The Michigan Catholic Features Fr. Bondy
Classroom ministry allows priests to set positive example for students
by Daniel Meloy •
Warren — Sitting in the classroom, working on a quiz or getting ready for test, carefully listening to the teacher’s instruction as you grab your sharpened No. 2 pencil, mumbling the gnomonic device you made to remember all the planets in the solar system.
And then Father walks into the classroom — and the day is made for students of a Catholic school.
For the priests themselves, interacting with students in a Catholic school environment is a vital part of parish ministry, offering the chance to shape the faith lives of the Church’s youngest members.
“Anytime you are with the students, you are following Christ’s profession as a teacher,” said Fr. Alberto Bondy, pastor of St. Anne Parish and School in Warren, where he also teaches religion and takes time to visit classes whenever he can.
“It’s part of the duties of the priesthood,” Fr. Bondy said. “Faith doesn’t only take place at the altar. I find it very worthwhile to visit the students. They need formation in their younger years. It’s good for them to become familiar with having priests around; it adjusts their mindsets and shows them there is joy in being a priest.”
Fr. Bondy has plenty of experience interacting with students. He was a teaching brother at Holy Cross in Notre Dame, Ind., for 30 years before entering the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1986. Throughout his time as a brother and then a priest, he’s kept teaching — at a grand total of 19 different schools across the country.
“It certainly is good for the student to be comfortable to be in the presence of a priest,” Fr. Bondy said. “At a parish, you’re a priest for everybody. Spending time with the students also helps yourself get into the mindset of students.”
Fr. Bondy has the advantage of formally teaching classes at St. Anne, usually three religion classes for eighth grade in the afternoon, in addition to Monday morning Masses at St. Anne Church. But even priests who don’t formally teach classes make an effort to include students in their parish ministry.
“I love visiting the earlier grades, visiting and teaching when I can,” said Fr. Joseph Esper, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Ira Township. “In the younger grades, I stop by, asking what they’re learning about. See if they remember the topic of the homily of the Friday morning Mass. It’s more structured and focused with the older grades.”
Fr. Esper is the vicar of the Blue Water Vicariate, in which each of the vicariate’s 10 parishes contributes 5 percent of its income to a common fund for six elementary schools and Marine City Cardinal Mooney High School. Fr. Esper said the vicariate should be proud of the program, as parish schools are great resource for encouraging vocations.
“Statistics show, more priestly and religious vocations come from students who attend Catholic schools and those in parish religious education programs,” Fr. Esper said. “Schools can help promote vocations, when they see priests and nuns are real people with personality and interest.”
In addition being an added benefit for students, Fr. Esper said being at a parish with a school has made him a better priest.
“Anyone who works with children has to be compassionate, friendly and a good communicator,” Fr. Esper said. “That sort of ministry requires one to develop those particular skills and outlook. Students in school are generally more comfortable with questions for their priest in general, so you develop better ways to minister to children.”
Being the pastor at a school is also a chance to minister to families and teachers outside of a Mass setting, particularly for families or teachers who might not be Catholic or attend Mass regularly.
“When you are the pastor at a school, you are more aware, more tuned with what is happening with families,” said Fr. David Burgard, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Monroe, which along with St. John the Baptist and St. Michael the Archangel parishes, make up the K-8 Catholic education in Monroe.
Fr. Burgard and other priests in the Monroe Catholic school system rotate around the city’s parishes for school Masses but focus on the school at their campus when it comes to being spiritual leaders.
“I’ve had teachers that have come and set up appointments,” Fr. Burgard said. “Being present in offering a spiritual guide at faculty and staff meetings, supporting them at retreats, giving them lessons in being Eucharistic ministers and the dignity of the role if they feel the call. Being a pastor at a school means being a pastor for the teachers as well.”
When Fr. Bondy pops into a classroom for a quiz about the school Mass homily or why he wore a particular-colored vestment that day, the answers are recorded on tests or in a gradebook. But the lessons nonetheless are critical to the mission of the school.
“I hope the students see that a person can dedicate their life totally to God and be happy doing it,” Fr. Bondy said. “First of all, it shows them that there is much joy in being a priest. I take much joy in being with the students, being involved in their lessons. Second, it shows the students their faith is important outside the classroom as well.”