Congressman Neal visits his smaller constituents at St. Mary's School

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LEE — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is no stranger to the classroom.

And on Thursday, it showed.

Neal, who once taught history at Catholic High School in Springfield, held court before a group of students at St. Mary's School. The students, in Grades 4 through 8, got a lesson on civics and civility from the congressman, who represents the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of the Berkshires.

For nearly an hour, he took students through a typical day on Capitol Hill — and his experience meeting President Donald Trump.

"What you see on TV is what you get in person," Neal said.

The youngsters listened intently as the 30-year member in the House of Representatives described a hectic schedule between Washington, Western Massachusetts and his home life.

"I think it's great to go to work at an institution where Abraham Lincoln served," he said. Lincoln served one, two-year term in the House a decade before being elected America's 16th president.

Neal's visit to the Berkshires oldest parochial school during Catholic Schools Week comes as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield begins to find ways to keep open and viable the diocese's last remaining 12 elementary schools — three of which are in the Berkshires. Diocesan bishop, Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, announced last week he had formed a commission to spend the next several months assessing the schools needs and how best to meet them.

Neal believes Catholic education is vital to Western Massachusetts.

"To keep [126] kids going here in Lee is very impressive," he told The Eagle.

Principal Jennifer Masten appreciated Neal taking the time to meet his youngest constituents.

"You often see separation of our school and government. This was great to see," she said to an Eagle reporter.

While the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, one's faith can be a political football. Neal recalled how John F. Kennedy being Catholic was a campaign issue when he ran for president in 1960 and won.

After the civics lesson, Neal fielded questions from the eager students such as how many meetings he has each day.

"An awful lot."

Hardest part of the job?

"If don't want to work nights and weekends, you're in the wrong business."

What Neal said he has had enough of is then daily chaos from the White House, as well as Congress and the government agencies. He says the country's leaders owe America to be more courteous and stay off social media.

"I wish there was less tweeting," he told the students. "You can't solve problems by tweeting."

Among the problems facing Congress, Neal noted, is how to pay for billions in overdue repairs and upgrades to the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure systems.

Before the students gathered in the school library returned to class, Neal presented a copy of the Congressional Record that acknowledges St. Mary's School 130th anniversary.

Neal's visit was especially noteworthy for Adam Lrhazi, who turned 12 on Thursday.

"Happy Birthday from the United States of America," Neal said as he smiled and shook Adam's hand.

"This was the greatest birthday present." the sixth-grader said.

Neal replied, "You made my day."

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@bekshireeragle.com and 413-496-6233


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