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“starring” the prayers of others

24 Jul

Before we left on pilgrimage we gathered prayer petitions from parishioners, families, students, friends, co-workers and classmates. Yes, I said “classmates.” One of our pilgrims is a student in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program of our Archdiocese. From her classmates she collected a huge stack of prayers, many of which were written in Vietnamese.

Mary Jo, a teacher at our SASEAS School, and her daughter Bridget, just weeks away from her wedding, cut and pasted all the prayers on heavy paper and created a real work of art.

All the prayers were folded into a book that was easy to pack and carry.

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The book opened up into a star shape that could rest right on the corner of the altar whenever we prayed.

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Cathy, the lay ministry student, kept the prayers with her at all times. Here she touches the prayers to the rock of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, joining the cries of many to the cry of Jesus to his Father.

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The prayers rested during Mass on the altar over the stone of the holy (and empty) tomb of Jesus.

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The prayers were with us as we celebrated Mass with the local Christians in the olive grove of the Cremisan Valley near Beit Jala (Bethlehem).

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On the Sea of Galilee we celebrated Mass at an outdoor altar on the edge of the water near the home of Peter and Andrew in Capernaeum. We opened up the prayers to God there as well.

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And the prayers were with us for the last time at Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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We left all the prayers that we brought with the Sisters who live in the convent on the Mount of Beatitudes. Cathy and I were just starting to explain to one of the Sisters what we wanted to do, when she scooped them out of Cathy’s hands, “Tell the people that the Sisters will continue to pray for their intentions.” Sister knew what we wanted – and what our parishioners, families, students, friends, co-workers and classmates wanted.









the color blue is used only three times

22 Jul

Speaking of my three teachers (yesterday’s post), I took their picture together three times – on purpose.

On any map of the Holy Land of Palestine/Israel the color blue is used only three times: the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

Here are the St. Andrew teachers on the western shore of the Jordan River.

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Here they are in the front of a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

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I also have a photo of the three of them floating in the Dead Sea. You have to ask one of them to see that photo.


my three teachers

21 Jul

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Abby, Christy and Sharon, you honored me by accompanying me to Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Having known you as teachers in our parish school, it delighted me for these fourteen days to travel, eat and pray with you in the Holy Land. It was like I was taking you home to meet my people, especially in my beloved Beit Jala, and to see the land in which I grew up, in Christ, that is. I wanted you to have an experience as life-giving as I have had. I wanted you to come to love the land and love the people as I much as I do. I knew that each of you would meet a partner teacher and be her house guest for two nights. I was confident that you would be in loving hands in her home and in her care. But a tiny part of my soul was a bit nervous about how things would be for you. I knew you had seen a photo of your partner-teachers, and had corresponded by email with them. But the father-worrier in me wanted to know for sure that you would feel comfortable, loved and safe.

0 Three teachers DSC_0648Myrna, Niveen and Sally, however much I would thank you would not be enough. As the teachers from St. Andrew came off the bus in your church yard, you embraced Abby, Christy and Sharon, as if they were your long-lost sisters who had finally come back home. After just a few moments, you whisked the teachers away. They were in your arms, in your hands, in your cars – and they were gone. Then I left for two days, wondering how things were going, and hoping that each of you would bond with the teacher that you took home and to school with you. When I returned to pick up Abby, Christy and Sharon to move on to Jerusalem. I got my answer. The smiles on the faces of all six of you were proof and evidence of the friendship and solidarity that was built up in less than 48 hours.

Myrna, Niveen and Sally, I cannot ever thank you enough for what you have given to Abby, Christy and Sharon. They are better teachers, better women and better Christians because of you! You are also “my three teachers” now, too. I owe a debt to you that I cannot repay. But God can repay you. I will remind God often of my debt to you, and will ask God to pay you back for what you have given to the teachers from my school – and to me. May God continue to bless you, your families, your students and your homeland. Keep hope. Stay holy. Remain happy. Be brave.


bless Sharon John, Abby William and Christy Earl

31 May

On May 28 at our St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School Mass for the 6th, 7th and 8th graders, we blessed three of our teachers who are making pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

blessing of teachers

We give you thanks for those who teach us along the way.

We give you thanks, O God, for those who teach us about you.

We give you thanks, O God, for those who teach us about right and wrong, and what it means to be Christian and what it means to be Catholic.

We give you thanks, O God, for these women who are spiritual mothers to all of their students.

And as they set out on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, O God, we ask that you bless Sharon John, Abby William and Christy Earl. Keep them healthy. Keep them safe.

On this pilgrimage, O God, may they keep hope within themselves and be hope for someone else.

Draw them ever and ever more closer to yourself, O God, through your son, Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. We give you praise now and forever. Amen.

to help, care and show

1 Feb


Homily at Catholic Schools Week all-school Mass

If I were to ask your teachers how many reasons they have for why they like teaching at this school, I bet they would say, “Let me see. How many students do I have?”

Mrs. Sackrider, how many students do you have?

Each of you is a reason why your teachers like teaching at this school. You are the reasons.

Mrs. Sackrider, how many reasons do you have for why you like teaching at this school?

Where are the seventh graders? Your teachers are going to help you get to the 8th grade.

Fourth graders, your teachers are going to help you get to the 5th grade.

First graders, your teachers are going to help you get to the … ?

Eighth grade, we don’t have any more grades in our school, so your teachers are going to help you get to …?

Kindergartners, this is hardest one. Your teachers are going to help you get to …?

But your teachers are not only going to help you get to your next grade. Your teachers are going to help all of you get to the same place. Your teachers are going to help you all of you get to …?

You’re right. Your teachers are going to help you all of you get to heaven! Because they care not just about your mind and your body. They care about your souls. They teach about the saints, so that you will want to be a saint. And they will help you to be a saint, not just by teaching you about saints, but, most importantly, by showing you how to be a saint.

To help you get to heaven, to care about your soul, to show you how to be a saint – that’s Father Cordier’s job, that’s my job, that’s Mr. Devolve’s job, that’s Mr. Grieco and Mrs. Ducheny’s job, that’s Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Clayton’s job, that’s your teacher’s job, and, yes, that is the job of the maintenance men: to help you get to heaven, to care about your soul and to show you how to be a saint.

Isn’t it wonderful having a Catholic school?

I have homework and a question for the teachers. Teachers are usually the ones giving homework and asking questions. Now, they get the homework and are asked the question.

The homework? Pray for every one of your students, individually, by name, before you fall asleep tonight. You would probably be surprised by how often your students pray for you before they fall asleep. Mr. Estes, Mrs. Mascolino, Mr. Powers and Mr. Eskra, you’re going to have to start right after supper!

The question? Have you ever taken a list of your students with you to Mass on Sunday to pray for each of them by name? Maybe this Sunday.

“Shadow” Stations by 7th grade at SASEAS School

28 Mar

Shadow Stations 2013

The Fifth Station:  Simon Helps to Carry the Cross

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.

Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus, as you grow weaker, the soldiers grow impatient.  They worry this execution will take too long.  They grab a random man from the crowd, Simon, traveling from Cyrene for the Passover festival.  Simon does not want to help – he does not want to become involved, but the soldiers force him to help you carry your cross.   Simon’s strong hands somewhat lighten the heavy load for you, dear Jesus.

How many times has God placed an opportunity to help someone else in my path and I ignored it?  I walked past another student whose books are scattered in the stairwell.   I failed to share my lunch with a student who forgot his.  I ignore papers or trash I’ve left on the floor, expecting someone on clean-up duty to pick it up.  I dash to the bus and don’t bother to hold the door for someone behind me. At home, I ignore the basket of clean laundry as I head upstairs.  I make myself scarce when it’s time to carry in groceries or set the dinner table.  I ignore the needs of my younger siblings. 

Let us pray:  Lord, help me notice the needs of those around me.  Help me to do more than just stand there and watch.  Help me to see the needs of others as opportunities to show my love for you; that in loving others, I will surely find you. 

We pray to the Lord.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Bless the One who shapes your beauty

7 Mar

As they waited for the Skype connection with the 1st grade students of Miss Ruya from the Latin Patriarchate School of St. Joseph in Nablus (West Bank, Palestine), Mrs. Phillips explained to her students that the children that they were going to meet were 6,000 miles away, and lived near Bethlehem.

The parents in Palestine had brought their children back to school a couple hours after school was out in order to Skype with our children from America.

The Palestinian children had a song ready – “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” Our children clapped with joy, probably because they recognized the song. They probably didn’t realize how extraordinary it was that 6-7 years olds, whose first langauge is Arabic, were singing in English. Later, the same children would sing a song in Arabic, which Miss Ruya explained was about how they loved their country very much.

The teachers on both sides of the world tried to put some order into the energy and the enthusiasm of their students. Sometimes they were even successful. First graders, wherever they are, are first graders!

When it was our turn, the CD player went on, and our friends in Palestine heard, “All you works of God / Every mountain, star and tree / Bless the One who shapes your beauty / Who has caused you all to be / One great song of love and grace / Ever ancient, ever new / Raise your voices, all you works of God.”

Mrs. Phillips sang.

The children sang and made hand gestures that expressed the words of the song.

The  Arab children clapped with as much enthusiasm and appreciation as our children did.

They asked questions …

… and waited for answers.

There were questions (and answers) about snow, favorite sports, how old they were.

At the end of the visit, Mrs. Phillips spoke with the principal, Miss Abeer, who personally visited Mrs. Phillips classroom back in October. In June, Mrs Phillips goes to Miss Abeer’s school – and the circle of friendship will be complete.

محادثة “skype” مع مدرسة “Saint Andrew”

1 Mar

On February 28 students from Saint Joseph School in Nablus, in the West Bank of Palestine, visited by Skype with 6th graders from St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton school in Milford, Ohio.

Students from the two Catholic schools were 6,000 miles away, but technology brought them together to see each other’s smiles and to hear each other’s voices.

As one of the Palestinian students sat close to the computer, the others in the classroom watched on a large screen. They saw our students sitting in the hall below our church. Note in the bottom right corner of the next photo: in Palestine it was 420 p.m. The students had finished their school day, had gone home to eat the main meal of the day, and returned, yes, returned to school in order to meet our students who were just beginning their school day at 9:20 a.m.

In the classroom with the students …

… were Miss Abeer, their Principal, and Miss Ruya, their English teacher. Both Miss Abeer and Miss Ruya had visited our school last October. Our 6th grade teacher at St. Andrew, Mrs. Barbara Ambs, worked out the details of the online visit with Miss Ruya. They each prepared their own students, and pulled off this miracle visit, not giving up, even after technological problems forced them to cancel the first two attempts.

And look who else was in the classroom in Nablus: Father Johnny, the parish priest of St. Joseph.

A Palestinian girl asked her question. She spoke in English. She and her classmates began studying English in the first grade – and French, too. Notice the piece of paper. Isn’t that cute? She had her question ready.

Then she smiled, as she got an answer from her new American friend, who also spoke in English, of course. It would have been a very short visit and conversation, if our students needed to speak in Arabic.

It was fun for all: students, teacher and parish priest – on both sides.

This smile says it all. It’s for the children!

the Joy and Hope of being Remembered

28 Dec

Mr. Waseim, the computer teacher at the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala (Bethlehem) had visited with us in November, along with other teachers and school personnel from the West Bank (Palestine), Israel and Jordan.

At Christmas he sent to us a photo of the candles that he lighted in Bethlehem. The first one (in the photo above) is for “Father Rob” and the fourth is for “St. Andrew parish.” The fifth one is for our school and his school. The last one is in thankful memory of all the people he met in the USA. Candle two and three are for Nancy and JoAnne, two of our parishioners here at St. Andrew who spent a great deal of love – and sweat and blood – preparing for the visit of the teachers and dealing with all the intricacies and details during their days with us.

At Midnight Mass here at St. Andrew we lighted a peace candle for them. I had purchased the peace-dove at the Catholic parish in Taybeh in the West Bank, and brought it back with me for this purpose on this night.

Our hope is that it was as good for our friends in the Holy Land to know that we remembered them as it was for us to know that they remembered us in the very town where Jesus was born on the very night on which we celebrate his birth.

Were we the only school in the U.S. that “skyped” with Bethlehem today?

20 Dec

The 4th graders from our St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Seton school visited with the 3rd graders from the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala (Bethlehem), Palestine. Speaking with children in Bethlehem right before Christmas – how cool is that! 

These Palestinian children live in Bethlehem. They are Christians – just like us – in a Catholic school – just like ours. 

There is Miss Eman, their teacher. When she was in the classroom with our students at our school in November, her face just lit up. She makes her students smile.  

This is Mr. Waseim, their computer teacher. He is very clever – and very computer savvy. He has been to our school, too.  

 They sang “Jingle Bells” in Arabic. We clapped for them. 

We sang “Silent Night” in English. They clapped for us.  

It was a wonderful Christmas gift for me to be able to see and hear my two worlds, my two loves – Milford and Beit Jala – come together at Christmas.  

Mrs. Schweickart is our teacher. Last summer she went to the Beit Jala school, where she met Miss Eman and Mr. Waseim. In November she welcomed them to our school.  

We hope to visit again, by skype and in person. Ensha’allah. God willing.