Special to The Texas Catholic
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Emily Duke and a couple dozen of her second-grade classmates at St. Pius X Catholic School walked down the aisle of the parish church to receive their First Holy Communion.
The students received handmade prayer shawls embroidered with their photos, a gift from a St. Pius X teacher, along with rosaries from their second-grade teachers, the culmination of a year-long journey toward learning more about Reconciliation and First Holy Communion.
For Emily Duke, her First Holy Communion meant something even more special—she became the third generation in her family to receive the sacrament at the East Dallas parish, preceded by her mother Melanie Duke and her grandfather, John Farrell.
“We have been learning all year about First Holy Communion,” Emily Duke said. “When I received my First Communion, I felt closer to Jesus. I felt nervous at Mass before my First Communion, but after I got it I didn’t feel afraid anymore and I felt calm. “
Emily Duke said she loves St. Pius X Catholic School, especially because of the relationships she’s built with her friends and teachers.
“We are all friends in the second-grade and we have so much fun together,” she said. “My friends and teachers love one another.”
There are a number of families at St. Pius X Catholic School stretching back several generations. The Farrell family tradition at St. Pius X goes back many decades.
John Farrell attended St. Pius X Catholic School from kindergarten to eighth grade, from 1962-1971, before attending and graduating from Bishop Lynch High School.
His four children, John M. Farrell, Kevin Farrell, Christine Howitt and Melanie Duke all graduated from St. Pius X and also from their father’s high school alma mater.
John M. Farrell’s son will start kindergarten at St. Pius X Catholic School in the fall. Christine Howitt’s daughter will attend St. Pius X beginning in 2022. Melanie Duke has two sons, one will start at St. Pius X in the fall and the other in 2021. Kevin Farrell lives in North Carolina with his wife and son.
Melanie Duke said what she remembers most of St. Pius X while she was a student there was the great parish priests, including the late Msgr. Thomas Weinzapfel.
“All the priests visited us in the classrooms frequently and really explained to us the meaning and importance of the sacraments we were receiving,” said Duke, who along with about 60 fellow second-graders received her First Holy Communion in the spring of 1992 from Msgr. Weinzapfel. “I remember being excited to participate in Mass through Communion and feeling blessed to be able to receive Jesus in this way.”
She graduated from St. Pius X’s eighth grade in 1998, from Bishop Lynch High School in 2002 and from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 before moving back to Dallas.
And in 2005 when she married Wesley Duke, it was, of course, at St. Pius X Catholic Church, making it five sacraments that she received at the church – Baptism, Reconciliation, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Marriage.
In addition, all three of her children were baptized by Father Michael Guadagnoli, the parish’s former pastor.
Melanie Duke said that her Catholic faith and her school and parish community are important parts of her family’s life and have always been, going back to her younger days when her parents, John and Maria Farrell, and others instilled in them their Catholic faith.
Now, as a parent, she said that she is trying to carry on that tradition of community with her own children.
“The St. Pius X community is large and welcoming. There is a place for everyone under its roof,” she said. “No matter what is happening in the church at large, the people of St. Pius are the ones who keep my faith alive.”
On the day of her First Holy Communion, Emily Duke asked her mother an important question.
“Mom, am I going to go to school here through eighth grade?”
Her mother answered, “Of course.”