Bishop James P. Powers takes questions at the start of his homily during a Catholic Schools Week Mass with students of St. Patrick Catholic School in Hudson. The bishop visited four schools around the diocese that week, celebrating Mass with regional schools via livestream. (Photo credit: Tricia Pieper)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Diocese of Superior Bishop James P. Powers traversed the diocese during Catholic Schools Week to visit four schools and connect with students and faculty of the 14 diocesan schools. Visiting one each day from Feb. 1-4, the bishop traveled to Ashland, Medford, Hudson and Rice Lake.

Most years, schools in a region will gather at the host site for a joint school Mass with the bishop. With the spike in COVID cases, only students and staff at host schools attended the Mass in person, with the others participating via livestream. The video for each of these Masses is available on the schools’ Facebook pages.

At each school, Bishop Powers took the initial moments of his homily to introduce and acknowledge diocesan superintendent Peggy Schoenfuss. He noted the numerous roles she fills for the diocese and asked for a show of appreciation for her. The bishop also asked all teachers – those present with him and each school in their own location – to stand and be recognized and applauded as well.

At St. Patrick’s in Hudson, the bishop shared heartfelt words.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the gift that you are to these young people … and really to our world because how much our world needs what you are about and what you share.”

At the last Mass of Catholic Schools Week, held at St. Joseph in Rice Lake, Bishop Powers thanked parents for giving the gift of a Catholic education to their children and the gift their children are for the diocesan schools. He expressed his desire for all to continue growing in understanding of the gift that Catholic education is, “a gift that keeps on giving.”

With students of Our Lady of the Lake School in Ashland, the bishop admitted he had not had the opportunity to attend a Catholic school.

Bishop Powers shared that his first experience with one was as a priest. He noticed and has continued to be edified by the strong relationships that develop among students and within diocesan school communities.

“These deep friendships are so important to getting through life,” he affirmed. “The foundation of Catholic schools really does help to enhance those friendships because hopefully every day we talk about the love of God and neighbor – Jesus’ two great commands.”

He also called attention to the importance of faith and love as preached in the day’s Gospel reading.

“We need to be that witness of faith to others. To let others know who Jesus is and how he is alive in our hearts,” to understand and share the gift of faith and knowledge of God.

For the Feb. 2 Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also called Candlemas, the bishop was in Hudson.

He spoke to students about the symbolism of candles as the light of Christ. He likened Catholic schools to shining lights for their students and communities.

Describing how far-reaching the light of the small candles are at the Easter Vigil, Bishop Powers explained the primary importance of the Easter candle as the symbol of the light and presence of Christ with us. He said that candle is lit again at every baptism, and he hopes parents continue to live out the commitment they made to raise their children in the faith.

“How much our world needs you,” he said. “Each and every one of us. To be that presence and light of Christ … to let that light shine through us in action and word.”

Bishop Powers preached the homily for each Mass, carrying through the theme of being a light and witness of faith, but he also touched on the Gospel reading for each day’s liturgy.

In Medford, he reflected on the passage of Jesus sending his disciples out with nothing but the sandals on their feet.

Jesus was calling them to depend on him, the bishop said.

“So often we think we have to do everything ourselves. The older we get, sadly the more we believe that,” he added, concluding that Jesus helps us to see, “There is no such thing as doing it on my own. There is absolutely nothing we have that is not already a gift of God” and an acknowledgement of his presence in our lives.

Bishop Powers brought the reality down to students’ level, saying that the way they were being sent by Jesus was to begin every day with prayer and thanksgiving – to treat others with love and respect as they are sent out to the playground, in their classrooms, even and especially when it’s not easy.

One detail he brought attention to was Jesus telling his disciples to wear sandals. The bishop explained how important that was, given that during that time, when slavery was prevalent, it was slaves who did not wear anything on their feet.

Jesus sent his disciples out as free people, he said.

“He wants us to come to him as free people, out of love … The only thing that we can honestly give God is love. We can spend our entire lives doing good things. But if we’re not doing them out of love, we’re not giving anything to God.”

For the Mass in Rice Lake, the bishop spoke about promises and the need for wisdom.

“Hopefully that’s what our schools are teaching. That just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should,” he preached.

In learning to love God, we should treat others with respect, think about consequences of actions before acting and understand the effects of words and actions in one’s own life and for others.

He asked students, “How do we take what we learn in the classroom out to the world?”

His answer was, “our God calls us to be Christ to one another.”

At each of the school Masses, Bishop Powers made time for students to ask him questions. Most focused on the signature items of a bishop – the dark rose-colored zucchetto hat designating the level of ordination, the crozier or staff he uses as a representation of his mission as a shepherd following the example of Jesus, the good shepherd.

In response to a question about the pectoral cross he wears, the bishop said it is worn close to the heart as a reminder to stay close to Christ and the power of the cross, a reminder of Jesus’ gift of himself on the cross and in the Eucharist, and that those are guides and examples of how a bishop is called to serve his people.

He was asked how he became the bishop, and Bishop Powers said it is a very different process from anything else; being a bishop is not something one seeks or applies for. It is a call from God through the pope.

Bishop Powers shared that he likes to travel and enjoys golf, and if he had never become a priest, he probably would still be selling insurance, a job he held before entering the seminary.

“To a degree, I still am in the insurance business,” he said, smiling.