By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
On a sunny autumn day, nearly 300 students and staff from Notre Dame Catholic School walked through the streets of Burlington to profess publicly their belief in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.
“We are going to take that message to the streets today,” Father Marty Goetz told Notre Dame students and staff before they began the eucharistic procession Sept. 29. “We are going to be a witness to our faith today.”
The National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year movement to unite the Catholic Church around the holy Eucharist, inspired the school’s eucharistic procession. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops developed the movement to restore understanding and devotion to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Religion teacher Jennifer Baxter contemplated, “How can we help the children to fall in love with Jesus and the Eucharist and realize how present he truly is for all of us, how he is there for us in every Mass just begging us to come to him?”
Baxter and fellow religion teacher Maria Roth desired a memorable experience for students to develop a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist. Processions are common in other countries, Baxter noted. The Diocese of Davenport hosted one in Davenport at the beginning of the national revival in June.
The teachers originally planned for Notre Dame’s procession to circle the school grounds but Father Goetz suggested the students walk downtown between the two churches. The prospect was exciting but required preparation, Baxter said. “We’ve learned so much about the proper way to do a eucharistic procession.”
Leading up to the procession, Roth and Baxter spent classroom time teaching the nearly 300 students in grades four through 12 about the importance of being respectful and reverent during a eucharistic procession. Students in kindergarten through third grade will take part in a smaller procession around the school later. The school hopes to make the eucharistic procession an annual event, Baxter said.
Students and staff rode buses from the school to St. John Church to begin the inaugural procession and participated in eucharistic adoration before the half-mile trek to St. Paul Church. Father Goetz, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville, gave the opening message, urging the gathering to lift their prayers to God. “Is there someone you need to pray for? Do you need to pray for yourself? Do you need healing, strength, and to feel that the Lord is near?” He reminded the students about the solemn nature of the procession. “This ain’t the time to be joking around or talking. Make this a time where we truly honor God and one another.”
Father Goetz and parochial vicar Father James Flattery and Deacon Gary Johnson took turns carrying the monstrance during the procession. Students with altar-serving experience volunteered to carry the processional cross, canopy, candles and thuribles. Local police escorted the group and railroad personnel supervised the crossing near St. Paul Church. The procession concluded with benediction at St. Paul Church, followed by a picnic lunch in a nearby park.
Freshman Isaac DuCharme said he appreciated the opportunity to lead the procession carrying the processional cross. He was encouraged by “how respectful everyone was toward Jesus.” A police escort shared a similar sentiment with Principal Bill Maupin as the procession ended. The principal thanked the students for making it a positive and faith-filled experience.
Sophomore Jack Drew appreciated the peaceful setting and the opportunity to “see what a blessing it is to be Catholic.” Events such as the eucharistic procession remind him “how much we have to be thankful for.”
Junior Spencer Brent said the procession was a “joyful, faithful coming together, being united as a school.” Jillian Nickel, an eighth-grader, said the procession was “a really good experience to grow closer to Jesus with our friends.”
Father Flattery shared that the Eucharist “helps to fill us and to reach the summit of our Catholic faith, giving us strength for the journey through challenging times so we can keep our heads up and focused on Christ.”