Rural students gather in Norfolk for Catholic Schools Week Mass

NORFOLK – At the inaugural all-rural Catholic schools Mass celebrating Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30, the focus was on unity.
Michael Ashton, superintendent, emphasized it as he welcomed about 300 students from 21 schools and 19 towns, including Atkinson, Crofton, Dodge, Howells, O’Neill, South Sioux City, Wayne, West Point and Winnebago.
Students certainly differ from one another and they traveled a variety of distances to Norfolk, but they all represent one faith, Ashton said.
“This is a real special treat for all of us here today,” the superintendent said as he helped to welcome the students to Sacred Heart Parish’s St. Mary Church and later Norfolk Catholic Schools’ Burns Hall. 
The students carried banners of their schools during the processional at Mass, which began the activities. Archbishop George J. Lucas presided and 15 priests concelebrated.
Similar to the long-standing eighth-grade Catholic Schools Week Mass in Omaha, students attending were in eighth grade or sixth grade, depending on the final grade offered at individual elementary schools. Teachers, parents, grandparents and religious brothers and sisters also attended the Mass.
And the Norfolk gathering included a mini-retreat, with songs of praise led by musicians Danny Leger of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha and Tom Theis of Ainsworth in the Diocese of Grand Island, as well as ice breakers and small group discussions where students from different schools met and mingled.
Hopes are that it can become an annual event during Catholic Schools Week, said Don Ridder, Norfolk Catholic president. 
Students, teachers, priests and others said they felt the presence of Jesus during the Mass and retreat.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding feast. During his homily, Archbishop Lucas said Mary, the mother of Jesus, wanted everyone to put their faith in him and do what he commanded them.
“It is a very important role or responsibility that Mary played in the beginning and still plays today – she wants us to come recognize her Son and come to get to know him,” the archbishop said. “She also wants us to pay attention to what he is offering us or asking of us, and to do what he tells us.”
Archbishop Lucas encouraged the students to remember that Jesus only asks for what will be good. It might not always seem that way at the start or might not be fully understood, but it is important to trust Jesus, he said.
“Jesus only wants good for us,” the archbishop said. “We can take Mary’s instruction to heart and do what Jesus asks of us.”
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