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Catholic schools' biggest week goes small: Catholic Schools Week activities at Holy Rosary and Wyoming Area Catholic will be virtual or in-person on a smaller scale

It may look a bit different this year, but Eileen Rishcoff still cannot wait for Catholic Schools Week.

“It’s the best week of the year in school,” the Wyoming Area Catholic principal said.

While Catholic schools in the area remain open for in-person learning, COVID-19 mitigation efforts and social distancing guidelines have made planning Catholic Schools Week a bit different across the Diocese of Scranton. At Wyoming Area Catholic, events will happen within single classrooms or virtually for a majority of the week.

Holy Rosary Principal Melissa Skutack looked forward to being able to spend the week with students at the school.

“I am super excited we are able to be in-person during Catholic Schools Week,” she said. “Having all of these fun activities virtually would not be the same.”

Holy Rosary will start the week with a Mass, as usual, but will encourage students to attend Mass at their own home parishes on Sunday, Jan. 31. Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Duryea, next door to the school, will live stream its Mass on Facebook.

The school also will hold a virtual open house Jan. 31 at www.holyrosaryduryea.org.

Monday, Feb. 1, will be Team Shirt Day for students. The school will host STREAM activities and will start its SouperBowl Collection and Soup Can Derby Race — a soup drive for the Pittston Food Pantry.

Holy Rosary students also will participate in spelling bees in their individual classrooms on Feb. 1.

Students will spend Tuesday, Feb. 2, watching the annual talent show from their classrooms and collecting socks for the Pittston Clothes Closet. All grades also can participate in a virtual version of The Brain Show, a trivia game show.

The Brain Show will continue Wednesday, Feb. 3, and students will be able to purchase candy from the seventh and eighth grade classes to support the Bernadine Sisters.

Thursday, Feb. 4, will be Movie and Popcorn Day, and the top 10 students from Monday’s spelling bees will compete against one another.

Friday, Feb. 5, concludes Catholic Schools Week at Holy Rosary with Teacher Appreciation Day, student council inductions and an early dismissal at 11 a.m.

Wyoming Area Catholic will start the week on Sunday, Jan. 31, with a Mass and virtual open house as well. The Mass will be celebrated in the gymnasium with only those students participating in the Mass attending in person. The school will stream it live on Facebook.

On Monday, Feb. 1, all homerooms at Wyoming Area Catholic will work to support the charity of their choice. Pre-K through third grade will support the St. Cats and Dogs and Blue Chip pet collection and the upper grades will participate in a virtual Mathathon to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, homeroom teams will compete in a faculty and staff trivia game held virtually throughout the school. Students also can come to school in pajamas for Pajama Day and enjoy a movie and snacks in the afternoon.

Wednesday, Feb. 3, is Wyoming Area Catholic’s chance to play The Brain Show. Rishcoff said they would normally have an assembly for the trivia game, but this year it will be virtual. Students will also be allowed to wear a Catholic Schools Week T-shirt and their homemade Catholic Schools Week mask.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, students will celebrate vocations by making cards to send to seminarians. They also will view virtual presentations by local people who work in religious vocations.

Friday, Feb. 5, will be Teacher Appreciation Day at Wyoming Area Catholic and the school will end the week with an early dismissal at 11 a.m.

Rishcoff said while the last day of the week comes as a relief most years, she looks forward to the reason for the staff’s exhaustion.

“The kids, they live for this,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see their school spirit.”

Greatest of the Greatest

Although there were more than 400 people crowded into Scranton Cultural Center in April of 2016 for the annual meeting and luncheon of the Pennsylvania Society, you could hear a pin drop when Pat Solano stepped to the mic.

Pat was there to receive the Society’s 2016 Distinguished Citizen Award and most of the crowd was there because of it.

At 91 and having served in high positions in the administrations of nine Pennsylvania governors, both Democratic and Republican, Pat surely had stories to tell. But his life of public service was not on his mind that afternoon. What was on his mind was World War II.

Pat’s military accomplishments — the 23 bombing missions over Germany, including the bombing of Berlin in 1944, the Air Force Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, the European Combat Theatre Medal with Two Bronze Stars — have been well documented since his passing on Jan. 23, but Pat, save for a mention of the bombing missions, talked about none of that. What he wanted to share was the character of the boys he served with, and boys, he stressed, is what they were, drafted or enlisted right out of high school and trained in record time to man the B-17 bomber, nicknamed the “Flying Fortress.”

“When it was all over, when we finally got to come home,” Pat said, “we still weren’t old enough to have a drink.” Pat paused to allow those words to sink in, and when they did, their message was clear: the Greatest Generation were just kids when they began their greatness. They went out and saved the world before they could order a beer.

What Pat Solano became to the people of Greater Pittston, indeed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the reputation he earned in Harrisburg was put perfectly and succinctly by Gov. Tom Corbett when he once said, “If you say the word Pat (in Harrisburg) everyone knows who you’re talking about. You’re talking about Pat Solano.”

I witnessed this in a 1999 visit to the State Capitol with then-LCCC President Jon Larson. Pat Solano met us there. Dr. Larson had come to the area from Maryland and while he had heard some things about Pat, had no idea what we were in for that day. As we walked the halls of the capitol, state senators and representatives and high-ranking government officials practically knocked over desks to run up and shake Pat’s hand. Shouts of “Pat,” “Pat,” “Pat” accompanied us wherever we went. Every time Larson made eye contact with me, his expression seemed to say, “Who is this guy?” If he had an hour or two, I could have told him.

Every time I saw Pat, he ended our conversation with, “If you ever need anything, make sure you call me.” I did that only twice, both times finding his number in the phone book, which also says something about him.

The first was to tell him we wanted to honor him with the Joseph Saporito Lifetime of Service Award. His first inclination was to decline — “There has to be other people you can honor,” he said — but perhaps sensing my disappointment, finally agreed. We held the reception at The Gramercy Restaurant and Ballroom in Pittston, which just happens to be owned and operated by Pat’s son-in-law Michael Augello, and Gov. Corbett made it his business to be there. What Pat talked about that night was the late Atty. Joseph Saporito for whom the award was named. They had been close friends.

The second was when I needed a favor, not for me but for a student. She was a young mom with an immigration issue and the only one who could help her was then-Congressman Lou Barletta. I wanted to intercede on her behalf and I needed Pat to open that door. He listened intently to every detail of her story and then said, “After we hang up, you’re going to get a phone call. If you don’t get it in five minutes, call me right back.” I got it in two. The fellow identified himself as a member of the congressman’s staff and said he was in a car driving to Allentown. “I don’t know who you are,” he said, “but I was given orders to call you immediately.” I was in the congressman’s office the next day. Things worked out better than expected.

Almost every time I ran into him after that, he inquired, “How’s that young mom doing?”

The last time, I was delighted to answer, “She’s now a mother of two and has her sights set on law school. She wants to be an immigration lawyer.”

Pat looked so pleased.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.