March 30, 2018

Priest’s commitment to schools earns national honor

During Catholic Schools Week in January, Gina Fleming, superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, presents an award to Father Christopher Wadelton, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis, honoring him as an archdiocesan nominee for the national “Lead, Learn, Proclaim” Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Since then, Father Wadelton has been chosen for the national honor which recognizes “excellence and distinguished service in Catholic school education.” He will receive the award on April 3 at the NCEA convention in Cincinnati. (Submitted photo)

During Catholic Schools Week in January, Gina Fleming, superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, presents an award to Father Christopher Wadelton, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis, honoring him as an archdiocesan nominee for the national “Lead, Learn, Proclaim” Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Since then, Father Wadelton has been chosen for the national honor which recognizes “excellence and distinguished service in Catholic school education.” He will receive the award on April 3 at the NCEA convention in Cincinnati. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Known for his easy, contagious smile, Father Christopher Wadelton always looks for fun and meaningful ways to connect with the children in his parish’s schools.

Sometimes, that approach involves playing a game called “Stump the Priest” with the second-grade students who are preparing to receive their first Communion, a light-hearted approach he uses to “teach the faith in the form of a game.”

Other times, it’s a weekly session of “Donuts and Jesus,” a before-school get‑together with junior high students at 7 on most Friday mornings—a time when he uses a conversational approach to talk with them about “how they see their faith, and where God is in their lives.”

Then there was the recent memorable moment when the pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis—where the school population is 98 percent Hispanic—showed the children and their families just how far he will go to support them.

On the morning of March 6, Father Wadelton was among more than a dozen protestors who were arrested by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police in an act of civil disobedience.

He joined with other protestors in blocking a downtown Indianapolis street to show his support of “Dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants who came with their parents to the United States as children.

“A big part of our ministry at the parish and the school is supporting our families,” said Father Wadelton, who also makes a point of being present to students at nearby Holy Cross Central School in Indianapolis. “My motivation is seeing our families struggling and wanting to do more for them. It was very meaningful to the community that their priest was willing to step up on their behalf.”

It’s all part of the commitment that has led Father Wadelton to be chosen for the “Lead, Learn, Proclaim” Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)—an award which recognizes “excellence and distinguished service in Catholic school education.” He will receive the honor on April 3 during the NCEA’s convention in Cincinnati.

“I was very surprised,” Father Wadelton says. “I didn’t consider my activity at the school anything special.”

He may be among the few who don’t, according to Gina Fleming, the superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

“Perhaps my favorite story of Father Chris dates back to about four years ago,” Fleming says. “He baptized 42 students at Holy Cross Central School, most of whom had no previous connection to the Catholic Church. I joked with him the following year, stating he was slacking, for he only baptized another 39.

“Obviously, those are remarkable numbers, and are indicative of his outreach, love and support of children and their families.”

Kari Buchinger sees that outreach, love and support daily as the principal of St. Philip Neri School, one of the Notre Dame ACE Academies in the archdiocese, as is Holy Cross School.

Buchinger has watched Father Wadelton greet children and parents as they arrive at the school in the morning. She’s noticed the impact his smile has when he stops to talk with students during lunch in the cafeteria. And she’s seen the patience he shows with children as he helps them serve at the altar during the Masses he celebrates.

“He’s a very warm and welcoming person,” she says. “No matter who he is talking to, he speaks to them as an old friend and that puts them at ease.

“He’s a great example of someone who practices what he preaches. Not only can students look to him for help, he’s also a great example of what we want all our students to become.”

Serving as a role model for students is a designed emphasis for Father Wadelton. He has two main goals as a priest to the children at the two schools, starting with “a ministry of presence.”

“I want the kids to see me when they get dropped off at school or when they’re in the cafeteria,” says Father Wadelton, who was ordained in 2009. “The other is as a teacher of the faith. In my homilies, I try to teach the core values of the faith, trying to engage them with props and involving them with questions.”

He wants the children to see that the life of a priest is “good and enjoyable,” just as he learned when he was a boy at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis and Father Stephen Banet exemplified that joy to students there.

Now, Father Wadelton hopes his approach to life will inspire the children at Holy Cross and St. Philip Neri schools to someday consider vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

It’s an approach of faith that offers lessons to anyone.

“I want them to see in me the Gospel message of unconditional love, peace and acceptance—to bring healing where there is trouble.” †

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