WILMINGTON — Father James Kirk has celebrated a year-opening Mass at St. Mary Magdalen School a few times in his 11 years at the parish, so the one at which he presided on Sept. 11 wasn’t terribly different. But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic gave this one a unique look.
The students and teachers worshiped under a big tent on the lawn in front of the rectory of the church in Brandywine Hundred, and only half of the third- through eighth-grade students were on hand. There was plenty of space around each student and faculty member, and the scent of hand sanitizer permeated the air. The other group of students, who are learning at home this week, had their opening Mass on Sept. 14.
At the beginning of his homily, Father Kirk acknowledged the circumstances, but he said it presented an opportunity.
“We’re all outside, and we’re all socially distanced, and we’re wearing masks, and we’re all learning these new things about new ways to be together,” he said.
It was the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, making it a history lesson for these students. But, Father Kirk said, it was important to remember what happened that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania.
“You guys have no memory of it whatsoever because you weren’t even born. But 19 years ago, our country was attacked, and many, many people died. So, today’s a day for our country to remember those victims and the families who continue to struggle,” he said.
He then encouraged the students to be of service to others. The diocesan schools office logo on its website has the motto “Faith. Excellence. Service.”, and each of those is important. The students were at Mass as a sign of their faith, and that is one reason why they attend Catholic school. We are called to be the best we can be, to demonstrate excellence. But service is the key, he said.
“If we have all the faith in the world, and we’re as excellent as we can be, and we leave out service, then there’s something missing. The purpose of having faith is to put it into action,” he said.
In the entrance procession, a few students carried signs with examples of the corporal works of mercy on them: feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. Those are important, but our methods of service don’t have to be the official ways, Father Kirk noted.
“It’s the simple things that mean the most sometimes,” he said.
All photos by Mike Lang.