Middle school students at St. Mary’s in Wooster held open the doors to the school and parish as they greeted more than 500 parents and parishioners on Oct. 24. The community gathered for a special liturgy in the morning. It was the first time in more than 30 years that a bishop from the Diocese of Cleveland made a formal visit to the school — other than for confirmation.
“We have 94 students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 7. We are so excited to have Bishop (Nelson) Perez join us today and had over 40 students volunteer to help today,” said Laura Marvin, principal.
The students served as greeters, altar servers and wrote the petitions for Mass. Song selections for Mass were chosen by students from the vocal choir and instrumental ensemble. The closing hymn, “Our God is an Awesome God,” included sign language performances by student interpreters.
“Our students are very active in participating in Mass celebrations,” said Michael Seifried, who teaches religion to grades 4-7. “I think part of it is that they are comfortable with the order of Mass and the areas within the body of the church. In class, they study the architecture of St. Mary’s. From understanding the Renaissance design to the history of the stained glass windows and even how the pipe organ works, the students gain a sense of connection between our parish and the liturgy.”
Before Bishop Perez gave the final blessing at Mass, a group of students presented him with a special book that had one letter or story written by each of the students enrolled in St. Mary’s. Each page included a description of how St. Mary’s is important or special to the individual students.
The bishop greeted students, staff and parishioners at a reception after Mass and toured the school. St. Mary’s mission is to focus on the intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional, physical and ethical development of children that offers a balanced education environment in a caring academic community for all faiths. “It is easy to feel the spirit of St. Mary’s and how they are building those pillars of character, faith and knowledge,” the bishop said as he met Senora Islas, the Spanish teacher.
Following the reception, Bishop Perez stopped into the classroom of teacher Tracie Strozyk. Her first-graders have been learning about the qualities of leadership and the various types of leaders. Students are writing letters to leaders and inviting them into their class for story time. The children wrote to Gov. John Kasich; Wooster Mayor Robert Breneman; the school principal; their pastors; Pope Francis and Bishop Perez. The class received visits from the mayor and school leadership and on Oct. 24, they added Bishop Perez to the list.
Strozyk’s students were anxious to show bishop to their reading circle and hand him a book to read on the story of creation. As he read, bishop quizzed the first-graders on what would happen next. The students excitedly and accurately responded, providing answers to Genesis Chapter 1.