Students learning about, praying for bishops

Bishop-elect W. Shawn McKnight’s pending arrival provides unique learning opportunities in Catholic schools


Catholic Schools Week 2018 coincides with a time of intense preparation for the arrival of a new bishop for the Diocese of Jefferson City.

To mark the occasion, students in the diocese’s 39 Catholic schools are learning about the significance and symbolism of a bishop and his role in the Church.

“This is an exciting time, a historic time, and I think it’s a great opportunity for us to help students understand the whole process of ordination and installation, symbols of the diocesan crest, a bishop’s coat of arms, and the meaning behind all of these things,” said Nancy Heberlie, principal of St. Stanislaus School in Wardsville.

Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated throughout the United States Jan. 28-Feb. 3. This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”

Bishop-elect W. Shawn McKnight will succeed Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos as bishop of the Jefferson City diocese on Feb. 6.

No student in grade school or high school was born yet when Bishop Emeritus Gaydos was ordained and installed in 1997.

“So at least for the time being, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them,” said Sister Elizabeth Youngs of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, diocesan superintendent of Catholic Schools.

Sister Julie Brandt of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, diocesan associate school superintendent, worked with Mrs. Heberlie and several other principals to develop teaching resources, including age-appropriate lesson plans, classroom activities and a novena for students to pray in the days leading up to the installation.

“The naming of a new bishop provides a teachable moment to help the young people of our diocese learn more about our local and universal Church,” said Sr. Julie. “Providing resources that schools, PSR programs and others can use and adapt to different audiences will hopefully allow all to learn from this historic event in the life of our local Church.”

Principals have been working with teachers at each school on ways to share the information in unique, fun and interesting ways.

For instance, after learning about the symbolism of a bishop’s miter (the ceremonial hat he wears at Mass) and his coat of arms, younger students will be encouraged to design their own miter, pectoral cross and heraldry.

Older students are learning about who Bishop-elect McKnight is by watching the series of catechetical videos produced by the diocesan Communication Office, and by reading articles that have been published in The Catholic Missourian.

All students are being given a clear insight into apostolic succession and how the Holy Spirit has been guiding the Church continuously since Jesus breathed on His Disciples and commissioned them to make disciples of all nations.

“We’re part of the larger Church,” said Mrs. Heberlie. “This is helping students understand how the Church operates — this is a great opportunity show them how things flow from the Pope in the Vatican, out to the parishes in our cities and towns.”

Fun and memorable

Gayle Trachsel, principal of St. Peter Interparish School in Jefferson City, helped develop the teaching materials and has enjoyed watching students learn from them.

For instance, Laura Dampf’s second-grade students at St. Peter are learning the official names for what a bishop wears, as well as the job duties he performs and his role in the diocese. On Jan. 23, they got to try on and see how they look in a handmade bishop’s miter.

Students in the upper grades at the school are learning many of the same things with help from the videos on the diocesan YouTube channel.

“Students and teachers are excited that they get to learn and be a part of this special event in the diocese,” said Mrs. Trachsel. “Bishop-elect McKnight and Bishop Gaydos will continue to be in our prayers these coming days.”

The lesson plans are divided into kindergarten through grade two, grades three through five, and grades six through eight, with older students being given more information and deeper insight into bishops, who are successors of Jesus’ Apostles.

“Basically, we’re looking to help our young people understand what a bishop is, what a diocese is, and where they see their parish, their school and ultimately themselves in the diocese,” said Mrs. Heberlie.

Sr. Julie presented the learning and praying materials to the diocese’s Catholic school principals and encouraged them to be creative in putting them to use.

“Hopefully our teachers will use the resources we’ve developed, along with their own creativity, to share the information with students in an engaging manner,” she said.

Nine days of prayer

Teachers are also leading the students in praying a novena for Bishop-elect McKnight and Bishop Emeritus Gaydos and offering up other acts of prayer, sacrifice and service as part of a diocesan spiritual bouquet.

This “bouquet” will be presented to both bishops from the entire local Church when Bishop-elect McKnight is installed.

The novena consists of some of Bishop-elect McKnight’s favorite prayers, along with daily reflections drawn from aspects of his life and ministry.

In praying the novena, the students are also to recall the importance of such things as prayer and family in their own lives.

This is the closing prayer for each day of the novena: “We Pray: Gracious God, Who sent Your Son as the great Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, lead and guide the Diocese of Jefferson City during this time of transition. Bless Bishop Emeritus Gaydos for his faithful service to our diocese for the past 20 years. Bless also Bishop-elect McKnight as he prepares to lead us into the future. May he imitate Your Son Jesus in the way he leads with compassion and care. As he shepherds our diocese, may he call us to be faithful to the Gospel, as we grow in faith, hope and love. Prepare all of our hearts to welcome our new bishop in good faith and love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!”

Spreading the word

In addition, students at each Catholic school are also being encouraged to create a short video to introduce their parish and school to the new bishop.

Bishop-elect McKnight said he plans to watch the videos in anticipation of visiting parishes and schools in his work as bishop.

The lesson plans and novena prayers are also suitable for parish youth ministry and religious education programs and have been shared with the DREs and youth leaders in each parish.

Several of these items, including prayers and teaching guides for each age group, will be posted on the Catholic School Office page of the diocesan website:

The series of newly produced catechetical videos on various aspects of the bishop’s ministry in this diocese can be found on the diocese’s YouTube channel. Go to www.diojeff, click on the YouTube logo in the upper-right corner, scroll down, and select any of the videos.