Student representatives of the Diocese of Owensboro’s 17 Catholic schools carry banners with the names of their respective schools during Rainbow Mass on Sept. 14, 2022. RILEY GREIF | WKC
A ‘beautiful sight,’ Catholic schools reunite for Rainbow Mass 2022
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Coming together as a community of 17 Catholic schools for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the multicolored uniforms of the several thousand students formed the liturgy’s namesake: Rainbow Mass.
“What a blessing for our Catholic school communities to finally again be in one place,” said David Kessler, superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office, prior to the Sept. 14, 2022 Mass held in the Owensboro Sportscenter.
“How grateful we are that we can come together and pray,” said Kessler, addressing the well over 3,000 students, faculty and staff of schools from across western Kentucky. “We are celebrating this great gift that is our Catholic schools.”
Founded in 1985 under the late Bishop John J. McRaith, the Diocese of Owensboro’s Rainbow Mass continues a legacy founded by superintendent at the time, Sr. Amelia Stenger, OSU, to bring together the students of the diocese’s schools. The concept was inspired by the Catholic Student Mission Crusade Masses that Sr. Stenger had experienced as a high school student at Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
The Mass is normally celebrated every other year. The last time it took place was 2019, but the Mass was skipped in 2021 due to COVID-19 surges and pandemic restrictions at the time.
This year, student representatives once again processed into the Sportscenter at the opening of the liturgy while carrying banners with the names of their respective schools. Besides the 3,000 from the schools themselves, multiple parents, grandparents, younger siblings and other visitors attended – not to mention the clergy and religious who participated as well.
The bilingual liturgy included Mass parts and songs in English and Spanish, and student lectors proclaimed the Word in both languages.
“What a beautiful sight,” said Bishop William F. Medley in his homily, gazing out at the crowded bleachers. “We have survived a pandemic, we have survived tornadoes, we have survived floods.”
The bishop reminded the faithful that the rainbow was created as a sign of God’s promise to humanity, and that this promise continues even into the 21st century in Kentucky.
With the Mass taking place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Bishop Medley spoke to the ancient usage of crosses – that they were used for criminals’ executions as “an embarrassment.”
But to the first Christians, “Jesus Christ had changed the meaning of the cross. It did not represent criminals, but followers of Jesus Christ,” he said.
The bishop said that he and his fellow bishops wear “that big cross” – their pectoral cross – in order to keep Jesus close to their hearts.
Bishop Medley encouraged the students keep Jesus close to their own hearts, and to regularly pray, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. Jesus help me to always honor your cross.”
Laura Cecil, who took on the role of principal of Mary Carrico Catholic School this fall, said attending her first Rainbow Mass as the Knottsville school’s principal “brought me memories and joy.”
“Attending Rainbow Mass as a student at St. Mary of the Woods and Trinity High School, it brought back memories of the awe in seeing so many kids in one place to worship,” said Cecil. “Being there as an adult with Mary Carrico filled my heart with joy. Hearing all the children sing with excitement and love for God was amazing.”
Originally printed in the October 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.