Twenty-eight seniors at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron are among the newest extraordinary ministers of holy Communion in the Diocese of Cleveland. They were commissioned during an all-school liturgy on Sept. 12.
Making the day even more special was a visit to the school from Bishop Nelson Perez who celebrated the Mass and presided at the commissioning. Father Mike Ausperk, who assists with campus ministry at Hoban, concelebrated.
School officials said the liturgy usually is celebrated on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Hoban is one of the congregation’s ministries. Since that feast falls on a Saturday this year, Mass took place on the feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
More than 800 Hoban students, plus faculty, staff, guests and some parents filled the gym for the liturgy.
As he often does when celebrating a school Mass, the bishop asked the students what is special about Hoban. The students chimed in with a variety of answers, including school spirit, “mushy cookies,” it’s like family, the teachers, they educate the mind and heart, Wilson (a dog belonging to Holy Cross Brother Bob Livernois, vice president of mission and ministry) and “Mum Day.”
The bishop said he met Wilson when he arrived. Wilson is an unofficial school ambassador who has the run of the campus and loves to greet visitors.
“Tell me about ‘Mum Day,’” he asked the students. “Does it work?” They explained it’s a Hoban tradition dating back more than 50 years that culminates the annual Spirit Week. Seniors return to campus the night before Mum Day for a lock-in. They decorate the entire school and spend the night. Early on Mum Day, they line the entrances, putting their fingers to their lips to remind everyone it is a silent day at school. The entire school participates, with teachers writing out assignments on the board or using iPads for classwork. If anyone slips up, students said they “get a stern look.”
At the end of the day, all file silently into the gym for a pep rally. Todd Sweda, Hoban president – and the first president who is not a member of the Holy Cross congregation — said a cheerleader begins spelling the school name, which is the first sound for the day. The sound is deafening, he said, as everyone chimes in. Mum Day this year is Sept. 21, the day the Hoban Knights meet the Fighting Irish of nearby football rival Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School at Infocision Stadium at the University of Akron.
Returning his focus to the liturgy, Bishop Perez told the students that the Holy Spirit had a profound impact on the life of the Blessed Mother. He said when she learned she would have a child, her first response was fear as she wondered how it could happen. But she was reassured by an angel that “nothing is impossible for God.” The bishop said those words would resonate throughout her life.
“She delivers a regular baby and watches as her child grows up,” he said, noting some of the more unusual instances in Jesus’ life such as being lost in the temple for three days, working miracles and hearing stories of him walking on water. “She wonders how this can be, then she remembers the angel’s words: ‘Nothing is impossible for God.’”
The bishop said she also sees her son arrested, tortured and crucified. She holds his lifeless body and wonders how all this happened, then recalls the words of the angel.
“She has moments of great joy and great sorrow, much like the ups and downs we have in life. But remember the words of the angel: ‘Nothing is impossible for God.’ And remember that next Friday when you can’t talk,” he quipped.
After Mass, the newly commissioned extraordinary ministers and guests attended a reception with Emily Hanson, school principal, while the bishop met another group of students for lunch in the school’s Holy Cross Room. He invited them to ask him any questions they wanted.
He was asked who manages his schedule. The bishop explained that it’s a complex thing, with many routine obligations for a bishop, including meetings, confirmations, etc. When he arrived in Cleveland last year, there already were more than 400 additional invitations with various groups, parishes and community leaders wanting a chance to meet with him or to invite him to an event. His administrative assistant and the vicar general sift through and prioritize things for him.
Someone asked where his family lives. He said Florida now, but his parents emigrated from Cuba and he spent most of his childhood in New Jersey.
Another student asked about his high school experience. Bishop Perez said he attended public high school and had to switch schools at least once because of boundary changes in the school district. He also shared that he played clarinet in the high school band.
“Do you like being a bishop?” another student asked.
“Yes, because it lets me do things like this,” Bishop Perez said. He explained that until he became a bishop six years ago, he was a parish priest and the pastor of two parishes “Church was parish for me. Church happens on a parish level, but when you become a bishop, you get a broader perspective,” he said. Now he also does work on a national level.
Another questioner asked about the challenges facing Hispanic ministry. The bishop explained it is a very diverse and complex ministry encompassing about two dozen cultures. Although there are many differences, he said faith and language unite them. He also said he will have a key role in the national V Encuentro that will take place in Texas late next week, with about 3,000 Hispanic Catholics from around the country. Hispanics are the largest growing segment in the Church, he added.
One student wanted to know the hardest part of his job. The bishop said it is difficult to see people suffering. He said his days can be very long and he has to ensure that he gets some down time to recharge.
Then he turned the tables and asked the seniors in the room what they will miss most next year when they’re no longer at Hoban. Their replies included the family atmosphere and campus life, retreats and the Holy Cross charisms.
Brother Bob said they work hard to instill the Holy Cross core values into everyone at Hoban. Those values are educating hearts and minds, family inclusiveness, integrity and excellence, option for the poor, discipline, hope, divine providence and zeal. Hoban offers a holistic approach to education in the Holy Cross tradition, Brother Bob said, with a focus on three key things: information, formation and transformation.
A few of the seniors said they have some trepidation about the future and the unknown, but also are looking forward to new challenges. One student said she was hoping she is making the right choices for her life and career.
A student asked Bishop Perez about his favorite Bible verse.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” he said, referring to Philippians 4:4. He said when he became a bishop, his parish in Philadelphia presented him with a crosier that had the verse engraved on it.
Archbishop Hoban High School began when Cleveland Archbishop Edward Hoban invited the Brothers of the Holy Cross in the early 1950s to staff a new high school for boys in Akron. In the 1970s, Hoban was experiencing declining enrollment and financial challenges. The school became coed and worked to get back on solid ground. In the 1990s, a campaign was launched to guarantee success of the school and to transform and update the campus.
In 1998, Hoban was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. It also has become a powerhouse in sports, winning several major championship titles including football last year.
Hoban sits on a hill in Akron and for years drivers on Interstate 76 have seen large white letters spelling Hoban on a hillside visible from the freeway. As people approach the main entrance, they see a gold dome. Newer enhancements to the campus include expanded athletic facilities and a chapel with a meeting room underneath.