EASTON, Md. – The school day had ended after mid-term exams in the morning, but 16 students from Ss. Peter and Paul High School stayed for an extra session last week – lunch and conversation with Bishop Malooly.
The bishop visited the Eastern Shore high school, along with the parish grade school, on Jan. 10. At the high school, four students from each grade answered questions from Bishop Malooly about their classwork, extracurriculars and personal life. The students came from a variety of parishes, and several were not Catholic. They had come from various educational backgrounds, including Ss. Peter and Paul Elementary School, public, private and home schools.
Bishop Malooly asked the seniors about their college plans.
Christine Nolan told him she wanted to study advertising and film and that she had applied to 15 colleges. Almost all of them were Catholic even though Nolan is Episcopalian. Maddie Granger, a senior from St. Christopher’s Parish in Chester, Md., said she was probably going to apply to the University of Alabama.
“You’re probably going to watch football there,” the bishop joked. The Crimson Tide won the college football national championship two nights earlier.
The school’s enrollment came up as Ss. Peter and Paul had been in danger of closing last year. The students said it had been down to 189, but had increased this year. Principal James Nemeth said before the bishop’s arrival that it was at 214 at the beginning of the school year.
“That was very encouraging,” Nemeth said.
The bishop asked what it is about the school that the students like. Senior Tommy Towers, who commutes each day from Ridgely, Md., said the academic program was rigorous, which he believes has helped him get into some of the colleges he has applied to.
“That’s one thing I’ll always love about Ss. Peter and Paul,” Towers said.
Ss. Peter and Paul offers several Advanced Placement classes, the students told him, and Maddie Granger recalled taking algebra at the high school when she was an eighth-grader.
There’s “a certain spirit” in Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Thomas More Academy in Magnolia, Del., because of their small size, the bishop noted. Christine Nolan said she feels a bond with her teachers and has talked with them about many things, not just school.
“The teachers are really good about making us feel special,” she said.
Another thing the students like about the school included the availability of so many clubs. Among the clubs they mentioned were ones devoted to performing arts, movie-making, video games and engineering.
Carter Saunders said the Engineering Club meets once a week at Easton High School.
“We designed a health clinic. We made a 3D model,” he said, adding that a local health-care provider considering building a facility on the Eastern Shore is studying the model.
Bishop Malooly encouraged the students to promote Ss. Peter and Paul, suggesting that students from the various parishes spend some time at their churches answering questions and distributing materials to families leaving Mass.
“One good thing about Ss. Peter and Paul is that you all are enthused about the school,” he said. Academics are important, “but the other component is the enthusiasm.”
The bishop is a sports fan, and the school’s athletic program was a topic of discussion at both the elementary and high school. Fifteen of the 16 students eating lunch with Bishop Malooly played sports, nearly all of them more than one.
Freshman Ryan Sneddon said the school offers a lot of sports, especially considering its size, “and we’re really good.” The field hockey team, the students said, were league champions this past fall.
During a conversation about the sports he likes, the bishop mentioned that he likes to play tennis, prompting one of the students to invite him to play with the high school team. The bishop said he used to enjoy playing basketball the most and recalled games with fellow priests when he was in Baltimore.
“But at 67, I can’t do that, or so my knees tell me,” he said.
At the elementary school, the bishop took questions, several of which were about whether he knew the pope, sports, and how long he will be bishop.
He said he has met Pope Benedict once since he was elected pope, but he met him several times before when the pope was a cardinal working at the Vatican. Bishop Malooly explained that as the chief of staff for former Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler, he traveled to the Vatican frequently. The bishop said that he will see the Holy Father during his ad limina visit [Jan. 14 – 22], which is required every five to eight years by church law.
The bishop said he liked the new Mass but is still adjusting like Catholics in the pews are. He said the previous language was “understandable,” but the new text “elevates the Mass.” People are concentrating more on what they are saying, he said. Some diocesan priests had their doubts about the changes, but he says he feels a new energy among the clergy.
The students were interested in how the church worked. Several asked him if he could become the pope and how long he will be in charge of the diocese. He explained that he has to offer his retirement when he turns 75 but that he will continue to live in Wilmington and will offer his services to his successor.
They asked how long he had been a bishop (since 2001) and how many Masses he had celebrated. The exact number is unknown, the bishop said, but he estimated about 600 a year for 41 years (24,500).
The younger students seemed surprised that the bishop used to play basketball. “You played basketball when you were a priest?” one asked.
“Yes, but it’s hard to shoot jumpers in this uniform,” he said, tugging at his black jacket.
Another student asked if he gets a discount when he is shopping because he is wearing his collar.
“No, but I get a senior-citizen discount,” Bishop Malooly replied.
Another student wanted to know his favorite football team.
“In Easton, it’s the Ravens, in Wilmington it’s the Eagles, and at the beach it’s the Redskins,” the bishop joked.