Between the more than 450 students at St. Angela Merici School and a number of parishioners, the congregation at the 8:30 a.m. Mass on Jan. 13 nearly filled the church.
It was a special day as the Fairview Park parish rolled out the welcome mat for Bishop Nelson Perez. The bishop began his visit with Mass for students in the lower and upper school. Teachers served as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Concelebrating were Father Michael Lanning, pastor; Father Don Dunson and Father Rob Ramser, parochial vicars. The bishop noted that the theme for the liturgy was vocations.
Bishop Perez said in the progression of the Church year, the Christmas season just wrapped up and Jesus is now beginning the public part of his ministry. “It’s like his first day at work,” he quipped. “And what does he do? He proclaims that there is good news.”
The word Gospel literally means good news, the bishop explained. He connected this thought to the kingdom of God. Jesus was sent by his Father to proclaim, preach and teach. “And how he does it coordinates with his actions,” Bishop Perez said. Ultimately, he tells us through his words and actions that the kingdom of God is before us -- that we need to repent and believe
But Jesus doesn’t work alone, the bishop said, explaining that he called the apostles to help. “He didn’t call them because they were perfect, the brightest or anything else. He called them because he wanted them,” he said.
The first apostles followed Jesus’ command to go and spread the good news, so others were called, including priests, deacons, women and others to help share the mission of God’s kingdom.
“Today our Mass intention is for vocations,” the bishop said. He asked the concelebrants how long it’s been since their ordination. Father Lanning said he’s been a priest for 42 years; 37 years for Father Dunson and four years for Father Ramser. “I’m in my 31styear as a priest,” the bishop said.
“I’m often asked when I started thinking about the priesthood. Actually, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think about it. I thought about it in different ways at different times in my life,” he added. As a child, Bishop Perez said he was fascinated by what took place on the altar.
“Who knows – maybe there’s a future priest among you,” he said. “We should pray for that.”
The world can be a noisy place, the bishop said. “But in the midst of all that noise, maybe you can hear the voice of Jesus speaking to you deep in your heart. I’m sure those whispers are already happening for some.”
After Mass, students from the lower school presented the bishop with a spiritual bouquet blanket and the upper school presented him with a basket of St. Angela spirit wear.
The entire congregation also took an opportunity to participate in a video greeting for Msgr. Robert Wolff, who served as St. Angela’s pastor from 1972 to 1989. Msgr. Wolff, who retired in 1995, is among the oldest priests in the diocese. He will be celebrating the 70thanniversary of his ordination in April and the parish plans to send him the video greeting.
After greeting parishioners, the bishop headed to the rectory where he had brunch with the Lisa Whelan, upper school principal; Elizabeth Andrachik, lower school principal; Monica Dietz, diocesan assistant superintendent for elementary schools; Fathers Lanning, Dunson and Ramser and one student representative from each grade level. As they talked informally, Father Lanning sharing the parish history with the bishop. Students also asked a variety of questions. The group also posed for photos before touring the school.
Leading the student ambassadors and the bishop across the parking lot to the school was Sam the Bruin, the school mascot.
As they visited classrooms, the bishop learned that St. Angela’s was designated a national Blue Ribbon School and it received the statewide STEAM designation last May after four years of work. School officials said they focus on the fine arts model and work to ensure that the school’s Catholic identity focuses on empathy and compassion using the works of mercy as guidelines.
For the past four years, St. Angela’s has worked to implement the teaching of empathy and compassion through works of mercy, service projects and experiences for students in grades K-8. Among the regular service projects during Lent and Advent are outreach to the nearby O’Neill Health Center, St. Francis Earth Club in the upper school, National Junior Art Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society outreach as well as Student Council service projects and school drives; Positive Power Crew for grades 5-8 and the PAWS Service Club for third-graders. Club members perform awesome works of service, thus its name.
School officials said there is a sense of family at St. Angela’s, realizing the faith family as followers of Christ and working out problems by using reflective practice and Christ as a model.
The STEAM designation, awarded for its work in science, technology, engineering, art and math, uses project-based learning and inquiries across all grade levels. Monthly, STREAM families do a fun activity that also incorporates religion for grades K-8. There are STREAM nights with community partners and parents, as well as guest speakers who discuss careers in STEAM fields for grades K-8.
Technology is important across all grade levels, also, with weekly instruction. Students use iPads and Chromebooks, learn keyboarding, digital citizenship, the Google platform, graphic design and photography to help them prepare for the future.
By following the fine arts model, St. Angela’s offers art instruction one to two times weekly and all students can participate in a variety of art showcasing events in the area, including art contest and the St. Angela Fine Arts Night each spring. Music instruction is also offered once or twice weekly. Eighth-graders participating in a music class displayed their skills by performing a song on ukuleles for the bishop. There is a winter performance and students are able to participate in the parish children’s and advanced choirs. Students in grades 4-8 can learn to play an instrument and band is an elective, with students performing in a band concert.
The upper school drama club allows students to experience a variety of fine arts skills and to participate in a dramatic performance for the school and community.
St. Angela’s also has an annual Literacy Night and other special events ranging from recipe making/reading, literacy board games, reading aloud, meet the author, puppet shows and more.
Spanish instruction is offered once to twice weekly and Latin is an elective for upper school students.