April 17, 2020

A prayer amid the pain

High school seniors turn to God as pandemic ends their last spring together

As students at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, twins Eliza and Luke Leffler have found their prayers and their conversations with God increasing as they and all other high school seniors across the archdiocese deal with the coronavirus ending their hopes for prom, one last sports season and other activities and traditions of their senior year. (Submitted photo)

As students at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, twins Eliza and Luke Leffler have found their prayers and their conversations with God increasing as they and all other high school seniors across the archdiocese deal with the coronavirus ending their hopes for prom, one last sports season and other activities and traditions of their senior year. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The shock and devastation of losing the final months of his senior year in high school have slowly started to lessen for Luke Leffler.

And during this uncertain time of the coronavirus crisis, he has been praying that this continuing tragedy doesn’t get worse, adding extra prayers for his friends and family, especially his grandparents.

Still there are moments when his sadness returns in response to the understandable decision by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to close schools for the rest of the academic year because of the virus’ threat. In those moments, Luke’s thoughts focus on a series of wishes, including a conversation he’d like to have with God.

The 17-year-old youth wishes that everything would have worked out for his family to take the first spring break vacation they would have had together in years—when he was looking forward to spending time with his older siblings who no longer live at home.

He wishes that he and his twin sister Eliza could have shared the stage together with their friends after all the practices, all the rehearsals of singing and dancing for the musical, Newsies—the spring theater production that was planned at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis.

He wishes that he could have enjoyed his last baseball season with his teammates, and that Eliza had the same opportunity in softball.

And maybe most of all, he just wishes he had these final weeks to walk into school, down the halls, into the classrooms and onto the field where he could count on sharing a smile, a laugh, a conversation or even just a hello with all the friends and teachers he has come to count on during these past four years.

Then there’s the conversation he wishes he could have with God.

“There are definitely times when you have a lot of questions for God, and this is one of my times,” says Luke, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis. “I wonder why this is happening, why my senior year? But I’ve come to realize everything happens for a reason. I believe that.

“It’s an interesting relationship I have with God now. It’s a time when I feel distant from God, but I also feel closer to God. I talk to him a lot more.”

Zoe Libs knows these feelings. As the coronavirus crisis continues to have a dramatic impact on the world, it has also left its mark on the world of the senior at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville.

A prayer amid the pain

“This pandemic has definitely pushed me to rely on my faith,” says Zoe, a member of St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County. “This is because without having faith in God that things can and will get better, we’d lose all hope. In these times, all we have is hope.

“My prayer has definitely increased, and my family prays the rosary almost every day for the victims and those fighting the virus.”

Zoe’s prayer includes the wish that Easter brought “a little happiness to everyone.”

The news of her school’s closing brought pain and sadness to her.

“I was devastated when I found out that I wouldn’t be returning to school,” she says. “I wanted more than anything to finish out the year—and to have all the senior experiences.”

The 18-year-old youth looked forward to prom, the senior awards ceremony, the senior/mother luncheon, the senior farewell, the Baccalaureate Mass and graduation.

“The fact that I probably won’t experience them is extremely disappointing,” she says. “Providence is a very important place to me, and I’d really hoped to finish my time there. I was also disappointed that the rest of my cheerleading season was canceled because that was another huge aspect of my life.”

The crisis has also created challenges for Zoe’s classmate Sam Bowles.

The friendships of a four-year journey

“It has made me more anxious to go outside and go to public places,” says Sam, who is a member of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg. “I have not been to a public place in a while now. It has also made me even more aware of the news.”

The 17-year-old youth is also conscious of how the crisis has affected his faith.

“I already heavily rely on my faith, and I pray about the COVID-19 crisis just about every day,” Sam says. “It has limited me from going to Mass on Sundays, but we continue to watch Mass at home. Nothing can limit the power of God and our relationship with him.”

That word—“relationship”—is at the heart of the emotions and experiences that many youths have in the spring of their senior year in high school.

It includes their relationship with God, their ties to their parents and their bonds with their teachers and coaches. But it’s most strongly present in the peer friendships they’ve made during this four-year journey. And the absence of an everyday connection to these friends is one of the great losses for high school seniors this spring.

“It’s been really hard for me to not be able to interact with my friends,” Zoe says. “I’m a very social person, and I enjoy being around the people that I love.”

The same is true for Eliza Leffler, Luke’s twin.

“All my friends have decided we’d much rather go through the long eight-hour days of school [instead of taking classes at home by e-learning],” she says. “We’re upset about this. We want to get to see each other.”

Eliza has filled that void with more interaction with her family, more walks with the family dog Carlos, and more time on her relationship with God.

That connection with God has helped her as she tries to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

“I feel like this has made my faith stronger,” she says. “I’ve resorted to praying that my friends and family are going to be OK. I feel like I’ve been turning more to my faith for help—that God will help us through this.”

With the loss are the memories of the blessings

Besides drawing closer to God, Eliza has also spent more time developing her artistic interest.

“My main hobby is drawing,” she says. “I’m going to college for art education. I’ve been doing a lot more sketching. I’m using more of my creativity.”

Drawing also helps to distract her from thoughts of not being able to play softball for Scecina. To prepare for this season, she joined a summer-league team last year. She also took weekly hitting lessons from the end of November to the beginning of March, even as she played on the girls’ basketball team.

“That’s the one thing that hits the hardest,” she says, thinking of her softball teammates and the opportunity to play her final season with them.

Luke has also felt the pain of lost opportunities.

“A lot of things happen at the end of the senior year,” he says. “You want to be able to do them with your friends before you go away to college. Now, it’s all taken away. I haven’t seen my friends in forever.

“There’s a saying, ‘You never know how much you love something until you lose it.’ I never thought the small things like hanging out with your friends would mean so much. Now, I understand it. I would have taken it all in more and appreciated it all more.”

As he tries to absorb what he has lost, there are also times when he thinks about how much he has gained during his four years in a Catholic high school.

“I’ve tried to look on the bright side of things. It’s good to reflect on all the things I’ve been exposed to, and that I’ve had in my life. Going to a Catholic school, it’s really a privilege I’ve had. That close feeling, and all the things it’s opened me up to—and meeting all the great people I’ve met.”

He pauses before adding, “It’s hard to know that will be gone.” †


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