St. Pope Gregory processed into Mass at St. Joseph Church in Manchester on Nov. 1, walking with his papal staff and wearing papal attire — a white cassock and mitre.
Other saints joined him: St. Anthony of Padua, St. Augustine, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Helen, St. Hubert, St. Lucy, St. Patrick and St. Rose of Lima.
As St. Patrick, better known as Andrew Grimm, said before Mass, "Today, we honor the holiest people who ever lived," which precisely describes the Feast of All Saints — traditionally a day off for Catholic schools, but school was in session at St. Joseph School.
Pastor Tom Pastorius and principal Greg Sturgill, both in their first year on the job, decided that while students wouldn't have classes, they'd come to school for a day of prayer and reflection, combining the holy day with the third grade's tradition of dressing up as saints.
Having school in session for a holy day gives parents a break from scrambling to arrange activities or child care for a mid-week day off, and it fulfills the Mass obligation of holy days — the Catholic identity that makes Catholic schools special.
Third-graders chose saints, researched their lives and prepared presentations for their parents — the second activity of the day, which included a Catholic version of Chutes and Ladders called Snakes (sin) and Ladders (virtues), a photo booth for students to make holy cards of themselves, the art of stained-glass windows and more leading to eucharistic adoration and benediction to close the day.
The activities demonstrated that everyone can become saints, whom Father Pastorius defined in the homily as "citizens of heaven." Citizenship requires an individual to "be the best possible person you can be," he said.
Father Pastorius wanted to pass on to students the positive influence he had from clergy growing up. St. Joseph — his first school as a parish pastor — was his opportunity.
"I believe we do a great job of teaching the basics of the Catholic faith, said Father Pastorius, who previously was pastor at Epiphany Parish in St. Louis, "but we don't give kids a chance to experience it."
Holy Days afford that opportunity.
"By having them come to school, it'll be more interactive and engaging, and gives them a positive experience in the faith," said Father Pastorius, who recalled that his parish priest, "partly because I was thinking of the priesthood, invited me to do more engaging activities like vocation week, which was the forerunner of Kenrick-Glennon Days. ... My faith was strengthened by having these positive experiences."
This particular positive experience brought a little bit of the seminary to a parish school.
"At the seminary, Holy Days were days off from classes, but we had days of reflection," Father Pastorius said. "That was part of the incarnation of this. 'Wouldn't it be great to do this at a (parish) school and give them that faith experience.'"
St. Gregory was brought to life by Noah DeLargy, who picked the pope for a simple reason.
"Gregory's my middle name," said Noah, whose dad also is named Gregory. Noah also liked that St. Gregory regularly shared meals with 12 homeless individuals and that he's a doctor of the Church.
Aubrey Grimm chose St. Clare of Assisi because she admired that she refused to marry despite her father's insistence that she do so.
All the third-graders worked for more than a month on their presentations, learning about the saints' lives and deciphering language and concepts above their reading level.
"They're the experts on their saints," said third-grade teacher Jessica Teska, who calls her students preparation for All Saints Day "my favorite project of the year."
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