January 23, 2015

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Seeds of faith blossom, bear fruit at Holy Cross Central School

Savannah Lee, a seventh-grade student at Holy Cross Central School in Indianapolis, kneels on Jan. 12 in Holy Cross Church, which is adjacent to the school. She was received into the full communion of the Church last year along with more than 30 other students in the school, which is a part of the archdiocese’s Mother Theodore Catholic Academies. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Savannah Lee, a seventh-grade student at Holy Cross Central School in Indianapolis, kneels on Jan. 12 in Holy Cross Church, which is adjacent to the school. She was received into the full communion of the Church last year along with more than 30 other students in the school, which is a part of the archdiocese’s Mother Theodore Catholic Academies. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

For many years, Father Christopher Wadelton has had the heart of a missionary. It has led him on many occasions to minister to the poor in Honduras in Central America.

Now he serves as pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis. One of the ministries of the parish is Holy Cross Central School, which is also part of the archdiocese’s Mother Theodore Catholic Academies.

In being present to the some 250 students enrolled there, Father Wadelton, school principal Ruth Hittel and its teachers have all found a mission field close to home.

Nearly all of Holy Cross’ students live at or below the poverty level. More than half are not being raised by their biological mother and father. Most are being raised by single parents or grandparents. About half are Catholic and half not Catholic.

Many seeds of faith have been planted in this mission field, and they are starting to bear great fruit.

Over the years, Hittel said that a small handful of students would annually ask to come into the full communion of the Church.

That increased to about 35 students during the 2013-14 academic year.

Hittel said that this spike was not the result of any formal evangelization program. Instead, she credits the increase to the good example of the Catholic teachers on staff at Holy Cross, where 17 of the 20 faculty members are Catholic, and the enthusiasm of Father Wadelton.

This positive, faith-filled environment, combined with the brokenness that many of the students experience in their families and social situations, affected many of the students in their journey of faith.

“The students find Holy Cross as a stabilizing factor in their lives,” Hittel said. “The school and the Church are literally their rock and one place of safety. … By coming into the Church, the children find one more ray of hope, for some in a near hopeless future.”

One of those students is Savannah Lee, a sixth-grader at the time she was received into the Church last year. She enjoyed coming into the Church with so many other students from the school, but she understood that it was her decision alone.

“When they were getting baptized, it was peaceful,” Savannah said. “I felt like they had that peace.

“I wanted to be baptized because I was in a Catholic school and I wanted to have that religion. I chose to do it, and I like it.”

Katie Louden is Holy Cross’ second-grade teacher. She also helped form the other students to be received into the Church last year and is working with about 30 students during this academic year.

“The kids won’t say it out loud like in a lunch table conversation, but it’s something that they’re wanting,” said Louden, a graduate of Marian University in Indianapolis. “It kind of just grows and expands [within them]. And it’s not just the bandwagon thing to do. It’s like, ‘If he can do that, then that’s something that I can do, too.’ ”

Hittel attended a Catholic school as a youth when nearly all the students were Catholic. She started her career as an educator in a similar situation.

She now appreciates ministering as an administrator of a Catholic school where many of the students do not share her faith—at least at first.

“Working with children who were not raised as Catholics, but who have embraced the faith because of what they’re living every day when they’re at school, is fabulous,” Hittel said. “Nobody’s telling them that they have to receive the sacraments. They are choosing it. That’s what’s beautiful.”

On the day when many of the students were baptized last year, one young girl at the last moment did not have a godparent available for the sacrament.

Hittel stepped up and offered to play that important role in the young student’s life of faith.

“I went over and said, ‘Would you do me the honor of allowing me to be your godmother?’ ” Hittel recalled. “The next thing you knew, her mom was in tears. Since then, I’ve brought the girl to church on several Sundays because that’s one of my jobs as her godmother.”

Holy Cross is doing things to encourage all the students and their families to come to Sunday Mass at Holy Cross Church. They call it “Pack the Lord’s House,” and it is scheduled about four times a year.

“We’re hoping to create that habit and make a big deal out of coming to church on Sunday,” Hittel said. “If we get them once a quarter, well now let’s try twice a quarter.”

Those who asked to be received into the Church were given a card that they were to have signed by the priest who celebrated the weekly Sunday Mass that they attended.

Being an example of faith and a person whom the students can ask about the faith is why Father Wadelton likes to visit Holy Cross on a regular basis, in addition to celebrating Mass for the school community.

“Evangelization was definitely a big part of why I like being in the school, both for the Catholic kids and the non-Catholic kids,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for them to ask questions and for me to be with their inquisitive minds.”

Father Wadelton hopes that the faith that he, Hittel and the teachers at Holy Cross have helped pass on to the students there will continue to grow in the years to come.

“I hope that they will maintain that enthusiasm,” Father Wadelton said. “Most of them are old enough that they recognize the enthusiasm, and it’s fresh enough that when they really need to rely on their faith in high school and college, that enthusiasm is still going to be there. They’ll be comforted by their faith in times of need.” †

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