(This story originally appeared in the Diocese of Springfield’s iObserve.org website here.)
by Kathleen Harrington
August 1, 2020
WESTFIELD — “Strong and resilient” is how principal Matthew Collins described the 31 members of the graduating senior class at St. Mary High School in Westfield, as graduates prepared to enter the church on Friday evening, July 31.
Delayed for nearly two months, the traditional graduation Mass was possible with careful planning that followed state reopening guidelines and diocesan directives.
“We’ve been graduating students from this church for 117 years,” said Collins. “That is why we pushed graduation off to make sure we could give these students the same opportunity to graduate under our tradition, in the church.”
Masks were required to enter the church and social distancing slowed the process of being seated. Every other pew was marked with the family name of a graduate. The Class of 2020 processed into the church led by co-valedictorians Erin Olearcek and Joseph Lucardi and joined their families by taking the aisle seat of the family pew.
In his opening remarks, Daniel Baillargeon, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Springfield, focused on hope. With COVID-19 forcing the closing of schools, seniors were left hoping for life to return to normal. Those hopes may seem to go unanswered leaving people to despair, Baillargeon told the seniors.
“Hope in God never fails,” he said.
Reminding them that the symbol of hope is an anchor, he encouraged them to place their anchor in the Lord. “It will never disappoint,” he told them. “God calls great people to do great things in difficult times. In difficult times he calls on us to be the light.”
Light always conquers darkness he told the students, encouraging them to be the light.
Delivering the homily, Archbishop-designate Mitchell T. Rozanski, apostolic administrator of the Springfield diocese, spoke of St. Ignatius of Loyola whose memorial day was celebrated in the Mass. He related the unexpected life change that led the Spanish soldier into the priesthood where he co-founded the Jesuits.
“Ignatius found his faith in the midst of his struggles. We are called to find our faith in the midst of our own struggles; knowing that we do not struggle alone because the Lord Jesus has promised to be with us always,” he told the graduates.
Through their four years of Catholic high school education, the archbishop reminded the graduates, “You have been given a firm foundation of faith. Whether it’s a pandemic or something that happens personally that you think is a disaster, nothing can take away our faith.”
Following Communion, Quinnipiac University-bound Olearcek delivered her valedictory address celebrating the strength and resilience of her classmates. Co-valedictorian Lucardi heads to Fordham University in a few weeks to pursue a degree in biology. Reminding his classmates by quoting St. John Paul II, he said, “Never give up on hope. Never doubt. Never tire and never become discouraged. Do not be afraid.”
The graduating class includes two members entering the armed services and 29 heading to two and four-year colleges.
A video version of this story will be featured on an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. on WWLP-22NEWS.