TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) — The mood within St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton was that of a joyous, faith-filled family reunion during the Trenton Diocese’s annual Mass for Catholic schools.

More than 800 students, teachers, administrators and parents representing 32 elementary and nine high schools from throughout the diocese’s four counties gathered around Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell to celebrate their faith and the gift of Catholic schools.

The bishop happily greeted the congregation as he entered the cathedral, and at the start of the Oct. 15 Mass told the congregation it was one of his favorite days of the year.

“Today, we gather from all over the diocese, from its many parishes, to celebrate Catholic Schools Day. We do that every year at Mass — the most important prayer of the Catholic Church.”

Opening his homily, the bishop lifted his wrist to display a wristband depicting images of Mary, and recalled a wristband that had been popular some years ago: one bearing the initials WWJD.

“For us as Catholics and Christians, the phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do’ is a great reminder, a great message for all of us to ask every day in all the things we do,” he continued.

“We find the answer here at Mass. Make it a point never to miss Mass because that’s what God asks of us: to love him in return and spend an hour a week with him. That’s how our Catholic faith grows.”

Dozens of students led the opening procession of the Mass, bearing banners emblazoned with the names and logos of their academic homes.

Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, N.J., receives the offertory gifts during a Mass celebrating schools at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton Oct. 15.(CNS photo/Craig Pittelli, The Monitor)

Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton, N.J., receives the offertory gifts during a Mass celebrating schools at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton Oct. 15.(CNS photo/Craig Pittelli, The Monitor)

A pair from St. Dominic Elementary School in Brick carried a giant rosary, while two students from St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel served as flag bearers. Other students brought the gifts of bread and wine to the altar.

Still others served as facilitators, assisted as acolytes, or were readers or intercessors. The choir from St. Rose High School in Belmar sang.

Bishop O’Connell was the main celebrant of the Mass, with more than 30 priests from diocese concelebrating.

It took a team of volunteers from various chancery departments to organize the Mass, and about two dozen buses were needed to transport the hundreds of students and school personnel from all over the diocese to the cathedral.

The Mass had a missionary focus. Father Peter James Alindogan, director of the diocesan Office of Missions, introduced about a dozen priests, brothers and religious sisters who have spread the Gospel message via the diocesan Mission Cooperative Program and school Mission Reachout sessions.

School students carried 41 tokens of missionary life in the opening procession such as totems, carved bowls, tapestry, musical instruments and photographs, and prayed with rosaries distributed that morning after being blessed by Bishop O’Connell.

In his homily, the bishop said the answer to the query “What Would Jesus Do?” may well be evident within the students’ families and faith community, but more difficult to find in their schools and neighborhoods.

“Our teachers in Catholic school guide us and help shape our understanding of the world around us,” Bishop O’Connell said, adding that faith-based institutions of learning “help us see the world through Jesus’ eyes … to help us answer the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?'”

Catholic school students, faculty and staff alike proclaimed their pride in faith-based education and a God-centered curriculum.

Victoria Adams, a junior at Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River, noted: “It’s great to see how many different schools come together; this is proof of the presence of God.”

Sixth-grader Kathryn Sebastian of Our Lady of the Lakes in Medford gazed upward at the cathedral’s ornate ceiling, then side to side at the church’s stained-glass windows, statues and niches. “I can learn more about Jesus, and how he is expressed in the art of the cathedral,” Kathryn told The Monitor, Trenton’s diocesan newspaper.

JoAnn Giordano, who in September began her tenure as principal of St. James School in Red Bank, called the Mass inspirational, saying it brings about “such a sense of unity. Even though we come from different schools, I feel that we are all one here. … We are bringing to the forefront how strong we are being united in prayer.”


Leslie is a staff writer at The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.