WARREN, Mich. – History was made at De La Salle Collegiate on Saturday when the class of 2020 gathered for a baccalaureate mass unlike any other in the school’s 94-year history.
One hundred days since the seniors last roamed the hallways and classrooms inside the all-boys school, they reunited on a sultry afternoon at Saint John Baptist de La Salle Field.
The occasion was the first time that most of the 2020 class has been together since March 12 when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all K-12 schools to remain closed throughout the academic year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Students and teachers were excited to reconnect in person after months apart.
“Before everybody was split up so unexpectedly nobody really got to say all of their goodbyes,” senior Josef Gjonaj said. “So to reunite everybody was a good experience for everyone. It was nice just to see all of the faces on this beautiful field. We will definitely remember this experience.”
On the official first day of summer, 145 of the 167 seniors that make up the 2020 graduating class – and their guests – attended the mass celebrated by Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Robert Fisher. With the temperature in the 90s, everyone who attended the outdoor mass received bottled water and a De La Salle-branded face mask as they entered the south end of the field. Twelve rows of folding chairs were spaced six feet apart to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.
“Being able to use the field in a very appropriate way for a Lasallian Catholic school was fitting for this class,” Principal Nate Maus said. “For the class of 2020, which had to go through a lot of changes in their school year, I think it’s fitting to Christin the brand new field with this mass.”
For history’s sake, Saturday’s mass was the first official event ever held on the school’s stunning new athletic field which was completed last December.
“By having the baccalaureate mass here this is kind of a baptism of this field,” said Brother Joseph Jozwiak, the school’s executive administrator. “It’s a blessing to the field. There was no better way to inaugurate the field than by having a mass.
“This has never happened before like this, and I think it’s a tremendous affirmation to the young men who are graduating. It is a tremendous affirmation to the people who set up this whole event, the committee. And in terms of baccalaureates, this was a great experience. I think all baccalaureate masses are great experiences; I’ve never been to one that hasn’t been. But under the conditions, I think this was spectacular.”
De La Salle was in the process of planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new field when the global pandemic brought the world to a halt in mid-March. Distance learning quickly became a common phrase as in-person classes were shut down. Spring sports, proms, graduations, all-night parties, and other high school events were all swept up in the state-wide closures.
Originally, De La Salle’s baccalaureate mass was scheduled for May 17 at Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Detroit. Graduation was to be the next evening at Grace Christian Church in Sterling Heights.
“This means the world to us,” said Noah Cole, the senior class president. “Obviously, everybody had a rough ending. If you told me the end of my senior year was going to look like this I never would have believed you. But this event, this is what makes De La Salle so special, the atmosphere, the brotherhood, this day is so special.”
The seniors will cap off their high school career on Sunday morning’s commencement ceremony at Olde World Canterbury Village in Orion Township.
Following Saturday’s mass, teachers lined up along the sidewalk from the field to the parking lot to give students a finale farewell. Teachers also presented each senior with a gift bag courtesy of the Senior Event Committee.
“The committee was very aware that with current health guidelines, a tradition senior all-night party was not going to be possible,” Maus said. “But we still wanted to send off the seniors with some gifts. We still wanted to make it special for them, so Jeana Page, who is our lead teacher for the senior all-night party, along with some of the parents who helped out on the committee came up with the idea of putting together gift bags for the graduates. There’s an alumni shirt, a Class of 2020 shirt, as well as gift cards donated to the school and provided by the school to really just bless them as a token of how much we believe in them.”
Despite the oppressive heat, Saturday’s mass had many people thinking about combining the baccalaureate mass and commencements on the field in the future.
“I think it’s worth considering, absolutely,” Maus said. “There are other schools that host them together. It’s an idea that we’ve talked about and I want to include some parents and students in that conversation if we walk down that path of combining them. We’re here to serve our students and serve our parents and if it makes sense to combine the baccalaureate mass and commencements then I think that’s a pathway we’d be willing to consider.”
Cole likes the idea of beginning a new tradition.
“I loved it 100 percent,” he said. “I think it would be a wonderful event every year.”