Showcasing more than just their enthusiasm for academic rigor, eager young students at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Academy, Forest Hills, demonstrated how they incorporate their Catholic education into their daily lives.
For fifth grader Joseph DiBartolo, he defined his goal as getting into a “really good college and being number one in class” in order to prepare the way for a seat at one of the country’s coveted positions: President of the United States.
“I want to be president because I want to make this world a safer place and make every state in our country have equal rights,” said DiBartolo.
DiBartolo and two other students from the eighth grade were chosen to be the designated tour guides during Catholic Schools Week when Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio visited Our Lady of Mercy Thursday, Feb. 2.
The trio tour guides, along with the school’s new principal Dana McCann, led a group that included the bishop, the pastor Msgr. John McGuirl, Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, diocesan superintendent of schools, and other members of administration around the different classrooms. They were greeted with smiles and “Good Mornings” that could have passed for the welcoming sounds of a children’s choir.
After the tour, the day’s main event took place in the school’s auditorium where Msgr. McGuirl introduced the special guest.
“It’s a great honor, the bishop has a lot of things to do,” explained Msgr. McGuirl, “and we appreciate him coming to us.”
Students put on a variety of dances, skits and songs centered around leadership, service and being disciples of Christ.
Two of the eighth grade tour guides Sophia Gregory and her dancing partner Devin Arasa, were set to go on stage to do the foxtrot.
“We have a very diverse population and we learn dances from all around the world,” said Gregory, who was confident about her upcoming performance in front of her peers. “But we do so many other special activities where we just get to know who’s who and it’s a lot of fun.”
Students can learn from each other in clubs the school offers, like the Glee Club.
“We also do acting here so what it really does is build up a lot of kids self-esteem,” added Gregory, who is also preparing for her first year in high school. “It makes them want to be involved more and honestly, that’s one of my favorite things we get to do.”
The first act featured fifth graders who reenacted the Holy Thursday scene where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. As the mic passed from one disciple to another, words from ‘we are to serve, not to be served,’ ‘we ask God to help us see the face of Jesus in all the people’ and ‘let us always remember to be like Jesus’ echoed in the room.
Bishop DiMarzio reiterated the Gospel message that he was able to witness.
“You know every Holy Thursday every priest would do the same thing as the skit did, the washing of the feet in different parishes,” said the bishop, “and so it really shows that we’re supposed to serve other people.”
Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service is the theme for this year’s National Catholic Schools Week and Our Lady of Mercy students seem to share a passion and purpose every day they enter the halls.
For eighth grader Devin Arasa, he knows how hard it will be when he has to leave for high school upstate.
“I’m 13 years old and I’ve spent 10 years here, so I’ve been here since I was 3, with the same kids and same friends,” said Arasa. “I’m going to miss my friends, just walking in and seeing the same thing every day, it’s inviting and I feel like I’m part of a family so that’s going to be hard.”
Sense of Belonging
Incorporating a sense of belonging is what first-year principal Dana McCann called her favorite aspect about being at Our Lady of Mercy. It was also what made a huge impact on her growing up.
“My mother was a Catholic school teacher for many years,” said McCann. “I loved going with her to work and seeing how different it was then when I went to a public school and just seeing how close everyone was. I just love the feeling of community and that’s my favorite thing about being here.”
Nurturing a comprehensive pre-high school experience with a faith-based curriculum was what Bishop DiMarzio called an advantage for students.
“In one place you have people of faith who are helping you develop as you grow older, step by step a better appreciation of what life means and what your faith means,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “That’s why we celebrate Catholic Schools Week.”
To discuss their faith and stir curious young minds, the bishop invited representatives from different grades to participate in what he called ‘Stump the Bishop,’ an activity where students got a chance to ask challenging religion-related questions.
At least 15 students stepped up to the microphone and asked him what was on their minds.
They inquired about why he wasn’t wearing his ‘special hat’ or mitre, where did he study to become a bishop and even if he ever planned on being a pope one day.
He chuckled before explaining to the third grader who asked about the process to become pontifex.
“First, you have to be a cardinal,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “I’m not a cardinal. Then there are 120 cardinals that vote for the pope. They pick one to be the pope. Not in the cards for me.”
Even though heading to Rome to lead the Catholic Church was not part of his plans, the bishop made sure to share the importance of vocations, including the priesthood.
He said that when he asks large groups of students who would want to be a priest or join religious orders, at least 10 percent would respond with a yes.
While finding one’s purpose at such a young age is a gradual process, the bishop reiterated the importance of praying.
That’s because when he was asked by a seventh grader about when God reached out to him about his vocation, the bishop responded with confidence.
“God will influence you,” said the bishop. “He will give you different signs on different occasions when you’re on the right path.”
He added, “The real reason that we know is when we’re happy, because when you’re happy then you know what God really wants you to do.”