Approximately 700 students and faculty from four northern Santa Barbara County Catholic schools packed the pews at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church in Orcutt Monday morning, in celebration of Catholic Schools Week.
"Our opening hymn [said] that 'All Are Welcome' and that's our message to you," the Rev. Aidan Peter Rossiter told the crowd. "You are most welcome at St. Louis de Montfort today."
A celebration of faith and the Catholic education, Monday's 10th annual all-school Mass kicked off a week of events around the theme of "Learn. Love. Live. Succeed." During Mass, Rossiter explained to students that the week's events are designed to highlight the contributions Catholic education has on the church, communities and nation.
"There's really only one thing that we need to do in our schools that makes us different from any other schools," he told the gathering of students from La Purísima Concepcion, St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Louis de Montfort and St. Joseph, the regional Catholic high school.
"We, as students, teachers, pastors and parents ... are taught to know and love God."
The importance of Monday's Mass, according to Michelle Cox, principal of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School, was to provide students the opportunity to come together, not as rivals or competitors but as brothers and sisters in Christ.
"God has invited each of us to be part of his family," Cox said. "Each of our school communities is unique, yet we share a common mission of learning and living the gospel. May our time together help us grow in love, showing the gospel through our lives."
St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School Principal Gina Fox, who helped coordinate Monday's Mass, said the week's events help develop strong bonds and relationships among area students.
"A school of any size becomes your family and community," she said. "Getting together [with other Catholic schools] gives students the chance to connect with others who share similar values and faith."
With many of the students ending up at St. Joseph, Cox added that it is important to "to share time together and get to know one another."
Carmen Garcia, a former principal at St. Mary who was invited to speak toward the end of Mass, told students to be thankful for their education and supportive community.
"Take time this week to thank someone for the wonderful gift of being able to attend a school where you are loved and taught as a child of God in a community of faith," Garcia, who currently serves as an assistant superintendent with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told the students.
"The school exists to provide a saving knowledge and personal relationship with Jesus. Just as the church is present in the school, so the school [should be] present in the church."