Lincoln, Neb., Sep 5, 2011 (CNA) - Aug. 22 was doubly exciting for Catholic students in the Cheney area near Lincoln, Neb.
Some sported new shoes or new backpacks filled with new school supplies. Many had new haircuts or new eyeglasses or new smiles featuring new gaps representing teeth lost over the summer. All began school Aug. 22 at the brand new Saint Michael School.
The long-awaited opening of this parish school has required years of planning, fundraising, creativity and parish-wide volunteering.
“We have one of the strongest, most generous groups of parishioners,” marveled Denise Ray, principal. “Everybody from old to young is involved…Every where I turn, there is somebody who is stepping up.”
Whether it’s donating books for the library, cataloguing all those volumes, sponsoring a particular construction project in the building, painting, or anything else, Ray has had an army of enthusiastic volunteers who have helped make the 2011-12 school year possible.
“It’s been such a labor of love over the last four years,” said Patty Marmie, whose youngest child is a fourth-grader at the new Saint Michael School. “It’s really exciting.”
As a parish, St. Michael in Cheney has been growing exponentially over the past several years. New housing developments on the outskirts of Lincoln have flooded the parish with hundreds of newcomers who happily co-exist with the “old-timers.”
The parish has added more than 100 new families just in the last two years.
“We’ve got lots of young families, and we have that strong faith of the older people,” said Ray, who belongs to the parish along with her husband and 10 children.
As the parish grew, plans were drawn up for the new elementary school and dreams of a new church building continue to take shape.
Most of the parish families who have chosen Catholic school for their children have been sending the youngsters to either St. Joseph or St. Peter schools in Lincoln. As more and more children were added to those rosters, the idea of St. Michael having its own school became more and more feasible.
Being St. Michael parishioners and having children at St. Peter School was fine, according to Marmie, but she believes there will be an advantage to having a school within their own parish.
“It’s going to be really great to be in one community instead of being split across two church communities,” she said.
Then a couple years ago, the diocese was able to purchase the village of Cheney’s abandoned school property, which just happened to be adjacent to the parish. The building was too antiquated for simply moving in and setting up classes, but the parish was one giant step closer to making St. Michael School a reality.
Since then, enthusiasm has multiplied throughout the parish – especially since ground was broken for the new school in June of 2010.
“This school is being built by the whole parish,” Ray stated. “We could not do it without being a family and digging in and making sure we’ve got what we need.”
Of course, she and the School Family Association have had quite a bit of help. They looked to the last school established in the area – North American Martyrs – and their principal, Sister Patricia Heirigs, O.S.B., provided a great deal of advice.
Mrs. Ray also relied on the principals of St. Joseph and St. Peter Schools, Sister Joseph and Sister Mary Michael, C.K. for suggestions and help.
“The biggest challenge for us has been making sure we had everything in place at the time we needed it,” said Ray.
As contractors and volunteers have worked on the building itself, the faculty and staff have been working hard all summer, too. They’ve been housed in the parish rectory all these month, taking care of every last detail.
The school was completed in an incredible nine-month construction period. Parishioner John Klimpel served as personal representative for the parish and NGC (New Generation Construction) Group provided construction management for the project.
The school, which features a Smartboard in every classroom, is possibly one of the most technologically advanced elementary school in the public or private sector.
Ray said she enjoyed the process of assembling a new faculty of teachers who share her philosophy that any student can learn… and who take their roles as Catholic educators seriously.
“Our biggest role is that the children know who Jesus is, and that they can go to Him no matter what,” Ray stated. “Our teachers really reflect that philosophy as well.”
Some of the more fun aspects of opening a school include things like choosing a mascot, school colors and a logo.
A parishioner who is a U.S. veteran came up with the idea for the mascot: the St. Michael Marauders. The mascot is a nod to Merrill’s Marauders, a famed World War II army unit that earned recognition for its successful missions behind enemy lines.
“We had a lot of ideas come in, but that one was unique and has a real positive connotation,” said Ray.
The logo is a shield flanked by the wings of St. Michael the Archangel, overlayed with a sword running down the middle. And the colors are one of the most popular combinations in Nebraska: red and white.
“Can you believe it?” Ray said with a laugh. “No other parochial school in the city had those colors.”
At press time, things were looking great, even though the new school uniforms still hadn’t shown up. Mrs. Ray had high hopes that photographs from the first day ever of St. Michael School would depict kids dressed up in the crisp new red, white and black outfits.
The first year’s enrollment numbers 134 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Next year, the school will expand to seventh grade, and the year after that will include an eighth grade, St. Michael’s first graduating class.
There is room for 270 students all told, and Ray has no doubt they will reach those numbers in a few years. After that, there is room to expand.
For now, however, Ray and her staff are eagerly making the newest Catholic school in the state of Nebraska a Christ centered learning facility.
Printed with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register, newspaper for the Diocese of Lincoln.
New York City, N.Y., Sep 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father George Rutler remembers the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack as surreal. “The whole scene looked liked a black and white movie, with all the color drained out – that made it even harder to grasp that the shocking events were real and not an illusion.”
“It was hard to see much because of the smoke and debris. We wore face masks,” he recalled, “but the stench was overwhelming, especially the burning bodies.”
“Everything was covered with a white powder and everyone looked like ghosts.”
Fr. Rutler, current pastor of Church of our Savior in New York City, was living at St. Agnes Parish near Grand Central Station during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He told CNA that he remembers the details of that day 10 years ago “very well – as though they happened yesterday.”
“One of the airplanes flew over my rectory and I wondered why such a large plane was flying so low. It never occurred to me that it was aiming for the World Trade Center,” he said.
“There was an element of disbelief in watching the towers collapse.”
And the “surreal nature of this was compounded by the remarkably beautiful sunlight and bright blue sky over the rest of Manhattan,” he added.
“But then the acrid smoke spread and the terrible smell lingered for days and even weeks all over the city.”
After the planes hit the Twin Towers that morning, the priest immediately ran to secure holy oils from St. Peter's Church near the scene, which was filled with dust and had been evacuated.
“I then helped firemen with the body of a priest who had been killed – brought the body into the church,” Fr. Rutler said. “That was the first official casualty.”
He then remembered spending “quite a lot of time” giving absolution to firemen going in to save victims and even joined a fireman in trying to get into a smaller nearby building that had erupted in flames.
“It did strike me as of spiritual import that in that whole black and white scene, the only color was the red of blood – the sign of life and death at the same time.”
“At one point I think I was in shock,” he recalled, “because I was taken to a medical center set up in St. Andrew's church near the City Hall.”
“I knew hundreds were either killed or escaped from the buildings,” Fr. Rutler added, “and countless spouses and children and relatives.”
In the following weeks, he became exhausted from conducting funerals.
Fr. Gerald Murray of St. Vincent De Paul Church remembers going to the roof of his rectory in Chelsea when he saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
“It was quite dramatic,” he recalled, momentarily stunned by what he saw that morning 10 years ago.
His next move, however, was surprising.
Rather than follow the natural instinct to run away from danger, he grabbed his bike and rode in the direction of the inflamed towers “so that I could be of use as a priest giving last rites,” he told CNA.
As he rode his bike down 7th Ave., he came across the now-closed St. Vincent's Hospital where doctors and nurses where already out on the sidewalk with stretchers and gurneys waiting to receive the injured.
Having served as a Navy Reserve chaplain, Fr. Murray explained that he was taught that the “chaplain doesn't go to the battle line, he goes where they bring the wounded – the aid station.”
“Immediately I saw the priest at St. Vincent's and I said 'could you use some help?' and he said 'yes' so I stayed at St. Vincent's the whole morning and gave absolution to people who were being wheeled in.”
He was later joined by former archbishop of New York Cardinal Edward Egan and a diocesan priest who was the chaplain of the Port Authority police who was covered in soot from being downtown.
Fr. Murray said he remembers the sudden screams that went up from those around him at the hospital as they helplessly looked on from a distance when the Twin Towers began collapsing.
Later in the day, “I went back to my parish to say Mass, and that was one of the most dramatic feelings,” he said. “Saying Mass knowing that we'd been hit by this evil.”
In the following months, Fr. Murray spent substantial amounts of time at Ground Zero.
“When the firemen would recover any remains there would be a priest there to bless the remains before they were brought to an ambulance to be taken to the medical examiner.”
“When I was there, in fact, they recovered the remains of a fireman so we said some prayers and accompanied the remains to the ambulance,” he recalled. “So that was very fulfilling to be able to do that.”
Both priests remember being moved at how the local community mobilized immediately after the tragedy hit.
“The city really snapped into action,” Fr. Murray said, noting that then-mayor Rudy Guliani came by that morning to St. Vincent's Hospital. He also remembered “a lot of people milling around St. Vincent's.”
“It was very inspiring – people lined up to give blood and it was very moving.”
Fr. Rutler agreed, saying there “was a most remarkable display of cooperation. New Yorkers are at their best in crisis.”
“My parish is on 23rd street,” Fr. Murray noted, “which is a main crosstown route for any transport but it became the route for any ambulances that recovered remains.”
“I remember distinctly saying Mass and hearing the sirens and watching the ambulances go by on more than one occasion and knowing that they were taking a victim of the attack to the medical examiner.”
“It was a vivid reminder of the evil that we had suffered and sharing the cross of Christ.”