Bigger Than Life Acts of Faith

Finding the ‘Extraordinary in the Ordinary’ from the Eucharstic Profession, Grandparent’s Mass, and Ofrenda
All are welcomed to admire the Dowling Catholic Ofrenda that will be on display in the Narthex for just over a month, starting October 24th. [Artwork by Carter Coppola]
All are welcomed to admire the Dowling Catholic Ofrenda that will be on display in the Narthex for just over a month, starting October 24th. [Artwork by Carter Coppola]

Dowling Catholic is a school, a community, a “tradition of excellence.” It’s also a “beating heart,” said by the high school’s chaplain, Fr. Reed Flood. Just as students progress through four years of academia and extracurriculars at Dowling Catholic, Fr. Flood also describes how students pass through the heart of Dowling Catholic, receive life from the heart, and go out into the world to share that life with all whom they encounter. 

At the beginning of the school year, Dowling Catholic hosted a Eucharistic Procession, through Fr. Flood’s eyes, a cleansing of the school (or the heart) before being filled with love. The Eucharistic Procession involved a blessing of each individual room of the school before the Dowling Catholic community joined in procession around the campus. Along with Fr. James Downey and Bill Barrios, a beloved member of Dowling Catholic’s maintenance team, Fr. Flood went through two gallons of blessed holy water from 5-7am on the first Saturday of the school year. “So this was the routine,” in Fr. Flood’s words, “Fr. James would be singing [litanies], Bill Barrios opened up the door, I [Fr. Flood] would bless the room and close the door, and then Fr. James would lock it behind me.” Even the roof of Dowling Catholic was blessed by the trio. “When you look around this building,” Fr. Flood asserts, “every corner of it has, in an essence, been infused with prayer.”

The Dowling Catholic community walking in solidarity during the Euchartistic Procession. (Anne Marie Cox)

After the heart of Dowling Catholic was cleansed through the blessing, the Eucharistic Procession exercised the heart through prayer and allowed it “to beat with an intentionality and purpose.” In simpler terms, the Eucharitic Procession was the “inhale for the year,” and “whenever students step into the chapel, whenever they begin their day in prayer, whenever they make the sign of the cross, whenever they think of God,” they are taking another breath. With that in mind, Fr. Flood also recognizes that “in any school, it can be easy to suffocate,” but just as we condition for any sport to build endurance, we must also practice our faith in order to receive inspiration and life from inhalations. 

Committing acts of faith, even with the abundant opportunities at a Catholic high school, may be easier said than done. “When people hear the word God,” Fr. Flood observes, “they instantly open up or they instantly shut down.” That being said, even when someone is not intentionally pursuing God, Fr. Flood explains that any pursuit to its highest end will indirectly lead to God. He feels that “people shy away from God” because their desires are too small. In his homily at the annual Grandparent’s Mass, he reasons that “if we recognize the divine providence,” or God’s intervention, “at work in our lives, we can’t help but be blown away,” going on to say that we’ll “continue to search and not be satisfied with ordinary things unless we encounter the extraordinary within the ordinary.” In a similar way, the pursuit of extraordinary things leads to God, because according to Catholic teachings, God is the most extraordinary. “The goal of the Eucharistic Procession is to show people to go big with their desires, no matter what they are, because if you truly pursue your desire to its end, it cannot but lead to God, who is the author of all desire. So go big.”

Fr. Flood’s sentiments to be full of life and “go big” seem to parallel the attitude of the late Mr. Timothy Sheaff, a man bigger than life. On Tuesday, October 24th, almost four months after his passing, Mr. Sheaff’s illustrious life will be honored at the unveiling of Dowling Catholic’s Ofrenda. An Ofrenda is an altar built to honor the dead during Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Typically, Ofrendas include three tiers of decoration that celebrate the life of the dead, full of candles, marigolds, skulls, favorite foods, and photos of the individual in remembrance. As the Ofrenda ascends, more religious elements are placed, closest to God. When spirits return to earth to visit their living families and friends, the items serve as communication between the living and the dead and are things that the spirits can enjoy. This is the 20th annual Ofrenda that Dowling Catholic’s Art Club has created, a project that began at the encouragement of Mrs. Paula Plasencia, the Community & Cultural Liaison. 

During the first weeks of each school year, Mrs. Kane and the Art Club consider who will be remembered in the Ofrenda, someone who is always connected to the Dowling Catholic community in some way. After receiving permission from the family, Mrs. Kane designs a sketch of the Ofrenda and gets input from Art Club members. From there, the Art Club gathers resources, delegates tasks, and meets every Tuesday and Saturday to work on the project. Joe Hartman, a senior at Dowling Catholic and a four year member of the Art Club says that the biggest challenge is the time commitment. “This is a very time intensive project,” Hartman comments. Mrs. Kane adds that many seniors of the Art Club graduated last year, so a lot of reteaching has been necessary during this “transitional year.”

Joe Hartman (‘24) posing next to the faux stained glass window of St. Genesius that will be incorporated into the Ofrenda. (Ella Johnson)

It’s very important for Mrs. Kane and the Art Club to accurately represent traditional Ofrenda methods, and throughout the project, they reach out to Mrs. Plasencia, her mother Ila, and the newly founded HERO (Hispanic Empowerment Resource Organization) club for guidance. Hartman remembers a line that Mrs. Kane said at the first Art Club meeting he attended, the Ofrenda is “cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation.” While the Dowling Catholic Ofrenda stands to uphold Mexican traditions, it has also developed a tradition of its own. Much to their dismay, both Hartman and Mrs. Kane share that every year, some element of the Ofrenda goes missing until installation day, a long twelve hours and the final step of constructing the Ofrenda. This year, foam, set walls, and crates from the theater department are being used to honor Mr. Sheaff’s life. The Art Club is also creating a faux stained glass window of St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors to whom Mr. Sheaff prayed before every performance and competition. Mrs. Kane reflects that “he [Mr. Sheaff] was a larger than life character himself, so it only makes sense that everything we do is a little bit bigger than usual – in scale, and connection, and focus on art and faith.”

Both Mrs. Kane, who began teaching at Dowling Catholic the same year as Mr. Sheaff, and Hartman, who had him as a teacher in Film Appreciation class, have fond memories of Mr. Sheaff. They hope that the Ofrenda will be a place for others to remember him as well. Mrs. Kane hopes “that people get what they need” from the Ofrenda, whether it’s a place to laugh, a place to pray, or just somewhere to take a deep inhale. “The beauty of the Ofrenda,” Mrs. Kane summarizes, “is the reminder that these people aren’t gone. We get to reunite with them in heaven one day.”

Anyone can visit the Ofrenda, located in Dowling Catholic’s Narthex, beginning at 5pm on October 24th through November 27th. More extraordinary in the ordinary can also be found through daily mass, liturgy of the hours, and adoration offered at Dowling Catholic.

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About the Contributor
Ella Johnson
Ella Johnson, Staff Writer
Ella Johnson is a junior at Dowling Catholic High School. Within the performing arts program, she is involved in the fall play as well as Speech and Debate. She is also a part of Student Ambassadors, Student Philanthropy Council, and Ut Fidem. During the spring, she plays tennis at school and continues training year-round. Outside of school she takes piano lessons, an instrument she has played for nearly ten years. In her free time she enjoys continuously selecting the “next episode” button on any streaming service or delving into a good book. 

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