There was a palpable energy inside St. Columbkille Church on Broadview Road in Parma as the youth choir, instrumental ensemble and student lectors prepped to begin their all-school Mass on Sept. 25. A youth-focused Mass started the day when Bishop Nelson Perez visited St. Columbkille School and met the students and staff.
“I am excited to celebrate the Eucharist for you and with you,” the bishop said to the 355 students who filled the pews, along with parents, parishioners and staff.
Having the students gain a full understanding of the Eucharist is a central focus for the school. Father Anthony Suso, pastor, said he and Father Michael Petkosek, parochial vicar, collaborate with Andrew Richards, the school principal, and assistant principals Dave Andexler and George Mitchell to ensure that lessons from classroom religion and theology are dynamic and integrated into Mass celebrations. Father Suso and Father Petkosek also take an active role in the classroom by supporting teaching efforts for grades 5-8.
In his homily, Bishop Perez explained to the students that the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. He reminded them of the amount of time in a day -- filled with seconds and minutes -- that they may use to give thanks for their family and their ability to talk about Jesus during the school day.
“What helps our students respond and proudly participate in our liturgies is that we make it a priority to include students in as many ways as possible, not just the middle school students -- all ages and learning styles. This is just one way to help our youth understand God’s word,” Richards said.
Exceptional learners – those who are part of the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship program -- served as music ministers at Mass. Funding from the Jon Peterson scholarship supports students in grades K-12 who have an individualized education plan receive a private education with intervention support.
Jake, a sixth-grader with autism, started at St. Columbkille last year. Soon he began attending Mass with his mother and grandmother. Jake enjoys singing and will be baptized by Father Suso in October at the parish.
During a school tour after Mass, the bishop was able to meet all of the students in classrooms by grade level.
Building off of his homily message, kindergarteners greeted Bishop Perez with a song and dance about the spirit of being thankful. The bishop walked into the second grade classroom just as pupils were having their routine morning meeting, which consists of reviewing the calendar and first assignments for the day. He asked the children if they knew how many days were left until they celebrated the sacrament of first holy Communion. Answers varied on the number of days, but the entire class gave him a full rundown of what the sacrament entails.
As the year continues, St. Columbkille will focus on integrating monthly school themes into the curriculum. Loyalty was the September theme. Projects and writing samples displayed throughout the school hallways showcased student work around that theme.
“It is exciting to see these examples of how the students are strengthened by what is in their heart and their faith community,” Bishop Perez said.