January 29, 2016

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

High school campus ministry programs help deepen students’ faith

Father Martin Rodriguez, associate pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, speaks about his call to the priesthood on Oct. 28 at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis with members of the school’s freshman class. It was part of a day of reflection dedicated to vocations organized by Roncalli’s campus ministry program. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Martin Rodriguez, associate pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, speaks about his call to the priesthood on Oct. 28 at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis with members of the school’s freshman class. It was part of a day of reflection dedicated to vocations organized by Roncalli’s campus ministry program. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

There’s a great variety in the 12 Catholic high schools across central and southern Indiana.

Some are located in the middle of large cities. Others are found in small towns. Their student enrollments extend from more than 1,200 to less than 200. Some have student bodies that are largely Catholic. Others have students from a broad mixture of faith communities.

But an essential goal of each is to help students grow in their relationship with Christ and the Church, or at least give them the spiritual knowledge and tools to be able to start that relationship.

“It’s the same mission in every domestic Church in the archdiocese,” said Jeff Traylor, director of campus ministry at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. “Every parent has that mission and goal. It’s got to be our goal, from a home-schooled class of one to a Roncalli school of 1,300. It’s our mission as the Church.”

How that mission is achieved can vary depending on the circumstances of a particular high school, but there are campus ministry programs in them all dedicated to striving toward that goal.

Chemaign Drumm does this as the faith formation director at Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison.

Unlike larger schools that might have a full-time campus minister, Drumm teaches six classes a day in addition to leading campus ministry efforts at Shawe. But she actually takes joy in wearing so many hats.

“I toss them on and off, and wear them all at the same time,” Drumm said with a laugh.

Having a smaller number of students allows her to get to know them well, and better serve their spiritual needs.

“They feel comfortable coming to me, sharing whatever about their day, whether it was a good thing or a bad thing,” Drumm said. “It’s easy to have one-on-one conversations about their faith life … .

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I can deal with all of the lack of resources to have what I have with these kids.”

Brad Macke is in a similar position at the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg, which has an enrollment of around 215 students. He likes being able to build relationships with the students there.

“Part of passing on our faith is the relational element, because the faith itself is relational,” Macke said. “The kids are never really anonymous. They’re known by their teachers.”

One of his students is senior Maggie Bruns. Since the start of her junior year, she has helped to organize the school’s service projects, which have included assembling packages of food and then distributing them to homeless people in Cincinnati.

“Packaging the food and handing it out to the people who needed it who were so grateful makes me want to do [more] stuff for other people and help them,” said Maggie, a member of St. Michael Parish in Brookville.

She also said that her time at Oldenburg Academy has helped deepen her faith.

“Going to a Catholic school where there are more teenagers who I can connect with on my level helps to make my faith grow more,” Maggie said. “Talking to people who share my own beliefs really helps. You can talk to them about things that bother you or things that are happening. That strengthens my faith.”

That was the case with seminarian Charlie Wessel, who graduated last year from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

He is now a freshman at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and is also enrolled at Marian University, both in Indianapolis.

Wessel said that the retreats that he went on annually during his four years at Chatard helped prepare him for life in the seminary.

“They definitely put me in an atmosphere of being closely connected to people I wasn’t normally connected with,” he said. “That definitely prepared me for the atmosphere of the seminary, because now I am in an atmosphere of an almost permanent retreat. I know what I should be striving for because of the retreats that I went on.”

Wessel’s time at Chatard also gave him opportunities to live his faith through service that he continues at Bruté.

One opportunity that made a lasting impression on him happened in his sophomore year at Chatard when students in a theology class visited with a group of homeless people living in a camp under a bridge in downtown Indianapolis.

“That had a big impact on me,” Wessel said. “Now, at the seminary, my roommates and I at least once a week go downtown and pass out food to the homeless and interact with them.”

Although Catholic schools in the archdiocese have campus ministry programs that are distinct from classes that teach students about the faith, Chatard principal Deacon Rick Wagner said that students experience them as a unified whole.

“They view it as what Catholic schools do,” said Deacon Wagner, who also serves as Chatard’s vice president for mission and ministry. “They form them in the faith. We pray before every class. We have adoration once a month. We have Mass once a week. We have service. This is what we do. Together, all of those elements create what should be our identity as a Catholic school.”

Students experience a deep connection between their faith and their classroom experience, in part, Deacon Wagner said, because a broad variety of Chatard faculty members help lead the students’ retreats.

“They see what the kids go through,” he said. “That, then, carries into the classroom.”

With an enrollment of about 700 students, Chatard is able to speak its Catholic identity strongly, says Deacon Wagner.

“We want every child engaged in the life of campus ministry through retreats, service and opportunities in other ways,” he said. “They’re being formed in the faith. They’re not being taught. They’re being formed.”

Deacon Wagner said having such a large student body makes planning all of the campus ministry events a logistical challenge.

Traylor faces the same and other obstacles at Roncalli, where the enrollment is more than 1,200.

“When you have this many students, it’s harder to spend more time one-on-one with them,” Traylor said. “That’s a challenge. But it’s a great problem to have.

“I’ll take it any day of the week, because it means that we have students who want to be encountered and want to have those experiences.” †
 


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