Father Mark Bialek, pastor of St. John Church, Westminster, left, and Father Andrew DeFusco defend themselves during a marshmallow battle with parish school students Jan. 28 while on the school’s roof during the Day-of-Giving campaign to raise $8000 for tuition assistance and the STEM program. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)
WESTMINSTER – Fathers Mark Bialek and Andrew DeFusco climbed a ladder to the top of St. John School in Westminster as the school day began Jan. 28.
Despite the chilly weather and first- and second-graders occasionally pelting them with marshmallows, they said wouldn’t come down until they reached their goal of raising $8,000 for the school.
The “priest on the roof” stunt, which they hope to make an annual event, was part of the festivities for Catholic School Weeks and the school’s annual day of giving in which students and staff engage in service projects. The money raised will go to the K-8 school’s tuition assistance program and Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program.
“This is great. I feel like I’m a member of the school. I feel like I’m a student in seventh grade,” Father DeFusco said after the students lobbed marshmallows on to the overhang to the main entrance of the school where the priests were perched since 7:30 am. The priests were hardly defenseless, as, armed with a Nerf gun, they “returned fire” as the young students squealed down below.
“This is family fun. And that’s what we are as a parish here at St. John’s. It’s school (and) parish together. We pray together, work hard, support each other and enjoy each other,” said Father DeFusco, the associate pastor of St. John.
As the day went on, drivers in passing cars honked their horns and parishioners donated blankets and a small propane heater to keep the priests toasty. Lunch from the local Chick-fil-A was sent up via the ladder and reporters from The Carroll County Times and the local radio station came out to witness the spectacle.
At one point, a teacher donated her fluffy pink hat to the cause, which Father Bialek gamely donned for the students and the world via pictures on the school’s Facebook page.
“It’s a great opportunity to show school spirit. It’s a great opportunity to show the kids that we really, really do care,” said Father Bialek, the pastor of St. John, the only Catholic school in Carroll County.
Generosity overflowed for the “priest on the roof,” as the final total reached $13,447. They officially climbed down the ladder at 3:30 pm.
Emily Alster, the parish and school’s communications coordinator, said most of the day’s proceeds have come from small donors, however, amounts of $500, $800 and $1,000 pushed the school over its goal.
Jo Marie Tolj, principal of St. John School, said it was blessed to have priests be such good sports and take such an active role in the fundraiser.
“It means a lot to the school, especially because our families have many children. So we need to provide financial assistance to them, and this is one of our biggest avenues.” Tolj said.
Email Kevin J. Parks at kparks@CatholicReview.org