Decades ago Brattleboro Catholics opened a parochial school to educate their children in the faith and ensure they could attend morning Mass without worry about being late for public school.

Still today the Mass is a pillar of the educational experience at St. Michael School, a preschool through 12th-grade Catholic school across Walnut Street from St. Michael Church.

“It’s why our school exists — because of the church and the Mass,” said Principal Elaine Beam.

Every Wednesday morning when school is in session, members of the school community attend an all-school Mass. “It brings to life our faith and helps all of us to live out our faith,” Bean said, adding that the school Mass is also a time for staff members to model for students “how to participate at Mass.”

Attending Mass every week as a school “builds stronger faith for all the kids and teaches them more about God. It also makes some of them want to become Christian if they aren’t already,” said Norah O’Neil, 11, a sixth grader. “Weekly Mass also gives us a break, a calm learning break, from school. We always come back calmer and more relaxed, more willing to learn afterwards.”

The school Mass is celebrated in the church and open to parishioners; students are specially trained to take on liturgical roles like reading the scriptures, bearing the gifts and serving at the altar. High school students sit with their preschool “buddies” for the 45-50-minute Mass.

Religion teacher Janna Andrus prepares the students for their roles at Mass. She’d like to see an all-school Mass every day — she thinks it is that important. “The Eucharist is Jesus. We can’t get any closer to Jesus here on Earth than when we receive the Eucharist,” she said.

“Jesus loves each and every one of us the same,” and that is important for the students to learn, she said, noting that not all students are Catholic, they come from different cultures and they have different levels of catechization.

“I like being able to receive the Eucharist because I know God is with me and will help me to make better choices,” commented Reid O’Neil, 8, who is in third grade. “I like being able to attend Mass with my friends — not just my family like on Sundays.”

Lindsay O’Neil is the mother of three children who are students at St. Michael’s, and it’s important to her that they attend all-school Mass each week. “What I love about this school is that they can go to Mass and worship in a community, and that is normal to my children,” she said. “It helps them bring their faith into focus, and they realize a lot of people go to church on a regular basis.”

Other Catholic schools have school Masses, and they too were challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic and the changes it necessitated. “But the Mass is the thing in our life that doesn’t change. It gives strength and peace,” Principal Beam said. “We can go to Mass and count on our faith to be as stable as ever.”

That’s an important lesson the students learn.

—Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.