Eighth-graders attend Mass with bishop


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Verses of “10,000 Reasons” cascaded off even more abundant mosaic tiles and stained-glass panes in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.

About 500 eighth-graders from the diocese’s 37 Catholic elementary schools were there to worship and then to dine, dance, sing and find greater connections before moving on to high school.

It was the diocese’s inaugural Eighth Grade Mass.

“My heart is filled with gratitude for all of you who have come to the mother church of the diocese to celebrate this special Mass,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, who presided and preached the homily.

“Nothing makes us prouder than when we see you here, being reverent and understanding what you’re experiencing,” said Erin Vader Ed.D., diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.

About 30 priests — mostly pastors of parishes with Catholic schools — concelebrated the Mass.

Students served in liturgical roles and sang in the choir.

The diocesan Catholic Schools Office planned the event in close association with the newly-convened Diocesan Advisory Student Council.

The council, made up of seventh- and eighth-graders from Catholic schools around the diocese, suggests and helps plan diocesan events for students.

“They had everything to do with today,” Dr. Vader said of the council. “They’ve done a remarkable job.”

Restored relationship

In his homily, Bishop McKnight stressed the importance of recognizing Jesus fully present in the Holy Eucharist and the Mass.

“You see, in our Catholic churches, the way we treat the Blessed Sacrament says a lot about our faith in Jesus Christ,” the bishop said.

He pointed out how the Cathedral’s altar and tabernacle are embellished with materials and artwork that proclaim joy and reverence for Jesus in every sacramental encounter.

The tabernacle, adorned with artistic reminders of Mary as the Mother of the Savior, attests to the Incarnation — the Son of God becoming fully human while also remaining fully divine.

“Because of our communion with Christ, we have communion with one another in the Church, which is the Body of Christ,” said Bishop McKnight. “That is who we are.

“Our worship here, centered on God, and our love of God is integrally defined in the twofold commandment: ‘Love God and love your neighbor,’” the bishop stated.

By dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus restored the communion that had been lost between God and humanity by Adam’s first sin.

The Eucharist makes Jesus and his restorative sacrifice fully present at every Mass.

God makes himself uniquely present within the worldwide universal Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ.

“In our communion with God’s Church, we have communion with God himself,” said Bishop McKnight.

With that comes the privilege and responsibility of announcing his Good News to the rest of the world — “an invitation to invite them to recognize the presence of God among us,” the bishop said.

“Be a saint!”

Bishop McKnight and Dr. Vader thanked the priests, the principals and vice principals, the teachers, the volunteers and the Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish staff for their roles in bringing about this first Eighth Grade Mass.

Both thanked the students, including the choir members, for their active and attentive participation.

Dr. Vader intends to have the Mass become a yearly event.

She told the students that the purpose of every Catholic school is to bring them closer each day to Christ, “and to help you be the best Christian and the best Catholic you can be in this world.”

She gave them a challenge as they prepare to move out into the “bigger world” — “Be a saint!”

That doesn’t mean being perfect or not making mistakes.

Rather, “being a saint means you dedicate yourself to God and to making sure that you are making the best decisions that you can in trying to do good every time you can,” she said.

“And when you make a mistake, you double down and you try harder and you do your best again.”

Dr. Vader cautioned the students against letting the world define who they are or what is right and wrong.

“Find your own fire,” she said. “Find your own spark. You know what is good and right. Be strong! Be a saint!”

She reminded them that no matter what the world does to them, they always have someplace they can go.

“You have a home with your family, you have a home with your friends, you have a home with your old teachers, and you have a home in your parish,” she said. “There are people who know you and there are people who love you.”

More importantly, they must never stop turning to God, “who loves you more than any of us ever could.”

“Put your faith in Christ and let your heart rest,” she told them.

Work in progress

Members of the Diocesan Advisory Student Council were pleased with how the Mass and festive luncheon came together.

Council member Eli Woodruff, an eighth-grader at Holy Family School in Freeburg, believes it’s important for students from different schools to meet, share ideas and help serve the Church.

He said the council members also suggested holding a crafts and activity day for Catholic school fifth-graders, and a “quiz bowl” academic competition for seventh-graders.

Both events, along with the long-standing Sixth Grade Vocation Day and another Eighth Grade Mass, are slated to be held next year.

Eli said he’s enjoyed becoming friends with fellow council members.

He plans to attend Fatima High School in Westphalia next fall and to take as much of what he’s learned and experienced at Holy Family with him.

He believes anyone who is invited to serve on the Diocesan Advisory Student Council next year should do it.

“It’s a commitment, but it’s not very hard,” he said. “And it’s pretty fun.”

Setting an example

Council member Nora Seedorf, an eighth-grader at Mary Immaculate School in Kirksville, gave the welcoming remarks before the Mass.

Her principal had invited her to serve on the diocesan council this year, “and I said yes.”

The council meets virtually each month, allowing members throughout the diocese to participate without traveling.

The council’s objectives have been straightforward.

“We help plan activities for this year and next year, especially for fifth through eighth grade,” said Nora.

“And we’re all really excited to get to know each other better and help advance our communities,” she stated.

Serving on the council requires some effort, “but I really like it,” she said.

This fall, Nora will embark on a combination of classes at Kirksville High School and the Catholic online Seton Home Study School with her parents.

She’s sad that the Catholic faith will no longer be the center of her life at school, but she’ll continue to learn about God and grow in her faith at home.

She plans on staying in touch with all of her friends from Mary Immaculate.

She intends to pray whenever she can and give a good Christian witness through her everyday life.

“If people do see me make the Sign of the Cross, hopefully it will help them see that it’s okay to be strong in your faith,” she said.

Being responsible

Eighth-grader Chloe Stafford’s principal at Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City recommended her to serve on the Diocesan Advisory Student Council.

“She said I was responsible,” Chloe recalled.

“To me, that means being prepared and ahead of things, knowing what’s happening, being ready to do anything,” she stated.

Chloe believes planning this year’s Eighth Grade Mass was one of the council’s crowning achievements.

“Dr. Vader asked us about things that we wanted to see happen, fun activities,” she said. “We want every grade to have something fun to do together.”

Chloe plans to take the experience she’s gained from her time on the council with her to Helias Catholic High School in the fall.

She’s looking forward to making new friends and having access to new activities and experiences.

“I hope I can also take everything that I learned at ‘I.C.’ and be a good friend and a good student and be respectful and responsible,” she stated.

“I love being here”

Reese Hohe’s seventh-grade English teacher at St. Patrick School in Rolla assigned the class to write a short paper about what they like about school.

“After that, I kind of got chosen for this,” she said.

She’s enjoyed serving on the council this year.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “I’ve also made some good friends.”

She hopes to return to the council in the fall during her eighth-grade year at St. Patrick.

She knows next year will be different, with new members and new challenges and opportunities.

Her advice to the new members who will join the council then: “You’ll do fine. Just talk about what you want to add, what you’re thinking about and your ideas.”

Reese said she enjoyed worshiping God with such a large group of eighth-graders in the recently renovated Cathedral.

“It was beautiful,” she stated. “I love being here.”

She’s particularly impressed with the resplendent mosaic behind the crucifix, above the tabernacle.

“I love how it’s so shiny and glittery and gold,” she said. “I also like how the tabernacle, where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, looks like the Ark of the Covenant. I thought that was pretty cool.”

As for the festivities afterward: “It was awesome,” she said. “Everyone is dancing!”

Hoping to stand out

Eighth-graders Layla Murphy, Ella Ricker, Natalie Vandiver and Addilyn Roach from Holy Family School in Hannibal enjoyed their trip to Jefferson City.

“It’s great to be able to worship together and be part of such a large community,” said Addilyn.

“Getting to be here and see all the priests and everyone together is really nice,” said Natalie.

None of the four had been to the Cathedral before.

“It’s really cool,” said Ella. “We used to watch videos of Mass going on here. It’s really cool to be inside it and actually experience it.”

Addilyn was impressed with the crown-shaped ceiling, Natalie with the colorful stained-glass windows.

All four have been going to school together since pre-kindergarten, and all four plan to go to Hannibal High School in the fall.

“It’s going to be very different,” said Ella.

“I think the biggest change is going to be the number of kids in our classes,” said Adalyn.

As such, she’s looking forward to becoming friends with more people.

“I’m excited for the new opportunities and new stuff we can join in high school,” said Layla.

All four said they plan to stay active in the Church and continue putting their faith into practice.

They said they hope the way they behave and treat other people will help people know that they came from Holy Family.

Cultivating community

Maggie Van Leer and Harper Cormley are eighth-graders at Sacred Heart School in Sedalia.

They’re both leaning toward continuing at Sacred Heart for high school next year.

“I love the community so I’m definitely going to be here,” said Maggie.

This was both of their first times visiting the Cathedral since it was renovated and expanded last year.

“It’s definitely fun meeting new friends and seeing new faces,” said Harper.

“It’s cool because we don’t usually get to see very many other Catholic eighth-graders,” said Maggie. “So, it’s good to meet with people who have similar beliefs to ours.”

Both are hoping for a reasonably smooth transition to high school.

“It’s definitely going to be a lot more crowded,” Harper predicted, “and probably a little bit harder than eighth grade. And we’ll have to get more mature.

“Prayers are very much appreciated,” said Maggie. “It can be a tough transition, so I’ve heard — so, for all of us, pray that we can stay focused on what’s important and have fun.”

Take it to God

Nora asked for prayers for all graduating Catholic eighth graders to keep their faith, continue going to Sunday Mass and carry the Good News into the rest of the week.

Chloe asked for prayers for her classmates and her “not to be afraid to move on or be scared of change.”

Reese requested prayers for God to lead her and her classmates to great things in the upcoming year.

“Pray for us that we will have a successful time in high school and continue to be good Christians,” said Eli.