By Tanya Connor
MILLBURY – A priest taught students how to preach last Friday.
The occasion was Mass for Assumption Elementary School, held in its church, Our Lady of the Assumption.
The Mass on the third day of school was the first formal school-wide gathering, Joan Matys, the new principal, told The Catholic Free Press. She said students had already met her and Father Paul M. LaPalme, the new pastor, who plans to have weekly school Masses. This one involved introductions of various sorts.
At the end of Mass, eighth-grader Conor Carroll welcomed Mrs. Matys and led a prayer for her and the teachers. He told The Catholic Free Press he found the prayer on the internet.
Both principal and pastor used the occasion introduce some of their beliefs and expectations.
“Since we don’t know each other, I expect you all to sing,” Father LaPalme said at the beginning of Mass. “I promise to try to understand this is your first Mass on a Friday with me. … So it’s a new experience for everybody.”
The homily was quiz time.
What did the disciples say when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection and said, “Peace be with you?”
Silence in the youthful congregation.
“You know what?” Father LaPalme asked, apparently questioning the adults this time. “They got it right.” Like the students, the disciples didn’t say anything, he said. They thought Jesus was dead. Again he offered them peace – and his Spirit.
“He wants them to do something with the gift,” Father LaPalme said. “What does he want them to do?”
“Talk about God.”
“How does he want them to tell them about God?” persisted the pastor. “You know there’s two ways to preach? …You can use your mouth. What’s another way you can preach?”
That question was a little harder. Students came up with answers about using the sign of the cross and the sign of the fish.
“OK, but think outside the box,” Father LaPalme responded. He asked how they would teach a younger sibling to take out the trash, and told them, “You can show them by doing it.”
People remarked about the love the first Christians showed each other, the pastor said.
“They didn’t say it because they were hugging and kissing and holding hands,” he told the children. But because of the Christians’ love, others started to follow Jesus too.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Mommy I love you’ while the trash is piling up,” Father LaPalme said, bringing the lesson home. Or to tell the teacher, “I really like you a lot,” but not do the homework.
The pastor urged students to do what people ask, even before they ask. Sometimes it’s harder to show them love this way, but when one does that, others see it too, he said.
He gave students homework for the three-day weekend: think about how they would preach without using their mouths, by the way they live. Then those who saw them could conclude, “He must be a Christian; she must be a Christian.”
“Yes?” he asked.
“Yes!” the students shouted, a scenario repeated a couple times.
“The way you just answered, that’s how I want you to live,” the pastor said.
At the end of Mass he issued instructions for liturgical behavior, from moving kneelers silently to receiving communion or a blessing.
To students in grades seven and eight he gave special instructions.
“You have a major league job this year,” he told them. “You set the tone for the school. … There’s lots of little kids looking at you.”
Mrs. Matys gave an instruction too.
“Nowhere have I found a stronger commitment to a school,” she said, speaking of something which drew her there.
She said the retirement of their former principal, Rita Bernard, and former pastor, Father Richard A. Fortin, may have caused concern for many. But, she said, “I see change as an opportunity for growth. … Ride the wave.”
Father LaPalme said they may not always know what’s on the other side of the wave. It may be “wicked cool,” he said and urged them to ride it together.
“You are more blessed than you can ever imagine,” he said, after talking about the search for a principal and Mrs. Matys coming “out of nowhere.” God wanted to make sure he sent the right principal to the right school with the right teachers and students, he said.
Mrs. Matys has already implemented some changes – with help. She showed The Catholic Free Press walls that needed repainting, which the custodian and parents did in the school colors – blue and white. People coming in should know where they are, she reasoned.
To that end, she also hung a banner of the Assumption of Mary, with the school’s name on it, on the wall facing the entrance.
That meant moving the photos of the Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop McManus, dwarfed by the large space, to the entranceway wall outside her office.
“So now I have the pope and the bishop watching the kids on the naughty bench,” she said of the place those sent to the principal’s office wait. “So now that guilt is at work. I was raised with it. It works.”
Other adults had another way of looking at it. They dubbed it “The bench of possibilities.”