“I’ve heard a lot about Benedictine in the months since I came to Cleveland,” Bishop Nelson Perez told the students, faculty, staff, board of trustees and Benedictine monks during a May 9 visit to the school. He said he’s had the opportunity to visit with the monks at St. Andrew Abbey, but this was his first visit to the 400-student all-boys high school that shares the campus with the abbey. Benedictine was founded in 1927.
The bishop celebrated Mass in the abbey church, greeted the congregation outside and then toured the high school with several students before eating lunch with his tour guides, Principal Sue Zulandt and Frank Bossu, Benedictine president.
“I hear this school is a legacy,” he said, “the home of champions.” The bishop also acknowledged that Deacon Ed Gardias, who assisted him at the Mass, is a 1977 Benedictine graduate.
During his homily, Bishop Perez asked the students to tell him a few things that make Benedictine special. Among the answers were a generational legacy – with many students following a family tradition to attend the school; the connections students make and the community they form; the small size allows for a sense of intimacy where everyone knows everyone and one student said, “Nurse Pat, she’s like a mom.”
“I’ve visited a lot of schools and that’s the first time someone mentioned the nurse,” the bishop said.
He reminded the students that they learn about the Christian vision of life. “That’s unique about a Catholic education. It forms the heart and spirit,” he added.
“There are a lot of people who set this table called Benedictine to provide the gift of education for your body, mind and spirit. Many people make this possible. That gratitude lies at the center of a Christian heart,” he said.
The bishop talked about how people often tend to claim things as their own, referring to “my house, my room, my bed,” etc. “We say that, but they’re really not ours. The house is really owned by the bank and if you don’t pay the mortgage, they’ll take it.” He said one day he passed by his childhood home – “my house” – and saw people going in and out. It was no longer his home, but he still felt a connection to it.
“All that we have is a gift,” he said, noting that even our lives are a gift. “We get 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 from dad.”
As Catholics, we have the most perfect gift: the Eucharist. And we are expected to share it.
“The gifts that we receive are given with an expectation that we will share them,” he said, adding that this includes our faith.
After Mass, a student representative presented the bishop with a specially designed wooden box that was made by students. On the lid was an etching of a St. Benedict medal and the bishop’s name. He also received a wooden crucifix made by students with the words of the Our Father cut into it. The gifts were created in the school’s maker space lab, which he visited during his tour.
At lunch, Bishop Perez fielded questions from several students. One asked when he would become a cardinal. The bishop laughed and replied, “Never.”
They also discussed how people interpret the Bible, including literally and fundamentally. Bishop Perez explained that there are several ways to interpret the Bible. He said it is the Word of God and its beginnings were as an oral tradition. “No one was writing down what Jesus said. It was about 40 years after Jesus that people started writing it down.”
He said in order to properly interpret the Bible, it’s necessary to get back to the intent of the author, to understand something about the culture at that time and the language. He said originally the Bible was written in Aramaic, translated into Hebrew and then Greek.
“The Bible is the original Word of God, but it is not meant for me to interpret it now, at this moment. There are various levels of biblical interpretation,” he said, explaining that “Everything we believe is not written in the Bible; much of it is sacred tradition, where the Bible at first was oral.”
Before leaving, the bishop offered some advice to the students. “Be true to your values,” he said. He also encouraged them to get in touch with the campus ministry at their colleges.