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School activities to promote value of Catholic education

By Brian Fuchser
The Catholic Voice

For the annual observance of Catholic Schools Week, teachers and students throughout the archdiocese hold many events, but one stands out for eighth-grade pupils from Omaha's Catholic elementary schools – the Eighth Grade Mass.

More than 1,000 eighth graders from 31 schools will gather Feb. 3 at St. Cecilia Cathedral for this year's Mass with Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss.

Students will participate in the Mass as members of the choir, readers, ushers and servers. Representatives from each school will carry a banner designed by their school in the entrance procession.

Sister Michelle Faltus, SFCC, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the Eighth Grade Mass, a tradition for more than 30 years, serves two primary functions – passing on appreciation for liturgy and retention of students in Catholic schools.

"We're preparing these children to be active participants in our church as adults and young adults," she said. "And what better way to do that than by bringing them together to celebrate Mass with Archbishop Curtiss.

"Their planning and participation will be remembered and will bring them to a greater appreciation of the liturgy as young adults."

By bringing all of the eighth-graders together, the Mass also plays a role in keeping students in the Catholic school system, she said.

"It (Catholic education) is a family. This brings them all together," Sister Faltus said. "And hopefully they will continue on in our Catholic high schools."

Bonnie Pryor, principal at St. Cecilia Grade School and organizer of the annual event, also cited the importance of retention.

"Archbishop Curtiss addresses that beautifully in his homily," she said. "He tells the students that he hopes he will see them all in our Catholic high schools. This is the perfect time to do it. This is right when they're choosing where to go.

"But the most significant thing," Pryor said, "is for them to witness all of their pastors concelebrating with the archbishop. That is such a moving experience for them. It makes such a difference, and when you watch their (the students') decorum and their participation, you can see that they are moved by the significance of that."

The Mass is held near the end of the weeklong celebration – Jan. 30 through Feb. 5 – based on the theme "Catholic Schools: Faith in Every Student."

For many schools, an all-school Mass provides the central point for the week. Other activities include open houses, talent shows, dress-down days for students, service projects, ice-skating trips and classroom picnics.

For Pryor, the annual celebration is an important time to promote the importance of Catholic education.

"Catholic education has to be a high priority," she said. "And this is a chance for us to sell it."

Sister Faltus agreed. She said one role of Catholic Schools Week is to build an awareness of the value of Catholic education not only among Catholics but in the general population.

In addition to promotion, Pryor said the celebration "gives us a chance to show our appreciation for our teachers, our parents and our students."

The Catholic Voice

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