“For 65 minutes, the bishop belonged just to us.”
Principal Julie Clingman of St. Martin School in St. Martins spoke of Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s Nov. 20 in-person response to an invitation from students.
“He put everything else on hold because 32 third-graders asked him to come and celebrate Mass,” she said. “I love that!”
He presided at the Liturgy for the students and faculty in St. Martin Church and then accompanied four third-graders on a tour of the school.
“We invited him because we wanted to celebrate with Jesus, the bishop and all the priests here today,” said Clara Haslag.
“We really wanted to see him,” said third-grader Olivia Kauffman. “Some of us never got to see him before. I only saw him on the news.”
Bishop McKnight called it a blessing and a privilege to be with the students and urged them to honor God by making the most of the unique gifts He has given them.
“You see, God has invested in each one of us,” said the bishop. “From your baptism forward, you were given gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is the love of God Himself.
“And with the gifts of the Spirit come all sorts of charisms, qualities and talents,” said Bishop McKnight.
He said children go to school to learn how to use those gifts in order to “make a profit for God and the Kingdom.”
He spoke of Jesus’s Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), in which a demanding master returns from a trip.
The master rewards the servants who had invested the gold coins he had given them and made a good return. But he dealt severely with another servant who, out of fear and resentment, had buried and hidden what he had been given.
“When you give of yourself, when you use your talents, when you train your minds, when you learn in your studies, you are making a profit for God,” said Bishop McKnight. “You are using the gifts and talents that He has given you for a good cause, a good purpose.”
He emphasized that what actually matters to God is not multiplying money but increasing love.
He said the gold coins in the parable represent each person’s vocation — the specific way God intends each individual to live.
“God has given you a vocation!” said Bishop McKnight. “So what are you going to do with it? Are you going to just sit there and hold it and not do anything with it? That’s not going make God happy.
“But if you trust God enough and you cooperate with His grace, He can make many fantastic and wonderful things come about in your life,” the bishop said.
He told them that the greatest reward for working hard and living right “is to know that we are accomplishing God’s will for us. There is no greater peace than to know that you’re doing what God has created you to do.”
He pleaded with the children not to be afraid to respond to God’s will for them in their lives.
“God never leaves us alone,” the bishop assured them. “If we cooperate with His grace, He is always here for us.”
Joining Bishop McKnight at that altar were Father Stephen Jones, administrator of St. Martin parish; and Father Basil Eruo, a visiting priest from Nigeria who ministered in this diocese and is becoming an Air Force chaplain.
Third-graders served as lectors, song leaders and bearers of the offertory gifts.
The whole school practically rattled the stained glass while singing the recessional hymn, “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman.
Upper-grade students chose that rousing anthem for a Mass where they led the singing earlier this year.
“I didn’t teach the eighth-grade boys that song,” said Rosemary Bardwell, their teacher. “They taught it to me!”
“Right this way”
A group of third-graders gave the bishop a tour of the school after Mass.
Popping in on Angie Hodge’s first-graders, he observed that they’re very quiet and well behaved.
“Are you always like this? Do you always do what your teacher asks you?”
“Mostly,” one of them responded.
In another classroom, he joked about the visiting volunteer story-teller — a plush turkey — sitting on a chair.
Third-grade teacher Leann Higgins talked about loving the windows in her classroom, and the view out to the playground.
The bishop talked to Kelly Boeckman’s second-graders about preparing for their First Holy Communion in the spring.
Across the hall, he talked to Janice Smith’s second-graders about their collection of bright-colored birds and their self-contained colony of ants. They did share that only a couple of ants have gotten out since school started.
Eighth-grade art students told him they were working on a rough draft of their entries in the Knights of Columbus Poster Contest. The theme is “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”
Looking out a window at the recess venue, he asked his tour guides which playground equipment is their favorite.
“Maybe he’s got a playground at his house that he can play on,” third-grader Henry Woehrer later surmised.
“We’re the sheep”
Annie Donovan’s class of third-graders said they enjoyed their time with the bishop.
“It was fun and exciting because we don’t usually have a bishop here,” said Sophia Schulte.
“It was really great to have him over,” said Clara Haslag.
“It was nice,” said Emmett Bybee. “He’s never been here before and I hope he liked it.”
“I never saw him, and we wanted to learn more stuff about him,” said Weston Higley.
“He has a lot to do, so I was surprised he had time to come,” said Alice Holt.
“I was hoping he’d come, and I’m glad he did,” said Khloe Jacobs.
“He had a big hat,” she added, referring to the pointed mitre that bishops wear during parts of the Mass.
Cole Sturm said he could tell the bishop is important because he had a priest there to help him at Mass.
He was referring to Father Joshua Duncan, the bishop’s master of ceremonies.
“I’ve never seen him in my life,” said Grayson Atterbury. “And we’re the sheep, so we can do stuff with him like walk him around the school.”
“I felt kind of nervous because we were hosting Mass, and I’m still kind of new here,” said Nicki Frank, who came to St. Martin School this year.
But everything went well and she was happy he came.
Ethan Heberle felt “excited and a little nervous because this was the first time I’ve ever seen him.”
Jace Boessen was also “a little nervous because I didn’t want anybody to like mess up while they were reading or anything.”
Both said their worries were unfounded.
“I’m a little sad that he went home,” said Jace. “It was fun having him here.”
Mrs. Clingman, the principal, said having the children and Bishop McKnight worship together at Mass and visit with one another at school was a hopeful sign.
“It’s kind of awesome to see the bishop walking around school with the future leaders of our Church, isn’t it?” she stated.
She said children are always refreshingly genuine and honest.
“They understand that God is everywhere and that God is love,” she said.
She hopes spending time with children in a faith-filled environment was a calming, refreshing experience for the bishop.
“You can feel the presence of God in a Catholic school,” she said, “because children are innocent. Children want to have fun. Children are always looking for the next thing to do.
“I hope he saw the goodness of the young flock he leads and that it gave him a glimpse of the Kingdom of God,” she stated. “It’s thriving here in the diocese!”
She encourages the children and adults of St. Martin School to pray for the bishop and their priests — “for strength, courage, perseverance, and in the words of Father Bill Debo, ‘to be kind, to be kind, to be kind.’”
She asked for prayers for God to grace the children at St. Martin School with the virtues they will need to answer their calling from God and live holy lives.
“Pray for us to grow holy habits and use those holy habits to answer our vocation,” she said.