HARTFORD – The Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has declared played heavily into the theme of a Back-to-School Mass celebrated Sept. 13 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“Catholic education is not about a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to faith and morals,” Archbishop Blair said in his homily. He added that that Jesus’ question to his apostles, "Who do you say that I am?" is relevant today.
“Here and now, at this Mass, Jesus is asking this question of you and me,” he said. This same question, he added, has to inform everything we do in our Catholic schools, including studies, sports, extracurricular activities. “Everything we do has to reflect our Catholic answer of faith to that question.”
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The archbishop expressed graitude for those present who support Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Hartford amid a culture of “growing rejection and hostility to many of the truths that we believe that God has revealed.”
Archbishop Leonard Blair was the principal celebrant of the Mass, which was concelebrated by a number of priests and attended by religious, students, teachers, administrators and families from 55 archdiocesan elementary and high schools. The capacity crowd stood to the sound of trumpets as school representatives marched in with brightly colored school banners that were placed around the altar.
In his opening remarks, Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic schools, acknowledged the upcoming Year of Mercy that will begin Dec. 8, as announced by Pope Francis, which the archbishop also talked about in his homily. To set the tone for this “extraordinary jubilee of mercy,” said Dr. Hoyt, every archdiocesan Catholic school administrator is reading Pope Francis’ “The Church of Mercy” as part of the year’s theme, “A Catholic Culture of Mercy and Learning.”
Elaborating on the theme, Dr. Hoyt told the Transcript that the Office of Catholic Schools is starting the year by asking four questions: What does it mean to be a merciful Catholic school? What does it mean to be a merciful Catholic school student? What does it mean to be a merciful Catholic schoolteacher? What does it mean to be a merciful Catholic school leader?
He went on to discuss the Office of Catholic Schools’ formal Purpose and Vision document, developed in 2011 by the Archdiocesan School Board and signed this year by Archbishop Blair.
After the celebration of the Eucharist, the archbishop blessed the framed documents and presented them to each school’s designated representatives as they were called forward by Maria Maynard, deputy superintendent of schools.
The day was an occasion for celebration and sharing. Ardell Bartolotta, principal of Our Lady of Victory School in West Haven, described the second annual ceremony as a great tradition and praised the archbishop for celebrating the start of school with a Mass. She said she had invited all 24 members of the school’s eighth grade to attend and that 20 were present, some volunteering as greeters.
Describing the day as “meaningful for all of us,” East Catholic High School principal Jason Hartling said that Christ is the focus of a Catholic education and that he appreciated the opportunity to begin the school year with the liturgy.
He also said he was proud of the 16 members of the East Catholic choir who performed as part of the special music program for the Mass and ceremony and proud as well of the other East Catholic students in attendance.
Many who attended were visiting the cathedral for the first time. Father James A. Shanley, the cathedral’s rector, provided some history and described many key features of the structure, creating a teaching moment for the children present by defining some words such as cathedral, for example, and associating it with the chair of the archbishop.
Joshua Zapatka, age 6, a first grader at St. Mary Magdalene School in Oakville, attended with his parents Ronald and Sarah Zapatka and his brother Devon, age 8, who is in fourth grade. Devon, who had been chosen to accept the plaque from Archbishop Blair on behalf of the school, said he loved the cathedral and “all the organ things and how they made all the pictures into the walls and the big picture up behind the altar is really beautiful.”