HARTFORD – Colorful banners and a procession in the Cathedral of St. Joseph were part of of a prayerful celebration of the kickoff of the school year on Sept. 7.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair was the principal celebrant of the “Back to School Mass,” hosted by the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Schools to inaugurate the 2014-15 school year.
After welcoming the nearly 1,500 people, Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of schools, stood at the foot of the sanctuary to receive school representatives in a procession of Catholic school banners.
Dr. Hoyt said the banners “underscore the Catholic identity, mission, uniqueness and gifts represented by our schools.”
Addressing educators, parents and students, he described a “network of Catholic schools committed to a vision whereby the student encounters the living God; in which educators foster a culture of educational excellence, promote lifelong learning and develop the whole person; and one in which parents and educators partner.”
Archbishop Blair began his homily by saying how good it was to see all of the colorful banners displayed in the sanctuary, pointing out that they symbolized the drawing together of different types of people in harmony, in keeping with our Lord’s words: When we are together, he is in our midst and hears all our prayers.
Citing the story of Cain and Abel from the day’s Mass readings, the archbishop said the lesson is that “we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper, not just for the good of their bodies, but also for the good of their souls. The most neighborly thing we can wish for another person is that they know Jesus Christ and his church.”
He assured the congregation that heaven “is not a slam-dunk for anyone.”
The archbishop went on, “When God confronts Cain and asks, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ Cain lies and he says, ‘I do not know,’ and then he adds a snarky question back to God. He says, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
“Now,” said the archbishop, “when you and I are [concerned] about something bad or mean that we have done to somebody else, aren’t we tempted to be a lot like Cain?
“Instead,” the archbishop continued, “when somebody does something to you at school, don’t walk away mad … don’t write them off … and, certainly, don’t talk about them behind their back. Pray to God for him to help them.
“In serious things,” the archbishop continued, “talk to your teachers; talk to people who might be able to help. It is not just about what you learn, but the kind of person you become. That’s the measure of a true education.”
Archbishop Blair then presided over the commissioning of Catholic school leaders, all of whom rose to pledge their commitment and service.
Each school’s representative then received a candle blessed by Archbishop Blair and emblazoned with the archdiocesan emblem and the benchmarks of Catholic school excellence. Schools will light these candles at key events throughout the year, in the words of Dr. Hoyt, “to remind us that we are the light of Christ.”
Audrey Pond, a sophomore at East Catholic High School, said that she appreciated Archbishop Blair’s message.
“If someone’s ever mean to you, don’t fight back … be nice to them. Especially in the world of technology, it’s sad how when you turn on the TV there’s sin everywhere. It’s good to go to a school like East Catholic where we go to Mass together every month and pray together every day.”
Mary Mitchell, a kindergarten teacher at Assumption School in Manchester, said, “I think it’s wonderful that they can bring all the different school communities together under one roof to celebrate another year in Catholic education. It’s always awesome to see how many Catholic parents choose a Catholic education for their kids.”
Students from Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury boarding their bus for home shared some thoughts. Brandon Arnold, a senior, said, “I was very excited to be here to welcome Archbishop Blair in this beautiful cathedral.” Katie Grendzinski, also a senior, was happy to have been among 10 from the school in the choir and among the 25 students present from Sacred Heart.
Information about the schools in the archdiocese is available at www.catholicschoolshartford.org.