Archbishop Henry J. Mansell celebrated a Mass on Jan. 26 at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hartford in observance of January as Catholic Schools Month. See photo gallery by Lenora Sumsky here.
WEST HARTFORD – St. Thomas the Apostle School’s commemoration of Catholic Schools Month reached a high point on Jan. 26, when Archbishop Henry J. Mansell celebrated a Mass there.
It was the first time that Nella Chapell and her classmates met the Archbishop, who visits and celebrates Mass with students in dozens of schools throughout the Archdiocese each year.
"It was pretty special to have the Archbishop here to celebrate Mass with us," said Miss Chapell, a fourth-grade student at St. Thomas.
"The Archbishop’s efforts are uncommon, in that they address the needs of elementary schools in our Archdiocese," said Colleen Whitty DiSanto, principal of St. Thomas the Apostle School, whose 233 students are in prekindergarten through fifth grade.
The school invited the Archbishop because, Mrs. DiSanto said, "I thought he might enjoy a visit to a school where the students are really young [and] that he might enjoy seeing, firsthand, the fruits of his labors, as he was beginning another Archbishop’s [Annual] Appeal. We’ve had some nice successes at our school with increased enrollment, expanded services and up-to-date technology for our students," she said.
An allocation from contributions to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal is divided among the archdiocesan elementary schools as tuition assistance grants. Tuition assistance grants also come from appeal-funded matching grants in partnership with other donors.
"It’s a treat to be able to come out and visit the children, the faculty [and] the principal," said Archbishop Mansell, calling it a "terrific" school.
"It’s wonderful to see what we talk about being realized," he said after the Mass. He pointed out that the children were attentive and participated in the Mass, knowing the prayers as well as the congregation’s movements.
Parents, grandparents and guardians were on hand for the Mass. Students served as readers and the school’s liturgical choir sang.
Said Tyler Connell, a fourth-grader, "It was very exciting to have all the people coming together to celebrate Mass with the Archbishop."
The Archbishop said that that sense of community was a lesson in itself.
"It’s important that [students] see that we’re all together; that it’s not just one school but all the schools in the Archdiocese, all the parishes. We’re part of a large family. The schools are families," he said.
The Archbishop later toured the school and visited with students in classrooms and in the lunchroom.
"It’s a great example of Catholic education. They work hard, play hard and come from families that are very supportive, so it’s a treat to be here," said Archbishop Mansell.
He talked with students about what they were studying and answered a variety of questions.
Students wanted to know where Archbishop Mansell grew up and had a lot of questions about his wardrobe. They asked how long it takes to become an archbishop, about his leadership responsibilities as the Archbishop of Hartford and about leadership roles for women in the Church.
The Archbishop blessed students in the lunchroom and in every classroom he visited.
"That was really special, too," said Janet Cashman, school librarian and chair for Catholic Schools Month activities at St. Thomas the Apostle. "Most students might only receive a blessing from the Archbishop once in a lifetime, at their Confirmation."
Fifth-grade student Lauren Cummins called the Archbishop’s visit exciting and fun. "He’s really nice and he remembered everyone’s name."
In addition to the Archbishop’s visit, the St. Thomas the Apostle school community enjoyed a variety of events throughout the month. Renata Bowers, author of Frieda B. Herself, also visited.
Other religious activities included prayer services and a parish Mass with a pancake breakfast.
A leadership day gave fifth- grade students a chance to run the school for a morning. Some taught classes while others took on administrative positions for a few hours. On other days, they also played some Bingo and invited their families in for disco bowling.
Similar festivities, designed to celebrate and showcase Catholic schools, took place in schools across the Archdiocese during January.
"Sometimes people don’t realize the tremendous support that Catholic schools are for communities." said Archbishop Mansell. "They prepare people to face the future. They prepare leaders. They educate so well."
Nationally, Catholic Schools Week was celebrated Jan. 30 through Feb. 5. The annual event, initiated in 1974, is a joint project of the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Schools in the Archdiocese have celebrated Catholic schools for the entire month of January since 2006. Dale. R. Hoyt, superintendent of schools, proposed expanding Catholic Schools Week to a month at a principals meeting in 2005.
"There are so many activities that capture who we are in Catholic schools that they were beginning to interfere with instruction," said Mr. Hoyt. "The principals were unanimous in their support of spreading activities into a month-long celebration."