Good Catholic fun: Cardinal Mooney kicks off Catholic Schools Week with carnival, games

Each year during Catholic Schools Week, K-12 students from across the Blue Water Vicariate gather for a carnival at Cardinal Mooney High School. The day of fun activities fosters unity and allows the students to experience their shared Catholic faith with others. (Photos by Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

Marine City school's fifth annual Catholic Schools Week carnival unites Blue Water Vicariate for a day of faith-filled fun and games

MARINE CITY — Marine City is a small, quiet, riverside town, sitting on the banks of the St. Clair River, the vein that connects Lake St. Clair with Lake Huron. 

Travelers pass through to ride the ferry that takes them into Canada, but this friendly place, where walking into a coffee shop seems like a family reunion, is also the home to Cardinal Mooney High School, and the site of an annual tradition that fosters unity among the Catholic school children of the county.

For the past five years, Cardinal Mooney has hosted the six grade schools that make up the future of the Blue Water Vicariate for a day of carnival fun, Catholic trivia and fellowship among students.

Third graders enjoy the cotton candy and face painting stations during the Cardinal Mooney carnival. This year, over 600 students were in attendance. 

The carnival marks the start of Catholic Schools Week, a national celebration of all things Catholic education. Hundreds of students from St. Augustine in Richmond, Immaculate Conception in Ira Township, St. Mary/McCormick Catholic Academy in Port Huron, St. Edward on the Lake in Lakeport, St. Mary in St. Clair and Cardinal Mooney’s neighboring school, Holy Cross, all descend on Cardinal Mooney’s riverside campus to celebrate their common Catholic faith and education and to grow in community. 

The day begins with Mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church, part of Our Lady on the River Parish. On Monday, the sanctuary was packed with 603 students and 70 faculty and staff members all dressed in different colored shirts to indicate their respective grades or role. Immediately after, the kids break up into groups organized by grade and head to one of several events organized by the high school students at Cardinal Mooney. 

While one group starts with carnival games and prizes, another head to the gym for a pep rally. Others split into classrooms for ice breakers. Eighth-graders take part in a Catholic trivia game, and everyone has an opportunity to create their own Catholic “meme.” 

The day is fun for all, allowing high school students to foster leadership and the younger students to meet their peers from neighboring Catholic schools. 

The older students are able to set a model for the younger kids, said Anthony Demonaco, a senior at Cardinal Mooney. 

“You use what you are taught — all of your gifts and talents — to help all the kids to shine,” Demonaco said. “For example, if you are a good speaker, you can explain the games and lessons they are planning for the day to the kids. We lead by example.”

Dan Killian, director of advancement at Cardinal Mooney, said the event shows students that the Catholic community is larger than just their own school.

“Having the kids embracing their faith and seeing the larger group of what they’re a part of is eye-opening for them,” Killian said. “They really get to enjoy being Catholic and what that entails.”

While the event has in the past been limited to local Catholic school students, Killian said there has been talking of expanding the carnival to invite others from across southeast Michigan, or even public school students.

While all events are supervised by faculty and staff, the Cardinal Mooney High School students lead the charge. The older students are able to lead by example, said Anthony Demonaco, a senior at Cardinal Mooney. 

Elementary students sing during Mass at Holy Cross Church in Marine City. In his homily, Bishop Walter Hurley reminded students that God did not choose them because they are “cute or smart,” but because He loves them.

Jennifer Thomson, the academic support coordinator for St. Augustine Catholic School, is also the mother of Grace and Ava, a senior at Cardinal Mooney and an eighth-grader at St. Augustine, respectively. Thomson has seen firsthand how Catholic schools foster community, especially through an emphasis on faith.

Thomson said the education her daughters received has prepared them for their next big steps — for Ava, her freshman year at Cardinal Mooney, and for Grace, going off to college at Grand Valley State University. 

Catholic schools “give them a place where they can express themselves,” Thomson said. “They can be their own (person) and they can maintain their sweetness and express their Catholic faith in a way they wouldn’t be able to do in a different educational institution.”

Betsy Davenport, principal at Holy Cross Catholic School, said the carnival highlights for students that faith is at the center of everything a Catholic school does.

“Each activity, every craft that they do, is centered around their faith,” Davenport said. “Everything is centered around fellowship and love, what it means to be Catholic and what really makes us special.”

Students smile as they listen to Bishop Walter Hurley's homily during the annual Catholic Schools Week carnival in Marine City hosted by Cardinal Mooney High School.

While munching on cotton candy or brainstorming the next Catholic meme about their friendships, faith or academic communities, students from kindergarten through 12th grade spoke to Detroit Catholic about the lessons they've learned about respecting others, whether in the classroom or with their peers. 

Bishop Walter Hurley, retired bishop of Grand Rapids and former Detroit auxiliary bishop, celebrated Mass with the students at Holy Cross. 

“The challenge for us is to be like brothers and sisters,” Bishop Hurley said, looking out over a sea of 600 children ready to begin a day of fellowship and games. “It doesn’t mean that we will always get along, but it does mean we always respect each other.”