After years of hoping and months of planning, Diocese of Green Bay celebrates a diocesan-wide school Mass
Excitement, apprehension, awe and relief were just a few of the emotions felt on Oct. 14 last fall in the Diocese of Green Bay. The energy level was electric as more than 9,000 students and 1,000 adults, including teachers, priests, deacons, three bishops and some parents, filled the Resch Center on a beautiful autumn day. Having 10,000 people gather to celebrate Catholic schools for the first time in the diocese was an historic event. Not only was this the largest gathering in the diocese, it also was among the largest events ever held at Green Bay's Resch Center.
Buses began arriving at 8:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. Mass. The last school arrived, from 100 miles away, just as the roll call of schools began. Choral groups from the diocese's five Catholic high schools performed as everyone took their seats. Priests and deacons waited in the entryway of the arena during the introduction and roll call of schools, while each school community cheered as its name was called. They couldn't help but wonder if this boisterous group would be ready for Holy Mass.
The first song was announced and everyone was ready. The liturgical music was led by students from the five high schools and a band ensemble. Instantly, a space previously reserved for concerts, hockey, basketball and football games was transformed into a holy space.
Bishop David Ricken, along with Bishop Emeritus Robert Banks, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau, more than 50 priests and 15 deacons and the 10,000 students and staff, joyously celebrated Catholic schools. Bishop Ricken welcomed everyone proclaiming, "Today, the Resch Center is transformed much like a cathedral, a cathedral built in living stones. This is a beautiful sign of God's love for us." During his homily. Bishop Ricken spoke about the importance of Catholic schools in our society and closed with a special blessing for the teachers, staff and principals, who were all wearing red shirts with a logo and the statement "I make a difference."
During each of the past 20 years, the Green Bay Diocesan Association of School Administrators planned a Mass to celebrate Catholic Schools Week. But because of space limitations at churches around the diocese, schools were able to send only a representative group to the celebration. In addition, because Catholic Schools Week occurs at the end of January, some schools were unable to participate in the events.
So All May Participate
Ten years ago, conversation began among principals about a venue in which all the students in our Catholic schools could participate in a celebration. In the past five years the conversation grew toward reality, especially after the construction of the Resch Center with a capacity of approximately 10,000. Last spring the principals' organization voted to go forward with the vision of a Mass to include all students and staff in the 16-county diocese. The Principals' Association had saved some money in anticipation of an event, and each school was asked to pay $1 per student in the school to finance the rental of the facility. Other donations were requested to offset additional unexpected costs.
Planning began in May and continued with a subcommittee and members of the diocesan education department staff. Throughout the summer, we worked to coordinate Mass planning, the order of the day, sound and light logistics, as well as to organize the arrival and departure of 150 buses. Each of the high schools was invited to have students involved in the Liturgy of the Word and the music and altar server ministries. Music was sent to each school in August to familiarize students with all the songs.
Communication was an important aspect of planning. While many people were excited, we definitely encountered some skepticism. No one had all the answers because this was the first time an event of this magnitude was organized. During the summer, the diocesan newspaper, The Compass, published an article that helped build excitement.
Organizers tried to anticipate every scenario and sent detailed instructions, maps and seating assignments to administrators in order to accommodate 9,000 children. Teachers and staff, well trained in classroom management, applied their skills to help make this great event run smoothly. The schedule of the day included liturgy and lunch. Timing was critical in order to accommodate schools from 100 miles away, Everyone was asked to bring a sack lunch. While students ate, a slide show of all the schools rolled and the altar was transformed into a rock band stage. Entertainment was provided by a local Catholic band, "Building Permit," who donated their time. They continued the celebration of our Catholic faith through music and dance. After Mass ended, schools were dismissed between songs allowing new friends to say good-bye with the hope of meeting again as they journey forward in their Catholic education.
The students were polite, well behaved and participated fully in the liturgy, often clapping rhythmically as they sang and gestured during songs and prayer. Resch Center employees, bus drivers and outside spectators were impressed. Following the event, Resch Center management commented on the cleanliness of the Resch although students had eaten lunch in their seats. Two of the three cleaning crews were told not to report because they were not needed.
Stories abound about the special things that happened that day, such as the high school student who saw a younger student on crutches and asked if he could carry her down the street and help her get seated inside. A bus driver was overheard telling a person on the phone he was witnessing an incredible event. Another bus driver admitted he had not been to church in a longtime and was overwhelmed as he witnessed the beauty of this celebration.
Comments poured in for days following the event:
"Today was awesome. It was a fantastic experience to celebrate Mass with 10,000 people right here in our own diocese." Mati Reynebeau, Principal, Xavier High School, Appleton, Wisconsin
"I was so moved by seeing all of our school students, faculty, staff and parents praising our awesome God as a group. I have had nothing but positive feedback from all who attended and participated. This is a true testimony to the work we are all doing in our schools. What a beautiful witness of our Catholic Faith." Robin Jensen, Principal, Holy Cross School, Green Bay, Wisconsin
"What a beautiful and moving day! It was so cool to see students from various high schools get together and talk. It was also energizing to see the students dancing with the Christian band. It certainly will be an unforgettable day for many of us." Sister Donna Fahrenkrug, Xavier High School, Appleton, Wisconsin
"Andrew came home talking about how great it was. I was really glad I was able to be there." Janet Clark, parent
"From this principal of a smaller school, our kids and staff were and are so pumped up and were in awe of the whole magnitude of the liturgy. The music during Mass and the "Building Permit" group were fantastic!" Jeff Staddle, principal, Most Precious Blood School, New London, Wisconsin
"I love the songs you chose. I just love the song 'Go Make a Difference.' I loved when people started to clap during the songs. I think the Mass was great." Maria, student, St. Gregory Elementary School, Saint Nazian, Wisconsin
As people left the Catholic school celebration that October day, a blessed day for the Diocese of Green Bay, a common question asked by many was: "When will we do this again?"
Father Jim Lucas, right, pastor, and retired pastor Father Gerald FaIk of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton, Wisconsin, locate students from their parish.
Resch Center management expressed their pleasure at the cleanliness of the hall after 10,000 people ate lunch at their seats.
Jane Schueller has been a principal in the Diocese of Green Bay for 20 years. She is currently at Resurrection Catholic School in Green Bay and is president of the Diocesan Association of School Administrators. She is working on a doctorate in leadership for the advancement of learning and service through Cardinal Stritch University (firstname.lastname@example.org). Pamela Otto is principal of Holy Family School in Green Bay. She was instrumental in facilitating many of the details for the Celebration of Catholic Schools. She is the vice president and secretary of the Diocesan Association of School Administrators (email@example.com).…