By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Msgr. James Parizek received a sketchy outline of what to expect during the final all-school Mass for students and staff of John F. Kennedy
Catholic School, which is part of Our Lady of Victory Parish. Keeping the details vague was intentional. Staff and students wanted to give a surprise tribute to Msgr. Parizek, who is retiring as pastor on June 30. He has served the parish for 14 years.
Before Mass began on May 26, the second-graders gathered in the front of the church and sang, “Here I Am Lord.” When they got to the refrain, they used sign language in appreciation for Msgr. Parizek’s years of celebrating Mass in sign language for the deaf community.
“I saw Monsignor’s eyes widen as big as saucers when he saw that,” JFK Principal Chad Steimle said. The second-graders took their place in the front pews and then the entire gathering sang the same song for the procession. “When Monsignor made it to the altar, he turned and did the refrain in sign language as well. By then, I don’t think there was a dry eye among the adults in the church.”
After Communion, the students thanked Msgr. Parizek for the gifts of the nine Gospel values emphasized at JFK: honesty, courtesy, perseverance, kindness, responsibility, respect, sharing, tolerance and mercy. “As students brought up a decorated box for each gift, another student described how Monsignor taught us or modeled for us the Gospel value,” Steimle said.
The students also presented a basket to their pastor that contained a flash drive with scanned notes and pictures from every student in the building and handwritten scrolls with messages from staff members. The priest also received a framed picture of the staff and students and a small bucket with a “golden ticket” representing a monetary donation from students, staff and parents. The donation will cover the cost of an item on Msgr. Parizek’s “bucket list:” a visit to see Father Sabu George in India. “Fr. Sabu lived at the rectory for about two years and was very involved in the life of the parish and school while he did graduate work at St. Ambrose University in Davenport,” Steimle said.
For the recessional song, the students sang “Lord of the Dance.” “The students love the song, and Monsignor and we have received kind-hearted ribbing over the years for singing it too often at our Masses,” Steimle continued. “After Mass, we brought Monsignor back to the front of the church and sang one of his favorite songs: ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.’”
In closing remarks after Mass, Steimle addressed Msgr. Parizek:
“As you know, John F. Kennedy Catholic School doesn’t exist because we’re named after a president. JFK exists to carry out the mission of the church and to carry his word and sacramental grace to the people. I have always recognized the difference in our collars and have been proud to do my best to serve you in fulfilling your work as the shepherd of Our Lady of Victory.
“Over the last 14 years here and in your total time as a priest, you have given us so many blessings; it is time for us to do the same for you.” At that point, Steimle asked the students and staff members to raise their hand in Msgr. Parizek’s direction ask for God’s blessing upon him.
They prayed, in part: “He has been for us a way of seeing Christ present among us. We thank you Lord for sending Monsignor to us, and we ask you to bless him and his retirement.”
Steimle told Msgr. Parizek: “Under your leadership, there is no doubt why in the year of your retirement, JFK has record ECLC enrollment, record preschool enrollment, and record K–8 enrollment. For one last time, I present to you the faces of those whom you have taught to love God and one another and who will continue for future generations to build the kingdom of God here on Earth.”
Msgr. Parizek said he was surprised and delighted by the special features of the carefully prepared liturgy. The students’ “enthusiasm in singing and praying filled me with joy. The procession of students with colorfully wrapped gifts, each one marked with one of the Gospel values taught and practiced in school and daily life was amazing, too.
“By the time of the big surprise I think I was dealing with sensory and emotional overload. It took a while to sink in what they were talking about when I was presented with the golden ticket for my bucket list — a visit to India to see Fr. Sabu! I was astounded to be presented with enough money to fund the trip. I look forward to that trip after the business of transition to retirement settles down. I am so grateful for all of the school community’s show of faith and gratitude for my years as pastor.”