities in the schools and Bishop Walker Nickless was able to celebrate the liturgies with four schools – Jan. 30 at Emmetsburg Catholic School, Jan. 31 at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City, Feb. 2 at Mater Dei School in Sioux City and Feb. 3 at St. Mary School in Remsen. Lunch with students and classroom visits were also part of the stops.
Juan Ramirez, a junior at Bishop Heelan, said he liked coming together as a school family for Mass as they reflected on the theme of the celebration – building community, offering service “and how it affects others and it can impact your own life.”
It meant a lot to him for Bishop Nickless to celebrate the liturgy.
“He took time out of his day for Mass,” Ramirez said. “I really liked his homily. It really spoke to me and I’m sure it touched others as well. He knows how to connect with the kids.”
As Bishop Nickless reflected on the theme of Catholic Schools Week in his homily, he told the Heelan students that Catholic schools are communities that are like families, as they support one another in many ways.
“What a blessing it is to be able to come to a Catholic school to be able to talk freely about God, about faith and about things that are really important to our lives,” said the bishop, who added that in classroom visits early in the day he saw how they learned so much about the Catholic moral issues of the church.
Bishop Nickless commended them on the service they did for the city and the contributions they have made – setting a wonderful example of what it means to be a student in a Catholic school.
Thinking about the gift of Catholic schools, the bishop asked students to remember those who make the schools possible.
“First of all, your parents. We thank them and hope you realize the sacrifices they make. Second, the administration and teachers,” he said. “They are here because they care about you – your growth in faith, in academics and all things that make you a good school.”
Bishop Nickless told the students that he just recently celebrated his 11th anniversary of his ordination as bishop.
“Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. She died 10 days after I was ordained bishop. That was hard, but she got to see me become a bishop and that was a real blessing,” said the bishop, who noted he was grateful to know she is still with him, praying for him to be a good bishop.
Bishop Nickless said for those students who also lost parents, he asked them to remember their parents are still with them. For those who were blessed to have their parents still alive, he wanted the students to thank them and acknowledged that parents and teens sometimes don’t get along well due to the rules, regulations and expectations.
“They don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager in 2017 and you get frustrated,” said the bishop. “But deep down you know that they care. One of the examples of that is they took you to the church to be baptized when you were an infant. The Catholic faith meant so much to them that they wanted to pass it on to you.”
At the baptism, he noted, parents promised to raise their children in the Catholic faith. One of the reasons the church has Catholic schools, the bishop added, is to help parents pass the faith on to their children and help them get to heaven.
“They truly care about you and I hope you appreciate the gift they are giving you by sacrificing – they could spend money on a lot of things other than tuition, but they have decided to give it to you. It’s a gift,” Bishop Nickless said. “Today, this week is a good time to thank our parents for making Catholic schools possible.”
Referring to the Scripture readings, the bishop told the students to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and be like the woman who reached out to Jesus in faith.
“Once we understand how much Jesus loves us, we need to look around – look at classmates, teammates and people you pass in the hall everyday – some of them need a touch. Some of them are suffering,” he said. “Bring them the touch of Jesus. That’s what we are all about.”
Dan Ryan, Ed.D., superintendent of Catholic schools, addressed the students at the close of the liturgy. While Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to hold various celebrations and activities, he said it’s also a chance to think about why they exist.
“They were created by the parishes and parents because they knew it would help the students know their faith and to have a relationship with God,” the superintendent noted.
Ryan also spoke about the students’ personal mission.
“I know that each and every one of you have been given talents and gifts of God and while you are here, that is the time to decide and decipher what those gifts are,” he said.