BANGOR — The Ice Storm of ’98 and its aftermath failed to deter a weeklong celebration of the 21 Catholic schools in the state, an event that culminated in Bangor Thursday with a visit from the Most Rev. Michael Cote, auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Portland.
In fact, the effects of the dramatic ice storm were a key theme at an early afternoon Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Ohio Street where the religious leader recalled the hardship of living without light for days on end.
The auxiliary bishop urged the 145 pupils at St. Mary’s Parish School who attended the Mass to realize a deeper spirituality can be forged when people work together to combat catastrophe. The ice storm left nearly a half-million people in Maine without electric power but it also spawned some good things like a renewed sense of community spirit, according to the religious leader.
The power of light can mean many things to people, according to Cote, a Springvale native who began his religious career when he was ordained as a priest by Pope Paul VI in 1975 in Rome, Italy.
Cote, who became a bishop during 1995 ceremonies in Portland, urged the pupils in kindergarten through eighth grades at St. Mary’s to appreciate not only the physical power of light but to let the light of spirituality shine through them as an example to others.
The auxiliary bishop works with the Most Rev. Joseph Gerry, bishop of the Portland Catholc diocese. Cote toured the 138-pupil St. John’s Catholic School on State Street and took part in a luncheon there before arriving at St. Mary’s for the post-luncheon Mass. The Mass con-celebrant was the Rev. Frank Murray, pastor of St. Mary’s. Sister Peggy Walsh, RSM, principal of St. Mary’s Parish School, provided guitar accompaniment during the Mass.
Following the event, students entertained the bishop, Father Murray, parents and friends with skits and songs at the parish community center. In one skit, students huddled under afghans and recalled the days and weeks they lived without power recently.
Catholic Schools Week began nationally on Sunday, Jan. 25, and concludes on Saturday, Jan. 31. The event is held annually to mark the continuance of a special form of education that combines academics with teachings of a religious faith. At St. Mary’s the event was observed with a special display in the church narthex last weekend. The parish school held a weeklong series of activities including a combined liturgical Mass Tuesday at the Ohio Street church that featured St. John’s Catholic School and St. Mary’s Parish School.
The celebration will conclude today in Bangor with events including a student appreciation day at St. Mary’s Parish School.
In Maine, 4,448 students are taught in three Catholic high schools and 16,669 are taught in Catholic elementary schools, according to a Catholic directory.
Cited by many educational authorities for a combination of academic excellence and positive discipline, Catholic schools are enjoying an enrollment upsurge, rebounding from lower enrollments a few years ago, according to information from the Catholic diocese office in Portland.
“Catholic education provides more than the best possible education,” said Bishop Cote. It also provides the “diversity,” he said, of allowing students to actively practice the faith they learn from daily lessons and experience.