Catholic eighth-grade students attend Mass, tour cathedral

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By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — While Kevin Lane, a student at St. John the Evangelist School in Attleboro, expected to see Bishop George W. Coleman as he celebrated Mass for his fellow eighth-graders from Catholic schools across the diocese, he didn’t anticipate seeing the final resting places of two of the bishop’s predecessors: Bishop William Stang and Bishop Daniel F. Feehan.

Lane and some of his classmates were treated to a guided tour of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption last week just prior to the annual diocesan Mass for eighth-graders.

“I learned a lot about the former bishops (of our diocese) — I always heard about Bishop Stang and Bishop Feehan from the high schools named after them, but I never really knew much about them,” Lane told The Anchor. “When we went down into the crypt to see where they are buried, I learned about their lives; when they were born, when they died. That was one of the most interesting parts of the tour for me.”

An annual tradition spearheaded by the diocesan Catholic Education Center, the Cathedral Mass for Eighth-Graders provides a unique opportunity for these students as they are about to transition from middle into high school to come together to laud their academic achievements, celebrate their faith, and learn a bit about the rich history of their diocese.

It includes the aforementioned cathedral tour, a fact-finding scavenger hunt, and lunch on the scenic grounds surrounding St. Mary’s Cathedral before celebrating Mass with Bishop Coleman.

Kevin Baker, an eighth-grade student at St. John the Evangelist School in Attleboro, was fascinated by the interior and exterior architecture of the more than 160-year-old stone cathedral.

“I didn’t know that the statue of Jesus (across the street) from the cathedral was made in France,” Baker said. “That was interesting to learn.”

Colleen O’Brien, a classmate of Baker’s, was surprised to learn the history of some of the stained-glass windows in the cathedral’s choir loft.

“I didn’t know that the stained-glass windows were made by Terence O’Dugan,” O’Brien said. “I really like the rose window up there — it’s really colorful and pretty.”

Chelsea Gomes, a student from All Saints Catholic School in New Bedford, was impressed to learn why there’s an image of a pelican carved into the front of the cathedral’s wooden tabernacle.

“The legend is that the pelican mother will actually feed her young and starve herself and die just to feed her kids, and that’s supposed to symbolize Jesus suffering and dying on the cross to save us,” she said.

Gomes’ classmate, Emma Braga, thought it was “cool” to learn about the different symbols depicted in the various carvings and windows and learning about “where it originated and how it was first built.”

But there was no denying that brief jaunt down into the seldom-seen crypt below the altar level of St. Mary’s Cathedral where past bishops of the diocese are buried remained a highlight of the tour for most students.

“I loved learning about the history,” said George El-Haoui, a student at St. John the Evangelist School in Attleboro, “but I really loved going down into the crypt (where the bishops are buried).”

Several students from Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro under the guidance of Father David M. Costa, who serves as chaplain there, were invited to come back and be tour guides for their younger counterparts this year.

“I remember how much I liked the tour when I was in eighth grade,” said Timothy Legg, a Feehan student and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Attleboro. “I’ve always liked the history of churches, it’s always been interesting to me, so I thought I’d like to come back and give a tour (of the cathedral) this year.”

Legg patiently pointed out some of the intricate details in the cathedral’s remarkable woodwork as eighth-graders scurried to jot down the information on their scavenger hunt sheets.

“Being a tour guide you get a different experience, a different point-of-view, which I enjoy,” he added.

In welcoming the more than 400 students present who would be entering high school in the fall, Dr. Michael S. Griffin, superintendent of schools for the Fall River Diocese, noted how this was a special opportunity to congratulate them on their academic success to date and to say “we are all very proud of you.”

“Each of you has accepted the challenge of a Catholic education, which means not only an exceptional commitment to academic excellence — and we recognize all the hard work that you’ve put into that — but also we know that you’ve made a real commitment through these years to grow in the knowledge and practice of your faith,” Griffin said. “So as you prepare now to move onto the next level of your education, we encourage you to continue to apply those lessons knowing that God will continue to walk with you, to be with you, and to continue to call you to a life in a relationship with Him and in service to others. We want you to know that our prayers will continue to be with you.”

In his homily remarks during the Mass, Father David C. Frederici, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Cape Cod Community College, echoed Griffin’s sentiments.

“There are great challenges ahead of you,” Father Frederici said. “This is a very exciting time in your lives. Believe it or not, the next four years of high school are going to fly by. Remember that God is still at work, in your life and the lives of those around you. He is calling you to a specific vocation and is calling you to action each day. Don’t go it alone. Remember you are never alone. The Church is always there, ready to love you and support you in all the challenges that come your way.”

And Father Costa, who helped organize the annual eighth-grade Mass and tour, beamed with pride about how well-behaved and respectful the students were as they walked around the cathedral and its surrounding property.

“I think the respect that you show each other is really evident, and I think that’s a wonderful tribute to your teachers and your pastors who have invested so much in you,” Father Costa said. “We are proud to claim you as our own and to welcome you to our cathedral church.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts