PROVIDENCE — Alumni of Catholic schools around the diocese gathered last Sunday, November 6, for the first annual Catholic Schools Alumni Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The Mass was offered for all deceased faculty and alumni of Catholic elementary schools, including those that are no longer open.
Father Jonathan DeFelice, Vice-Chancellor and Assistant Moderator of the Curia, celebrated the milestone Mass. A former president of Saint Anselm College and one-time student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Bristol, Father DeFelice began his homily by recalling how Catholic schools have served as a driving force in his own life as well as the lives of those present.
“I have a history with Catholic schools that has shown me what is possible when people of good will cooperate with God’s grace,” he told the gathered alumni.
The Mass was sponsored by the Catholic Alumni Partnership, a diocesan organization that seeks to engage alumni of Catholic elementary schools with the goal of supporting the future of Catholic education. The event offered alumni the opportunity to engage with their former classmates while also honoring the memory of all deceased teachers and friends.
“They were women and men who nourished our faith and showed us how to live in God’s plan,” said Father DeFelice. “May we be strengthened by this Eucharist to continue to do good for one another as we, following our teachers and fellow students, one day find our way home to God.”
The Catholic Alumni Partnership was founded last year in conjunction with a national organization that offers training and resources to Catholic elementary schools seeking to increase their alumni engagement. The diocesan office assists schools in developing their contact lists and hosting events such as the alumni Mass, which can often be difficult to plan with the resources available to elementary schools. The office also maintains contact with alumni of closed elementary schools, who often wish to stay engaged in the local Catholic school community but lack a school administration to connect them.
Rebecca Page Perez, project manager of the Catholic Alumni Partnership, said the idea for the remembrance Mass came about when the office started reaching out to alumni last year.
“The office received a lot of calls from families of alumni. A lot of them were deceased members of families. All of a sudden we started accumulating a list of the deceased,” she said. “It created an idea. Let’s keep this list and hold a memorial Mass.”
Page Perez said the office hopes to hold a Mass every year to remember not only deceased alumni, but also all deceased faculty and staff who have contributed to Catholic schools over the years. The Mass will also serve as an opportunity for alumni of both open and closed schools to gather and reminisce about their elementary school years.
“I think it was a way to get the word out,” she said.
Lillian McIntyre, a former principal of St. Philip School, Greenville, and former assistant superintendent for the diocese, said the Mass gave her a chance to celebrate not only the students and teachers she encountered during her career but also her classmates from her own Catholic high school.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to remember and celebrate people who have had a great impact in our lives,” she said.
In particular, she recalled a student she had known during her first year of teaching, who passed away of cancer during the school year and whom she wished to keep in her prayers. McIntyre also said she attended to commemorate those schools that are now closed, including her own St. Mary’s Academy of the Visitation, Providence.
“I’ve been involved with a number of schools that are closed,” she said. “It’s nice to know that they’re not forgotten.”
Following the Mass, alumni and family members gathered downstairs in the cathedral hall to exchange memories of their school days at a brief reception. Daniel Ferris, superintendent of schools for the diocese, offered remarks, highlighting the continued work of Catholic education.
“I think it’s wonderful that we can gather and celebrate deceased teachers, deceased principals, those who served in Catholic education,” he said. “Our Catholic schools continue the work of preparing children to know God, to love God, to serve God.”
Susan Algeo, an alumna of St. Peter Tri-Parish School, Warwick, attended the Mass with her husband and daughter, now a student at St. Peter’s. She shared her own memories of the school, remembering with particular fondness former principal Sister Mary Angelus.
“The smiles and songs from first through eighth grade get me through every day,” she said. “And I’m so glad to pass that on to my daughter. If I had 10 kids, I would send them all to Catholic school and it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.”