SCOTTSDALE — Students and teachers at one elementary school returned from Easter break this week with renewed joy.
Pope Francis canonized their school’s patron saint, Pope John XXIII, in Rome April 27. That set off a two-day celebration honoring his elevation to sainthood and the school’s new name.
The official name change on signage, memos and uniforms will take effect in August. Still, students had fun wearing over-sized round stickers on their uniforms April 28 to cover up their “Bl. PJXXIII” logo with one that read “St. John XXIII.” Classes posed for pictures in front of the school gate which was decorated with a long handwritten banner welcoming them to St. John XXIII School.
The community is ready for the name change. Teachers have been working with their classes for weeks on writing and multimedia assignments thanking Pope Francis for canonizing their patron saint.
No one stumbled over the saint’s new name. The kindergartners who opened the school wide prayer April 28 clearly and boldly invoked “St. John XXIII, pray — although a “Blessed” did happen to precede it. The three boys charged with leading school-wide prayer at week’s end asked weeks before as they received their parts if they got to say “St. John” or “Blessed Pope John.” They were excited to know they should say the former.
“I thought it was amazing they were aware enough themselves that they knew we had to say it differently without being told,” said Sandra Carlon, one of the kindergarten teachers.
One April 29, Fr. Pete Rossa, pastor of the school and neighboring St. Bernadette Parish, flawlessly thanked Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares for “being here at St. John XXIII School.” The auxiliary bishop proceeded to emphasize “saint” in his opening remarks during Mass.
He called the good pope a model “on how to live our holy Catholic faith and grow in our love for Jesus each and every day.” Bishop Nevares encouraged students to pray to the school’s patron saint to be their inspiration, model, example and guide.
They will have even more reminders to pray for the intercession of St. John XXIII thanks to Alyssa Henry, a fourth-grade aide at the school. A perfect storm of reasons led her to Rome through Easter week and she brought back holy cards she had blessed at the canonization Mass.
Henry also gifted the school with a small bust of St. John XXIII and an apostolic blessing from the Vatican commemorating the canonization. The large blessing is now framed in the office for visitors to see as they exit.
“I love learning about things that have to do with the history of our church and spent the whole time just in wonder that I was actually in these holy, holy places,” Henry said. “I just felt so humbled that God wanted me to go on this pilgrimage and be the first-hand informant on what it was like as a pilgrims on this spiritual journey for my students.”
Henry shared updates daily on her blog. She highlighted Mass the day before the canonization at a church that had two side altars dedicated to the soon-to-be-saints and the shepherding of millions of pilgrims through the roads near St. Peter’s Square. She also used her Mass booklet to translate key parts of the canonization formula.
It took another 140 pages of the Mass book before Pope Francis gave a blessing on all religious articles brought to St. Peter’s. Henry offered to bring rosaries, medals, scapulars, prayer petitions — anything small — from the St. John XXIII on her pilgrimage.
She ran into many pilgrims in Rome there for the canonization of Pope John Paul II. That included herself and her family who have a great devotion to him and was there for one of his final Christmas Masses.
Henry, whose confirmation saint is St. Faustina, felt called to be in Rome on her saint’s feast day when a favorite saint and her school’s saint were being canonized together. It was the locals, she said, who took greater pride — like her school community did — in St. John XXIII’s canonization.
“Even on the television, the stories were 90 percent about Angelo Roncalli [the pope’s birth name]. Not that they loved either saint more than the other,” Henry explained, “but they were proud of the Italian saint just as the Polish university pilgrims who we sat with most of the vigil night were proud of the Polish saint.”
Henry did find a pilgrim who was there specifically for John XXIII as the two were departing the airport in Rome. She met an administrator from Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who flew there representing his “Pope John” school.
Editor’s Note: Learn from Fr. Robert Barron as he reflects on why Pope John XXIII is a saint. You can also watch all his reflections during his canonization pilgrimage.