BETHLEHEM, Pa. (CNS) — When Rebecca Gonzalez dismissed her students from Notre Dame of Bethlehem School for summer break, she planned to continue bettering their education by putting her foot to the pedal.
Like many of her students, the fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher is spending most of her summer days on a bicycle.
But instead of biking to friends’ houses or the local pool, she is biking across the country for “Coast to Coast for Catholic Schools,” an event she created to raise awareness for Catholic education.
Gonzalez, 24, began her journey June 8 with a flight to California and started pedaling June 9 following a “Race Across America” central route across the U.S., from San Diego to Annapolis, Md. When she finishes, she’ll have ridden about 3,022 miles.
By June 28, she had made it to southwestern Colorado and was heading from Alamosa to La Veta, Colo., a distance of 59.3 miles. Gonzalez was documenting her trip online — via Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/C2C2013, and with a blog, http://www.coasttocoastforcatholicschools.org/blog.
Notre Dame students, staff, friends and family bid Gonzalez farewell June 7 with a send-off Mass and offered prayers for her safety.
“Today is all about love. Love makes the world go round,” said Msgr. Thomas Baddick, pastor of Notre Dame of Bethlehem, who celebrated the Mass, which also observed the feast of the Sacred Heart.
Pointing out the love in Jesus’ Sacred Heart and the love Gonzalez has for Catholic education, Msgr. Baddick said love doesn’t always work out.
“Sometimes our love is rejected, disappointing or ignored,” he said.
“Love might fail in life, but Jesus Christ always has room in his heart for us.”
Calling on the congregation to pray for Gonzalez, Msgr. Baddick lauded her for raising funds for the Eastern Pennsylvania Scholarship Fund, which provides partial scholarships to needy and deserving students in the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Allentown.
“We pour a lot of love on her today. We want her to ride ‘coast to coast’ on a cushion of our prayers and love,” he said.
Principal Kathy Maziarz presented Gonzalez with a backpack and Notre Dame emblem.
“You represent everything we hope to instill in our students,” she told her.
“When the road is easy– we rejoice with you. When the road seems all uphill — our prayers will energize you,” said Maziarz.
While blessing Gonzalez and her bicycle, Msgr. Baddick blessed Gonzalez and her bicycle “Spirit,” and asked God to grant her courage and vigor when she faced fatigue and achiness.
“We pray God surrounds her with his loving care. Give her strength and energy,” he said.
“Most importantly, we pray that he brings her safely home to us,” he added.
In a May interview with The A.D. Times, Allentown’s diocesan newspaper, Gonzalez talked about how she had dreamed about making her way across the country for years and about giving more students the gift of Catholic education. She decided last summer to make her dreams a reality.
“I have always wanted to make my way across the country whether it be biking or running,” she said.
In her third year as a teacher for the diocese, Gonzalez herself has benefited from Catholic education — as a student at Notre Dame, Bethlehem Catholic High School and the Jesuit-run University of Scranton.
“I truly believe that my Catholic education has helped me become the person I am today,” Gonzalez said. “Along with my parents, the Catholic education I received formed my Catholic values and faith. I became a Catholic school teacher to give back to the community that gave so much to me.”
With Catholic schools across the nation facing enrollment declines, she is anxious to help the schools in the Diocese of Allentown, which saw a slight increase in enrollment for the 2012-13 school year.
Hoping to garner enough support from family, friends and supporters of Catholic education, Gonzalez’s goal was to raise $20,000 — the estimated cost to send one child to Catholic elementary school for eight years.
“I firmly believe that Catholic school is more than an education. It provides opportunities and experiences not otherwise available. It is my hope that these experiences are available for all children,” said Gonzalez.
“From this adventure, my hope is that more people are aware that scholarships are available for students, and to increase available funds,” she added. “I want to make Catholic education accessible for all families.”
Editor’s Note: To donate, send checks payable to “Coast to Coast,” 1100 Brentwood Ave., Bethlehem, PA 18017 or make a donation through credit card or PayPal and follow her video blog at http://www.coasttocoastforcatholicschools.org.
Connolly is on the staff of The A.D. Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown, Pa.
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