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  • Writer's pictureFr. Vili Lehtoranta

Good Time in a Catholic School

Dear friends of the Oblate Sisters,

After the feast of Epiphany, January 6, the Sisters and I commenced the daily routine in St. Gertrude the Great School. Sister Ulrica has her own home room, I split my time between the middle school and high school, and Sister Eulalia sings in the school High Mass choir and gives piano lessons for younger students.

Father Cekada always had nice memories of his schooldays, and the Sisters who were his teachers – though the most common thing the Sisters had to say to him in the classroom was “Tony, stop fooling around!”

Ever since I moved to Cincinnati, I have been teaching in our school. But during the years I have also been learning myself. When I started, I still made mistakes in my English pronunciation (or maybe I should say, even more than now). And one girl would then write that word on a note, show that to me, and ask with glee: “Hey Father, how do you pronounce this word?” Other students were more discreet. One sixth grade boy once told me how to pronounce “the” correctly, namely that before a noun which starts with a vowel it is pronounced as in “thee”, like “thee apple.” By that time I had spoken English on a daily basis for ten years and been a school teacher for about five years and I never knew it until then.

Learning from my students was not restricted just to grammar and pronunciation. Once when I was telling the fourth graders about the Immaculate Conception, I told them that Our Lady was the only human being “born” without original sin. And one boy (the younger brother of the above-mentioned boy expert in English) raised his hand and said: “I know someone else.” I was taken aback, and I asked him: “Really? Who?” And he said: “Saint John the Baptist!” I thought about it, and said: “Oh, that’s right.” Saint John the Baptist was indeed sanctified in his mother’s womb and born without original sin. Therefore I have ever since, when teaching about the Immaculate Conception, emphasized that Our Lady is the only one who was free from original since from the first moment of Her existence, i.e. Her conception.

Though our school offers a fine education, the greatest thing a student in a Catholic school gets is the daily Mass and Holy Communion. Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), a great man of Catholic Action and the founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, once said: “The best way to economize time is to ‘lose’ half an hour each day attending Holy Mass.” For the benefit of our Internet congregation, all our Masses are live-streamed and Sister Ulrica uploads the daily sermons on SGG’s YouTube channel. Our St. Hugh of Lincoln parish in Milwaukee, WI, also has its YouTube channel with live-stream and sermons.

February 24 is the sixth anniversary of death of our school teacher Miss Sharon Patton. Two of our current teachers were her students and some of the high schoolers still remember how great it was to be in her class. For many years she faithfully came to teach at the parish every school day, then did cleaning in the church and at the offices on Saturdays, and taught Catechism classes on Sundays for the first communicants. We still miss her, and pray for her every day. She was such a great teacher, and an even better friend.

January 20 was the feast of Saint Henry of Uppsala, the patron of Finland. The day before the ground was finally covered with snow, the first time this winter. It was so pretty to see pure white snow on the ground. The Mass of Saint Henry has the Gospel of Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well, where He says: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and see the countries; for they are white already to harvest.” (John 4:35) This Gospel was most likely selected because of the reference to the white, snowy countries which are in need of evangelization.

The weekend before saw some extremely cold temperatures in Texas, where Fathers McKenna and Simpson now travel every week to say Mass at our St. Anthony Mission in Dallas. This makes St. Anthony our third mission where we offer Mass every Sunday. Parts of Texas had temperatures in the 30s, and some areas got as much as 1 to 2 inches of snow. Many businesses reopened after a long holiday weekend (MLK day), but several major school districts, including those in Houston and Dallas, remained closed because of the weather. A more serious problem was that Dallas saw a spike in burst pipes.

People sometimes ask me about the weather in Finland. On that same weekend, when the Texans suffered from a harsh winter of 30s, it was 30 degrees below zero in the north of Finland. The southern part of Finland also had temperatures of 15 below zero. The coldest place in Finland was Utsjoki, the northernmost town of the country, with a temperature of 37 below zero. The coldest temperature this winter in Finland was taken from Enontekiö Airport in Lapland on January 5, when it was 48 degrees below zero.

Finland has also had big amounts of snow in January, from 5 to 28 inches. When I moved to Cincinnati years ago, I was introduced to the concept of “snow day,” the closing of schools and offices because of snow. Growing up, “snow day” was an unknown factor to me, because we Finns get snow all the time during winter. We are always prepared for it, and keep the places open. I read from the news commentary the memories of one elderly man, who was writing about his schooldays. In his time the children went to school six days a week, i.e. Saturdays included, though Saturday was one period shorter. Once a month they got a Monday off. They were not given a ride in a car but they walked, biked, or skied their way to school. On the coldest days of winter, the man wrote, his father took him and the siblings to school by a horse sleigh, and those children whose home had no horses stayed home. And summer “vacation” meant no time off. As country kids they were needed for farm labor, first in June to plant potatoes, then in July to harvest hay, and then in August to pick berries and to cut rye. The man said that only the kids in the town took it easy in summer; his father demanded that he to work at the farm to repay the money used to pay for the privilege of attending a private school far away.

The season of Septuagesima is here, and that means getting ready for the holy season of Lent. Extra penances, giving up something you like – one great option would be giving up social media! – is always pleasing to Our Lord. But even better is that we show mercy and kindness to our neighbor, even to those who don’t like us, in reparation for all the blasphemies against God. And when Lent arrives, besides giving up something, we should also add something extra, e.g. an extra Rosary, Mass, or Holy Communion in reparation to the Holy Face of our dear Savior.

You can start Lent with the Sisters at St. Gertrude the Great. Please join us for the Holy Mass 11:25 AM on Tuesday, February 13. That is the day before Lent starts (also known as Mardi Gras), the feast of the Holy Face, and the principal feast of the Oblate Sisters. February 14 is Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the holy season of Lent. The High Mass will be at 11:25 AM and ashes are distributed throughout the day.

Yours in the Charity of Christ and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,

Fr. Vili Lehtoranta


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