Catholic Schools help form missionary disciples

By Megan Erbacher

The Message editor

At the 2024 Catholic Schools Week Mass, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel told students that the purpose of their Catholic education is to enable them to be the salt and light of the world, and to help them encounter Jesus and to be anchored in their faith.

Bishop Joseph M. Siegel processes out of St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville after he celebrated the 2024 Catholic Schools Week Mass Jan. 30. Eighteen priests of the diocese concelebrated with him. The Message photos by Megan Erbacher

Catholic schools provide opportunities for Mass and prayer, Bishop Siegel said, the study of our faith and the Catholic spirit. He told students they are being prepared to live, share and defend their faith, to know their vocation, and to become the persons God has called them to be as missionary disciples in our world today.

Bishop Siegel celebrated the Jan. 30 Mass at St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville, and 18 priests of the diocese, many representing parishes with Catholic schools, concelebrated.

During his homily, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel told students their Catholic school is preparing them to live, share and defend their faith.

Students in the highest grade level of each of the diocese’s 26 Catholic schools attended Mass, and St. Benedict overflowed with attendance spilling into the narthex.

St. Benedict Cathedral student Beck Riley served as reader. Students from the diocese’s four Catholic high schools served as gift bearers during the Mass. Representing the high schools were Blaine Herr, Mater Dei High School in Evansville; Charlotte Fredrich, Reitz Memorial High School; Parker Steininger, Rivet High School in Vincennes; Grace Drew, Washington Catholic High School in Washington.

During his homily, Bishop Siegel asked students to think about the people who have had a major impact on their lives. This could include parents, grandparents or other relatives, Bishop Siegel considered, those who have taught you about love, forgiveness, compassion and perseverance. The bishop continued and said maybe a teacher who taught you a love for learning, or a priest who taught you about our faith and how to follow our Lord, or maybe friends who have encouraged you.

In the context of today’s Gospel, Bishop Siegel said those people are the ones who have been salt and light for us. They’ve shown us the path to God, he explained, taught us important life lessons, and positively impacted the way we think and act.

Deacon Dan Niemeier, president of Mater Dei High School in Evansville, proclaims the Gospel.

The bishop encouraged everyone to ask themselves each day how they can shed the light of their Catholic faith with others.

Bishop Siegel thanked priests, teachers and administrators for their commitment and work in Catholic schools to form and educate disciples of Jesus Christ. He also thanked parents for their many sacrifices to make it possible for their kids to attend a Catholic school.

By your example, by your good deeds, may you lead others to Jesus, Bishop Siegel said, so that coming to know him and love him, others may give praise and glory to our heavenly father.

The annual National Catholic Schools Week starts the last Sunday in January and runs all week, which in 2024 was Jan. 28 through Feb. 3. Since 1974, the week has aimed to celebrate Catholic education throughout the United States.

Mater Dei High School senior Mallory Kempf was excited to attend the Mass with other students from across the diocese. Kempf believes it’s important to come together as a Catholic community with others who share the same beliefs. 

A Reitz Memorial High School student receives Holy Communion from Father Alex Zenthoefer.

“I think it’s really cool to see,” she said. “I came in eighth grade, and coming back as a senior, it’s crazy to see how we’ve all grown up. … I’ve attended Catholic school since preschool. I think it’s a great experience, and it’s good to see everybody here.”

Resurrection School eighth grader Brendan Barnes attended the Mass for the first time. Attending a Catholic school is special, Barnes said, because “the teachers and my friends, we can all pray for each other. … and we get to go to Mass together every week.”

Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Michelle Priar welcomes everyone to the annual Mass.

Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Michelle Priar said during her welcome that the annual Mass is a blessing.

“As I look out and see this church so full, it just makes me smile to think that we have this unique and special opportunity to come together and celebrate what it means to be part of a larger church and to celebrate who we are as Catholics and certainly who we are as people who attend Catholic schools,” Priar said. “I mentioned that the church is full … We have more students enrolled in diocesan Catholic schools this year than we’ve had in a really long time, and that is a true blessing.”

Priar noted being able to celebrate the Eucharist together is a “beautiful thing.” 

“It reminds us that no matter what school we’re from, no matter what part of the diocese we’re from, we’re all united in the Eucharist,” she said.

Diocesan Associate Superintendent Kari Ford offered thanks to many people who helped make the Mass possible. Ford noted it takes a lot of work to put the Mass together, but it’s a “labor of love.”

“We would like to thank Bishop Siegel for bringing us all together today and for his unwavering support to Catholic schools in the diocese,” she said. “He truly understands and appreciates the important role you all play in our schools.”

Students in the highest grade level of each of the diocese’s 26 Catholic schools attended Mass.