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Jesuit Father Paul Stark, vice president for Mission and Ministry at Saint Louis University, celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Aug. 28.
Jesuit Schools Celebrate New Academic Year with Mass of the Holy Spirit

September 26, 2014 — The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a beloved tradition at Jesuit schools, almost as old as the Society of Jesus itself. The Mass dates back to the first Jesuit school in Messina, Sicily, in 1548.

This fall, at Jesuit schools nationwide, students, staff, family and friends came together to pray for God's wisdom and inspiration for the new academic year. The Mass of the Holy Spirit is celebrated at the beginning of the year so that students might turn to the Spirit's aid as they prepare to take upon new areas of study.

In St. Louis, all four of the city’s Jesuit schools celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit together for the first time. Held at Saint Louis University, the Mass drew more than 2,800 attendees from Saint Louis University, De Smet Jesuit High School, St. Louis University High School and Loyola Academy.

“This first-ever event, uniting the educational apostolates of St. Louis, reminds us of all we share, the promise it holds for all of us as these students graduate middle school, high school and our own Saint Louis University,” said Jesuit Father Paul Stark, vice president for Mission and Ministry at Saint Louis University, who presided. “In gatherings such as this, ‘changing the world’ seems a more reachable goal.”

Jesuit Father Ronald Mercier, the new provincial for the U.S. Central and Southern Province, delivered the homily, remembering the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and calling on all of those present to continue to work for equality and justice.

Jesuit Father Ronald Mercier (left) and a student at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at Saint Louis University.

At Boston College High School, nearly 2,000 alumni, faculty, students and parents gathered at the Mass, which also marked the closing of the school’s sesquicentennial celebration. Fr. James Flavin, the Episcopal Vicar for the Central Region of the Archdiocese of Boston, was the main celebrant and spoke of how a Jesuit education enables those who receive it “to give something to others and to have heart.”

Processional at Boston College High School’s Mass of the Holy Spirit.

At Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, the Mass also marked the 60th anniversary of the youngest Jesuit university in the country. “This Mass will open our academic year in a special way … it falls on the same day that Wheeling Jesuit was established 60 years ago,” said Jesuit Father Bill Rickle, senior vice president for mission and ministry.

For newly-ordained Jesuit Father Sam Sawyer, the Mass at Boston College — his alma mater — had personal significance. He tweeted, “Eighteen years after my first Boston College Mass of the Holy Spirit, back again — this time concelebrating. God is good.”

At Xavier University in Cincinnati, the Mass of the Holy Spirit has marked the beginning of the academic year since 1840. Jesuit Father John LaRocca, a professor of history at Xavier, explained that the purpose of the Mass “is to ask the Holy Spirit to be with all of us in the university community — all who learn here, all who teach here, all who work here — to be able to see the presence of God in the world.”

Watch the video below for more of Fr. LaRocca’s insights on the relationship between the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the Jesuit mission.

[Sources: Saint Louis University, Boston College High School, Wheeling Jesuit University]

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