High school strives to ‘Pack the Pews’ for Lent

RALEIGH - The Spiritual Life team at Cardinal Gibbons High School has a daily goal: inviting those they serve to journey in faith and encounter Christ.

Part of that invite is a new Lenten initiative they named Pack the Pews, which aims to gather students, alumni and families for Mass together at different churches in the diocese.

It was a prompting of the Holy Spirit, said Kathleen Kozak, theology educator and pastoral counselor at the school. Kozak saw something similar modeled years ago when a friend participated in a program called Mass Chaos with her young adult ministry in Nebraska.  

“In 52 weeks, they went to Mass at the 57 parishes in the Omaha area. I was always impressed by this … and knew I would love to do something like that with Gibbons,” said Kozak. “Reading research on Mass attendance post-pandemic, it came on my heart that we should invite students and their families to join us at Sunday Mass.”

She talked with Father Luke Rawicki, L.C., the school’s chaplain, and the Spiritual Life team. Everything fell into place, Kozak said, and they specifically planned the event through the Triduum because of the importance of that time and because this is Father Luke’s first Triduum as priest.

Pack the Pews has been held during Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in Raleigh, Duke Chapel in Durham, St. Raphael in Raleigh and St. Mary Magdalene in Apex.

“It has been wonderful to join with our Gibbons family at Mass. We have had families that have joined us at their home parish, some families that have joined us each week, and reconnected with Gibbons alums. It has been beautiful,” said Kozak.

As of March 31, four Mass celebrations remain as part of Pack the Pews. They are April 2 at 5 p.m. at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary, April 6 at 7 p.m. for Holy Thursday at St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, April 7 at 3 p.m. for Good Friday at St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh and April 8 for Easter Vigil at 8:15 p.m. at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh.

Father Luke said he’s hoping Pack the Pews can stir up greater desire and excitement to participate in Sunday Mass. What’s also important, he added, is providing a familiar community for students to grow in their faith. 

“I am really excited to collaborate with my brother priests to keep reaching out to all our young people and inviting them to live Lent to the full,” Father Luke said.