Diocesan priests process during the Mass to open the Fall Conference, held Oct. 25 at St. Joseph’s Church in Rice Lake. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

At the start of Mass for the Diocese of Superior’s 57th annual Fall Conference, on the clear, cool morning of Oct. 25, Bishop James P. Powers welcomed all present at St. Joseph’s Church in Rice Lake.

Called by name

He made special mention of Sr. Felissa Zander, SSSF, principal of St. Francis Solanus School in Stone Lake, the one person known to have attended every one of the 57 conferences.

During his homily, the bishop noted the day’s theme – “Learn, Lead, Proclaim, Called by Name” – as “important and timely” during the continued process of growth in understanding and response to the Holy Father’s invitation to become an evangelizing Church.

He said, “Even though we use the word evangelization, it still sounds foreign and scary.

“We know in our heads and in our hearts that we are called to be evangelizers … By virtue of our baptism, we have been called by name by our Lord just as those first disciples.”

The bishop reminded that one’s baptismal calling is “also our commissioning to go forth to proclaim the Good News.”

He went on to say every period of church history has had its challenges.

“There’s never ever been an easy, an all-sunshine-and-roses time,” Bishop Powers affirmed, adding Jesus never promised that.

“In fact, he promises the exact opposite,” he added, “that we will suffer insult, rejection, betrayal, persecution, and the hope and promise of eternal life.”

To acknowledge the importance of giving and receiving support in the mission, the bishop said Jesus understood that and never sent his disciples out alone.

“As you look around today in this church, know that you are not alone,” he said. “Our God is with us all the time, everywhere, until the end of the ages.”

Bishop Powers commented that, to offset feelings of being alone and of mistrust of God’s plan, it is “absolutely imperative to be a people of prayer … that it’s only in those times of prayer that we give God a chance to touch our hearts and our minds and to reveal his presence in our lives.”

He invited attendees to take their role of leader, catechizer and evangelizer seriously.

“We need to be able to share the stories of our encounters with the Lord with others so that they might be able to come to know, to see and to recognize God’s encounter with them, as well.”

The bishop assured everyone, “God has put each of us here, in this time and in this place, on purpose,” and that each has been given what they need “to do his work here and now.”

Called to witness miracles

When participants gathered back in the church, chancery staff member Dan Blank offered a lively introduction to keynote speaker Dr. Marco Clark, highlighting commonalities the Washington, D.C., native had with the educators and catechists gathered for the conference.

Clark, a veteran school counselor, educator and leader, started out asking who in the audience believed in miracles. He proceeded to describe with reverent conviction the miracle that takes place at every Catholic Mass, “the joy of the encounter with the Risen Christ.” He affirmed that miracles happen every day in Catholic school classrooms.

“We need to believe in miracles,” he said.

As a manner of self-introduction, Clark called himself “just a guy who allowed God to work in his life.”

Using an audio clip of the Christian song “I Can Only Imagine,” the speaker further demonstrated what effect a personal encounter with God can have on a life, and the direction that can provide.

He shared that, after discernment of a religious vocation in high school, it was during a college internship with at-risk teens that he discovered his true calling, “to work individually with young people … to help students go from hopeless to hopeful.”

Clark asked the first-year teachers and catechists to stand, saying to them, “You are our future,” and inviting a rousing round of applause.
After acknowledging those with years of service up to more than 50 years, he said his most important message was “to say thank you and tell you that you are valued. We don’t say that enough.

“You are creating encounters with the risen Christ every, single day … and you are what make you amazing.”

Quoting author Parker Palmer, Dr. Clark said that “we teach who we are.”

He added, “In teaching who we are, that means that we have to work on ourselves all the time. We owe it to our children. We’ve been called by God to do this work – to always work on ourselves.”

He then asked, “Why do we do what we do?”

With a slideshow of photos, Dr. Clark explained the uniqueness of the Catholic school he works with – almost 900 students, 90 percent minority population and only 25 percent Catholic – and shared stories of people, with names and faces, for whom Catholic education sums up their ‘why.’

Thirty-eight of 135 of his school’s staff are alumni. This fact exemplified the speaker’s message of the mission of Catholic education, summed up with a quote from the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, Bl. Basil Moreau – a mission Clark will dedicate himself to advancing as he takes over the leadership of the Holy Cross Institute at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, in 2020.

“Zeal is the great desire to make God known, loved and served,” and thus save souls. He invited all involved in the work of Catholic education, in whatever form that may be, “to be guided by virtue, and to help our children to live with virtue – to raise and develop virtuous leaders.”

Clark laid out three steps to do this: Know your students, love your students and serve your students.

He explained each one with colorful, real-life stories from his own experience working in education and the lives he has witnessed change through this type of personal investment in young people.

“If we are going to make God known, loved and served, our students need to feel that we do the same,” he said.

Through his many examples, it was made clear that one person can truly make a difference in a young person’s life.

The speaker noted the importance of the church as “The one place that can keep our kids from the slavery of the modern era,” quoting G. K. Chesterton’s thought from 1914. He said that what’s at stake in loving students is the chance to give them that experience of the church, of God and of virtuous relationships.

“Students need to know they are loved and that they belong,” he added recognizing that some are more challenging to love than others, and some have a lot of baggage.

In Clark’s experience, certain mentors and coaches gave him that sense of “place and belonging,” and that led to feeling esteemed, which laid the groundwork for him to know his God-given talents.

He continued to show pictures of students and teachers, exemplifying his talking points with the stories of how intentional relationships of knowing, loving and serving truly changes lives, one at a time.

“We need to be Jesus to our students. We need to teach them to see the Jesus in themselves, and others. And we need to let our personal witness, our love and our servant leadership guide the way,” he concluded, adding that lay people have to continue to accept personal responsibility for the church’s mission and her future.

Ending the way he started, Dr. Clark asked, “Do you believe in miracles?”

“I hope we believe in miracles, because they happen every single day in our schools.”

He iterated Fr. Moreau’s statement: “The work we do is the work of the resurrection. Our country, our world, our communities, our homes,” Dr. Clark paused before continuing, “They need to be resurrected. Our church needs to be resurrected.

“Let’s be men and women who hope and pray, who believe in miracles, who make God known, loved and served … and let us take up the work of the resurrection.”