CULLMAN, Ala. – Saint Bernard Prep President Fr. Joel Martin has been busy these past few days collecting names. They’re not students’ names, but names St. Bernard students give him in preparation for the annual Thanksgiving Prayer Service held at the school. This year the service will take place Wednesday, Nov. 20 in the Abbey Church at 11:15 a.m., with a visiting minister giving the sermon.
It is just one of the many traditions shared at St. Bernard. Each year before the week-long Thanksgiving Break the school community gathers to give thanks to God. They’re joined by the clergy invited by St. Bernard students.
At each student’s request, Father Joel personally contacts the ministers of the home churches of the students. Of course many of the school’s students are not Catholic; the school is first of all a college preparatory school, and that attracts students from all religious traditions.
“I’m always surprised,” said Fr. Joel, “that many in our local community presume that you must be Catholic to attend St. Bernard Prep School, and that idea persists after we’ve been here for more than 125 years.
“People of all faiths and none are welcomed here at St. Bernard,” commented Fr. Joel. “Our faith in God is the principle building block of who we are, but it excludes no one and welcomes all.”
Fr. Joel explained that Catholic schools have the privilege to pray to God and to study about Him and his commandments and the moral life – a thing that has disappeared from public life and schools.
“This is the heart of life,” said St. Bernard’s president, “and a true education never ignores it.”
Yet St. Bernard is best known for its academic excellence. All graduates are accepted to colleges, and scholarships abound for those students: $4.5 million for 29 graduates in May 2019.
Said Fr. Joel, “Obviously we have cause to give thanks, and typically we have quite a number of ministers who come to join us to do that at our Thanksgiving Service.”
After the service all celebrate by joining in a Thanksgiving Dinner together with those pastors, ministers and priests who are so important in students’ lives.
“These men and women are very busy in the communities they serve,” explained Fr. Joel, “so we are all very grateful for their taking time out to join us.”