Having a place to quietly reflect and pray was a special benefit already offered by the presence of the chapel inside St. Mary Catholic School in Newton, but that space was made even more special recently as the school was granted permission to have the Holy Eucharist (the host used in the sacrament of Communion, believed to be the true body of Christ) on site as of the end of March.
Already providing an additional opportunity for students to live out their faith on a daily basis, St. Mary's pastor Father Nicholas Voelker saw the potential for the chapel to help deepen that spiritual connection even more.
"Christ being in the Eucharist, we really want the children to feel the presence of the Eucharist of Christ, to feel Christ present there and to really make it a chapel versus just simply a worship space or a place of prayer," Voelker said.
"I think we still recognize it as a chapel. It doesn't take the place of the church, but just like the church it does now have the Blessed Sacrament," said St. Mary principal Philip Stutey. "That's a really special designation for us. Before, yes, kids could go in and pray, but now, as Catholics, we believe the true presence is there."
Originally, Voelker approached Bishop Carl Kemme for permission to host the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel last May. While that initial request was denied, a second petition was approved this school year and the Eucharist was first placed in the chapel as part of Holy Thursday services.
Upon reconsideration, Stutey noted part of that approval likely stemmed from security enhancements (i.e. the installation of video cameras) made to the chapel, while he believes safety concerns for allowing private worship in the church may have also been a factor.
"Times have changed to where I can't just send a kid over to the church; where 50 years ago when our building was here in 1965, when we first built the building, kids could just come and go along the campus," Stutey said. "Now, of course, you can't leave a building without having adult supervision, so it's been really nice to have that space within our building where kids can go in and pray."
Access to the chapel allows the enhancement of religion lessons, with students being given time during learning stations (just like with math or science) to go pray the rosary in small groups. Now, the school can take that even further as hosting the Eucharist on site will allow St. Mary to have mass within the school.
Both Stutey and Voelker noted the intent is to have mass with a class in the chapel on a monthly basis, starting with the second grade students getting ready to celebrate First Communion and the eighth grade students who will be leaving St. Mary and moving on to high school shortly.
"It's a little more distinct as a designated place where the sacrifice of the mass can be celebrated and a real place of prayer where Christ is really present there," Voelker said. "It's specifically designed for the students, very similar to like a seminary chapel, (which is) mainly reserved for the spiritual edification of the seminarians. So, really, having Christ in the Eucharist there in that chapel is specifically designed for the edification of the students there in the school."
While the distinction of hosting the Eucharist has been granted to high schools (with no attached churches) in the Wichita diocese, Stutey said St. Mary is the first elementary school to be granted this special honor — something he is hopeful other Catholic elementary schools will push for given the weight and meaning behind it.
Given the opportunity to host the Eucharist within the school brings the focus on faith to the forefront of everything the school does, according to Stutey, and it is a great thing that he expects to benefit St. Mary for years to come.
"The thing that sets us apart is the catholicity and the prayer environment," Stutey said. "Obviously, having the Blessed Sacrament, having a chapel in your school really enhances that in a way that we haven't been able to provide for our students before."