By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
Holy Cross High School received high praise from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz during a school liturgy Sept. 14. He visited the school last Friday on its feast day, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
“This is really a beautiful sanctuary,” he said of the school gym, which had been transformed with the help of strategic lighting and new altar furniture. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a gym for Mass … where it’s so beautifully prepared.”
The liturgy was prepared, in part, by 13 seniors who are members of the school’s Cougars for Christ leadership team — its name refers to the school mascot. They plan the school’s monthly liturgies and serve as lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, cross bearers, gift bearers and altar servers.
The archbishop praised their efforts and lauded their name — Cougars for Christ — as an appropriate way “to identify yourselves with the person of Christ.”
He also thanked the school’s faculty and staff for “building up the spirit of tradition and the future of Holy Cross.”
During his homily, the archbishop explained to the students the nature of their namesake, the Holy Cross.
“Jesus turned what was an instrument for violence into a powerful instrument of love” he explained. “The cross is the universal symbol of sacrifice. True friendship is about the capacity to sacrifice for someone else.”
He urged his young listeners to think about those they love and those who love them — those who make sacrifices for them. And he suggested they offer a prayer of gratitude.
He also urged them to not simply consider a career for the future, focusing on themselves, but to ask God to lead them to a vocation focused on others.
“On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I’m here to tell you, God has a plan for each one of you,” he said, one that will help them to become “men and women who love.”
He closed by asking the students to think about what it means to be a “Cougar for Christ” and “to become truly men and women for love.”
“The formation, I can see, is obvious at Holy Cross. The faculty, staff, parents sacrifice each day to bring this atmosphere. I am impressed,” he added.
Following Mass, the Cougars for Christ posed for a photo with the archbishop on the school steps and then helped to turn the sanctuary back into a gym.
They also took a few minutes to reflect on their work.
The president, Brittany Bernhagan, said being on the team “is really fun.”
“Everyone gets involved. You learn how to communicate with people, how to run things. Mrs. Cleary (their advisor) gives us the opportunity to do it our way,” she said.
“No one makes fun of you for doing it,” she added, noting that most students would like to serve on the team. “They just feel bad for you waking up early.”
Cougars for Christ have to arrive at school once a month at 6:30 a.m. to prepare for the school’s monthly liturgies.
Their advisor, Sarah Cleary, said she started the group three years ago because she wanted to give the students peers to look up to for “the right reasons.” Members, who must be seniors, are nominated by the student body and faculty each year.
“They have to be what the teachers and students consider to be good role models,” said Cleary. “They live a faith-centered life. They have to be good leaders in the school.”
She also sees their participation as instructive.
“The knowledge from their theology classes comes to life for them in the liturgy,” Cleary noted. “They have more experience with what they’re learning about.”
In addition to planning liturgies, the group also does service work. Last year, they sponsored a family at Christmas — raising money, buying gifts and delivering the presents to the family.
They also lead a monthly school-wide reflection which is broadcast through the school’s speakers during announcements.
Members of Cougars for Christ this year are Brittany Bernhagen, Tierney Vogt, Kim Cecil, Abby Davis, Kathy Nauert, Eric Mackin, Katie Pelle, Carly Ryan, Tyler Strange, Sydney Morabito, Ryan Smith, Jordan Willenborg and Peyton Wyatt.