PORTLAND — “God’s love and our love for others can transform the world.”

That is the message William Burke, principal of St. Brigid School in Portland, shared with students, teachers, and parishioners during a Mass on Jan. 30 which kicked off the celebration of Catholic Schools Week.

“It starts here in the home, with moms and dads, the parents. We partner with teachers and students at school, and guess what? When we put it all together, we’re doing God’s work,” Burke said.

The first day of Catholic Schools Week is designated as a day to recognize the importance of a school’s parish community, and the Mass at St. Joseph Church in Portland brought together members of the Cheverus High School and St. Brigid School communities with members of Our Lady of Hope Parish.

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni joined parishioners in filling the pews of the church. Fr. Paul Sullivan, SJ, the celebrant of the Mass and pastor of Our Lady of Hope, remarked that he hadn’t seen the church that full since before the pandemic struck. The Mass was concelebrated by Father Robert J. Pecoraro, SJ, president of Cheverus, with Deacon John McAullife assisting. 

Students also took an active role in the Mass. They participated in the opening procession, carrying banners celebrating their schools and also served as readers and altar servers.

During the Mass, Burke and Kathryn Ray, academic vice principal of Cheverus High School, reflected on the theme the two schools adopted for Catholic Schools Week: “Celebrating the Ignatian Educational Vision.” Our Lady of Hope Parish is led by priests from the Jesuit community, and Cheverus is a Jesuit high school.

“We’re going to care for the spiritual well-being of all in our community. We’re going to promote excellence in all that we do. I learned those things from the Jesuits,” Burke said. “We’re going to listen to God in the quiet times. We’re going to actively reflect on those quiet times, what we did during the day, what we did yesterday, and how we can apply that to our lives to make ourselves the best people that we can be. We’re going to have the opportunity to learn and to grow, to learn and to grow for the greater glory of God.”

“The formation of young men and women for and with others is not just an ideology we teach in theology class; it inspires everything we do,” said Ray. “Whether it’s collecting turkeys for our annual Thanksgiving turkey drive, volunteering as a retreat leader, being a captain on a sports team, or serving others during the month-long Arrupe projects their senior year, students at Cheverus carry out our mission of being a person for and with others in meaningful ways and go on to lead purposeful lives rooted in love and service. Above all, being a part of a Jesuit school invites us to experience deep personal love of God.”

The schools’ Catholic Schools Week activities will include a focus on service. For instance, pre-K through grade 8 students at St. Brigid will participate in a clothing collection on Tuesday in celebration of the feast day of St. Brigid. In Ireland, St. Brigid is said to walk the earth on her feast day, and before going to bed, people leave a piece of clothing outside for the saint to bless. In keeping with that tradition, the clothing brought in by the students will be blessed by Fr. Sullivan before being delivered to the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland.

Catholic Schools Week is an annual celebration of Catholic education in Maine and across the United States. The week celebrates the mission of Catholic Schools: to evangelize students by nourishing faith and encouraging academic excellence while accentuating the importance of community and service in a nurturing environment. Check out all the amazing things happening at Maine’s Catholic schools this week: