(SNR) - Across the Diocese of Lincoln, schools are back in session. If the numbers add up as they did last year, more than 7,600 students will benefit from the high academic standards found in 27 elementary schools, six high schools and Villa Marie Home and School for Exceptional Children.
Even better, these students spend every school day cultivating their individual relationships with Jesus through regular religion classes and daily Mass.
It’s a sad reality that daily Mass is something of an anomaly in much of the U.S. Many schools still have weekly Masses for students, but some are reduced to having Mass only on First Fridays and Holy Days of Obligation.
For a time, all the Diocese of Lincoln’s schools were not having the children at daily Mass. In 1993, the year after Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz was installed here, Superintendent of Schools Msgr. John Perkinton, Bishop Michael O. Jackels (then Father), the director of religious education, and the bishop’s younger sister, Sister Collette Bruskewitz, O.S.F., assistant superintendent of schools, discussed daily Mass as they were updating the school policy book, noting the opportunity for celebrating the whole liturgical year with Christ and the Church.
Both Msgr. Perkinton and Sister Collette believed daily Mass does make a significant difference for the children attending Catholic schools, just as it had for the Bruskewitz siblings as they were growing up in Wisconsin. The bishop enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and the diocese’s school policies were updated to re-initiate daily Mass at all elementary schools, along with legal and other updates.
Parents say they can tell the difference.
Sarah Erwin and her husband have five children at St. Joseph School in York, ranging in age from 7 to 14.
"I went to Catholic school with weekly Mass, and this is far more valuable, but I didn’t realize that when I first enrolled them," she said.
As she’s witnessed the fruit of this daily devotion in her own children, Mrs. Ervin has realized, "Going daily encourages a far greater appreciation for the value of the Mass."
Kate Roberts of St. Mary Parish in Hamburg, Iowa, said that daily Mass was the main reason they decided to enroll their children at Lourdes Central Catholic School in Nebraska City.
"We have amazing academic success [at Lourdes], but on top of that, they have Jesus every single day," she said.
The Roberts kids have also been able to see the fruits of their prayers and Mass intentions. When their principal, Mrs. Valerie Able, suffered a serious illness last year, the students prayed diligently, and she has since made a full recovery.
Above all, Mrs. Roberts believes the main advantage that her children gain from daily Mass is being strengthened to stand for Christ.
"We know we’re fighting the culture," she said. "We have to give our kids their faith."
Debbie Wahlmeier, who serves on the faith committee at St. Cecilia High School in Hastings agrees. She came to realize the significance of daily Mass for her children during one of the most horrific days in our nation’s history: September 11, 2001.
"I wanted nothing more than to be united with my family and to know they were all safe," she recalled.
After her children returned home and the family talked about the events and emotions of the day, Mrs. Wahlmeier realized, "They encountered Christ that day in the silence of the tabernacle."
Mrs. Wahlmeier is grateful that daily Mass had allowed them to nurture a relationship with Christ well in advance of any crisis.
"The Mass is a vital part of preparing our students to be willing and able to attain wholeness in God’s plan for their life, their role in the Church, and in society," she said.
When the U.S. Air Force relocated the Thayer family to the Omaha area, they had no intention of staying in Nebraska for long. However, excellent Catholic schools and faithful bishops led them to settle in Plattsmouth permanently.
"Having the daily Mass was huge, just huge," mom Cathy Thayer stressed. "Their first lesson of the day is the homily from Father."
Revealing the quiet desire of her own heart regarding one of her young sons, Mrs. Thayer added, "It’s also helping promote vocations."
Sister Regina Marie, C.K., concurs, noting that her vocation to the religious life began to materialize when she was a student at St. Joseph Elementary School in Lincoln.
"The graces received there nourished the seeds of my vocation and helped me to hear the Lord’s voice calling me to be totally His," she said.
As she was growing up, Sister Regina Marie consistently prayed two simple prayers at daily Mass that were taught to her by her teachers at St. Joseph. The first was the simple but powerful, "My Lord and my God!" exclamation during consecration, along with placing all her intentions and desires on the paten as it was elevated. The second was asking the Lord what He wanted her to do in life as she received the Blessed Sacrament.
"These simple prayers…became powerful tools that the Lord used to help me open my heart to His will," she said.
Now Sister Regina Marie is teaching second grade at St. Peter Elementary School in Lincoln, where daily Mass is a key part of their preparation to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and First Holy Communion.
"I think this sends a powerful message to our students that Christ must be at the center of their lives," she reasoned. "The Mass is the center of our day—nothing else takes place once the children arrive until we have participated in Mass."
She added, "By attending Mass daily and learning how to be more in tune with the way the Lord speaks through His sacraments, I see today’s students being more open to the Lord as He speaks to them outside of Mass as well."
"I just want to shout from the rooftops what a gift this is," Mrs. Thayer said.