Students United Through ‘Domestic Altars’ in Classrooms

For Catholic school students going back to school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the classroom has stretched to encompass numerous spaces: the school library, the cafeteria, the playground, the art room, and the auditorium. For students at St. Anastasia School in Fort Pierce, the classroom has also translated into the church, attending Mass and prayer services socially distanced.

For the all-school Mass Sept. 4, educators at St. Anastasia School transformed their individual classrooms into a space where the “domestic church” could be represented while Father Richard George, pastor, celebrated Mass in the parish center. The Mass was livestreamed into the classrooms where students had created domestic church altars made up of a prayer table adorned with candles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a list of prayer intentions and space available to receive Holy Communion.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason, the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity” (No. 1666).

The domestic church also extends to the parish community, school and ministries who guide students through their faith formation. Educators at St. Anastasia make this aspect of the domestic church a priority in their mission as a Catholic school.

“We desperately wanted to begin the year celebrating Mass as a school, especially after being apart for so long,” said Linda Schildwater, director of liturgies. “The teachers and I came together to coordinate the domestic church altars in their classrooms.”

She further explained that planning the all-school Mass was a challenge considering that the adjoining parish’s main church is undergoing renovations and that COVID-19 safety precautions rendered the school unable to gather in large groups.

Six other local priests assisted Father George with the distribution of Holy Communion. They included Father Michael Cairnes, parochial vicar; Father James Bowman, an assisting priest to the parish; Father Jaime Dorado, administrator of the neighboring San Juan Diego Hispanic Pastoral Mission; Father Edwin Edezhath, O.C.D., parochial vicar of St. Mark Church; Father Yves Geffrard, pastor of Notre Dame Mission; and Father Daniel Daza-Jaller, director of vocations for the Diocese of Palm Beach. The many priests distributing Communion, plus the wearing of facial coverings and social distancing within classrooms, made it possible for students to partake in the Eucharist.

Schildwater mentioned that each classroom turned down the lights in respect, lit the altar candles and played the same hymn during communion called the “Sacred Heart Song.”

“I happened to open the door to a fifth-grade classroom to see how things were going, and the scene just melted my heart,” she said. “The reverence the students had while kneeling and contemplating the Mass was beautiful. God’s presence was so evident. This is the Church, right here.”

 A special addition to the Mass was the blessing of a new 10-foot bronze statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus placed in the school’s courtyard. After much fundraising and generous donations from parishioners, school families and the St. Anastasia Attic thrift shop, the statue was blessed by Father George, thus consecrating the school to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“We decided to place the statue at the center of the courtyard so that we are all reminded of Jesus’s location at the center of our lives,” Father George said. “This is a theme that is the focus of the school year, especially now.”

He continued, “Jesus wants us to have a relationship with him. If you are having a hard day or a great day, he is right there with you. Jesus is a warrior and fights for us all; he intercedes for us without fail. Likewise, we must be warriors for Christ. We are meant to get dirty—get into the field—and fight for the Lord, especially amidst the challenges of the pandemic. He is stretching us for greater glory.”

To learn more about St. Anastasia Catholic School, visit saintanastasiaschool.org or call 772-461-2232. Follow the school on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @StAnastasiaSchool. Stay updated on news and events from the Office of Catholic Schools at diocesepbschools.org and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @DoPBCatholicSchools.