Bishop Olson encouraged students to grow in their fidelity to God at the Eighth Grade Mass

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

May 21, 2014

Students from the Catholic schools hold their banners ready to process into the Church for the Eighth Grade Catholic Schools Mass celebrated May 7 at St. Joseph Church

Students from the Catholic schools hold their banners ready to process into the Church for the Eighth Grade Catholic Schools Mass celebrated May 7 at St. Joseph Church. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen/NTC)

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This year’s diocesan Eighth Grade Mass — held May 7 at St. Joseph Church — brought back memories for Christine Holtz. In 1977, she was part of the graduating class at St. Andrew Catholic School in Southwest Fort Worth.

“The school was a little different then. When I was there, half the teachers were nuns. The Sisters of the St. Mary of Namur taught us and they lived right off campus,” Holtz remembered.

Today, Holtz’ son, Mason, is an eighth-grader at her alma mater. Classrooms and curriculum have changed, but the school’s emphasis on faith and formation remains the same, she says.

“I sent him to St. Andrew for the Catholic values. I wanted him to be in an environment and have teachers that support the faith,” Holtz explained. “It also provided a better learning opportunity than public school. There’s sacrifice involved but I’m happy I was able to provide a Catholic education for my son.”

The annual eighth grade Mass brings together parents, teachers, and administrators for a celebration of Catholic schools and their eighth grade graduates. Organized by the Diocese of Fort Worth Catholic Schools Office, the liturgy marks a milestone in the lives of the eighth-graders and gives them an opportunity to worship with peers who are also preparing for high school and new responsibilities. Participation is a key component of the gathering, and representatives from each campus carry in their schools’ banners during the processional. Other students perform as musicians and choir members or serve as lectors and ushers.

Eighth-grader Will Bradley, who served as cantor for the Mass, came to St. Joseph Catholic School as a fourth-grader after moving to Arlington from San Antonio.

“We were lucky there was an opening,” explains Bradley, whose younger brother also attends the school. “I’ve loved it ever since.”

The 14-year-old said St. Joseph is such a small, close-knit community, it feels like a second home. He’s not looking forward to leaving the campus for Nolan Catholic High School.

“Our formation here as Catholics is amazing,” he enthused. “Every matter that comes up is related to faith, and that means a lot.”

Bishop Michael Olson, who concelebrated the Mass with St. Joseph Pastor Father Daniel Kelly, and other diocesan priests, encouraged the graduating eighth-graders to “cling to what you learned throughout these years” of Catholic education.

Referencing the liturgy’s first reading (Acts 8:1B-8), the bishop talked about Saul before his conversion to Christianity, describing him as a smart, cunning man who used his authority and “bigness” to impose his will on others.

“In many ways, at your school, you’re big, especially compared to the pre-K,” he pointed out. “But, hopefully, not in the way Saul was big. Because your education and formation throughout these years in Catholic school is really about how to become ‘little.’”

The bishop explained for Christians, being “little” means dependence on God for everything, having a grateful heart and serving your neighbor.

“We recognize our poverty. We don’t try to be autonomous. We don’t try to impose our will on other people and we don’t bully,” he stressed. “When you start next year as a freshman, you’ll be reminded in very many real and tangible ways of your littleness. Embrace the littleness without embracing persecution, bullying, or being disrespected.”

“Little” people hear the voice of God very clearly, Bishop Olson said, and he asked his young listeners to embrace the call of Christ to follow Him whether it’s a vocation to ministry in the Church or to married life. Saul could have remained Saul, he reminded them, but he chose to listen to the voice of Jesus and became the apostle, Paul.

“He became little. As you move forward (in life), don’t simply get older — grow,” he advised. “Grow in littleness. Grow in fidelity and faithfulness to what Jesus asks you to do.”

Before the Mass ended, School Superintendent Don Miller also spoke to the assembly of 425 eighth-graders to tell them their impending graduation represented hope.

“Hope in our faith is the confident belief in the loving presence of God in each of our lives,” he said. “For you that confidence has come from your encounter, on a daily basis, with the teachings and presence of Jesus Christ in your home, parish, and school.”

He asked them to take the time during the next few weeks to thank their parents, teachers, and pastors for the Catholic education they received.

“They have used their experience and beliefs to give you the opportunity to move forward,” he explained. “They have given you two great gifts — your life and God’s love.”

The superintendent’s words struck a chord with 14-year-old Gabriela Castillo. According to the eighth-grader, St. Rita Catholic School provided her with the best education in the world.

“Who doesn’t want the opportunity to learn about God?” she responded when asked about her years in Catholic school. “God is the center of life and an education that includes Him prepares you for life.”

 

This year’s diocesan Eighth Grade Mass — held May 7 at St. Joseph Church — brought back memories for Christine Holtz. In 1977, she was part of the graduating class at St. Andrew Catholic School in Southwest Fort Worth.

Published (until 12/12/2031)
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