January 27, 2017

2017 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

High schools in archdiocese host groups of international students

Yiwen Cao, left, and Sara Matthews, a seventh-grader at Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, decorate cupcakes in Sara’s home at the start of the 2016-17 academic year. Yiwen was part of a group of Chinese students who visited Seton for about a month. (Submitted photo)

Yiwen Cao, left, and Sara Matthews, a seventh-grader at Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, decorate cupcakes in Sara’s home at the start of the 2016-17 academic year. Yiwen was part of a group of Chinese students who visited Seton for about a month. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The Church is by its nature universal. But it’s not unusual for students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese and elsewhere to have a limited exposure to other cultures and languages.

Two Catholic high schools in central and southern Indiana are participating in programs to expand their students’ perspective on the world and helping to spread the Gospel in the process.

This was especially true since the international students came from largely secular cultures where faith-based schools are rare or non-existent.

Roncalli High School in Indianapolis had about a dozen students and two teachers from Leipzipg, Germany’s Rudolph-Hildebrand School in their community for a month at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

At the same time, a similar size group of students from China were welcomed to Seton Catholic High School in Richmond through the Foreign Links Around the Globe initiative.

Roncalli’s experience was part of the German American Partnership Program, co-sponsored by the U.S. and German governments. About a dozen students from Roncalli will spend three weeks in Leipzig in June.

“For our young people to experience different cultures is just part of a life prep experience that is getting close to essential,” said Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach. “ … Understanding cultures, experiencing them and certainly the opportunity to live in the midst of that culture are going to be very life-giving for them.”

Rick Ruhl, Seton’s principal, said having a group of students from another country for a limited time is easier for families of Seton students to host than having to be responsible for an international exchange student for an entire academic year.

Even though their time together was relatively short, it had an effect on both groups of students.

A student who went by the name of “Pony” lived with Seton junior Abbey Schmidt and her family, including worshipping at Mass with them on Sundays.

Although Pony wasn’t Catholic and knew little about the faith before coming to Richmond, he has kept in regular contact with the Schmidts since returning home and has attended Mass in China with his family.

“It was really cool for me to learn that,” said Abbey. “It really showed that we were making a difference in his life.”

Pony living with her family made a difference in Abbey’s life, too.

“It was just a really different experience opening your home to somebody who can barely speak English,” said Emily. “It was tough at first. But we got used to it after a while. It taught us a lot of patience.”

The experience also helped her understand her Catholic faith in a deeper way.

“In theology class, we talk about how the Church is universal,” Emily said. “I think this really put it into perspective for us. We were able to see how much our faith can be spread, and how it affects the whole world and everybody around us.”

Ruhl said Seton’s welcoming of the Chinese students flowed from its Catholic identity.

“It ties in seamlessly with what we’re called to do as Christians and Catholics to share the Gospel,” he said. “The whole program fits nicely into that. When you’re opening your home to a stranger, you’re sharing the Good News.”

Another aspect of Catholic schools that was shared with the international students is its focus on community. This made a strong impression on Jacqueline Redlich, a teacher at Rudolph-Hildebrand who was part of the group that spent time at Roncalli.

“We all felt that Roncalli is an amazing and special place,” she said. “It seemed like a big family, and we soon felt part of this community. The teachers at Roncalli put a lot of effort and care into seeing their students succeed, and at the same time they emphasize the faith, which was new for us.

“In my opinion, the Catholic identity and faith-based education create a strong feeling of togetherness, and it was great for us to experience firsthand this school spirit.”

Weisenbach was similarly pleased to see how the faith of the Roncalli community was passed on to their German visitors in a way that also showed they were committed to academic excellence.

“It gave me chills,” he said. “It was what I was probably most deeply touched by. For them to see that education and faith could be so co-mingled was fascinating.”

Roncalli senior Emily Gant and her family hosted a German student in their home, who also happened to be named Emily. The two students have kept in touch and become good friends.

“I’m always going to remember this. I made a dear and close friend from this opportunity,” she said. “I also got deeper into my knowledge of German. It’s a great way to connect students from around the world.”

Emily thinks other Catholic schools should consider welcoming groups of international students.

“It shows how much we care for others, how it’s good to get to know other people through our faith and spread our faith to them,” she said. “It’s great for us to be messengers for Christ.” †

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