January 28, 2022

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Catholic schools help students discover God’s call to pursue vocations to the priesthood and religious life

Holy Cross Brother Jimmy Henke, center, poses on Dec. 25, 2021, after a Christmas Mass in Srimangal, Bangladesh, with Holy Cross Father Kevin Kubi, left, and a family whose baby was baptized during the liturgy. Brother Jimmy is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Holy Cross Brother Jimmy Henke, center, poses on Dec. 25, 2021, after a Christmas Mass in Srimangal, Bangladesh, with Holy Cross Father Kevin Kubi, left, and a family whose baby was baptized during the liturgy. Brother Jimmy is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Catholic elementary and high schools aren’t seminaries or houses of religious orders. But they are communities where seeds of vocations are planted and nurtured.

Catholic schools across central and southern Indiana have done just that for decades.

In the Indianapolis South Deanery, three young men had their faith deepened in parish grade schools and at Roncalli High School and are now being formed for service in the Church—two as archdiocesan seminarians, one in the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Their stories show how Catholic schools can play a crucial role in helping young people hear God’s call for service to the faithful both across central and southern Indiana and around the world.

‘The archdiocese is my home’

Seminarian Khaing Thu grew up in a Catholic family in Myanmar in southern Asia. When he was 11, he and his family were resettled in Indianapolis as refugees fleeing religious persecution in their native country.

They were given a warm welcome by the members of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish on Indianapolis’ south side.

“When we arrived, we didn’t have anything,” Thu said. “It was my parish community that offered my family help by taking us to a food pantry, bringing us furniture and clothing.”

Thu and his two older siblings felt this support, especially at St. Mark the Evangelist School and at nearby Roncalli High School.

“My teachers helped me,” he said. “My classmates helped me with classwork. They explained to me what the words meant. My parents wanted me to get a good experience in a Catholic school where I could learn about the faith.”

Starting at St. Mark as a sixth grader, Thu became a leader among his peers just two years later, serving as a sacristan at school Masses.

“I took that as a big role,” Thu recalled. “Being able to go to Mass with the whole school and learning about the faith inspired me.”

In such a supportive environment, Thu and his two older siblings thrived. His older brother has served as a member of the U.S. Marines and his older sister is a medical student.

For his part, Thu discerned through his years at Roncalli that God might be calling him to be a priest—and an archdiocesan priest in particular.

“The archdiocese is my home,” he said. “St. Mark was where I grew up. It’s where my community is. If I became a priest, God willing, it would be an opportunity for me to give back. It’s the reason I decided to become a seminarian for the archdiocese.”

Planting the seeds of a vocation

A year after Thu and his family arrived from Myanmar in Indianapolis as refugees, Jimmy Henke graduated from Roncalli, having grown up in nearby Greenwood.

As a student at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana, Henke met members of the Congregation of Holy Cross that minister there and discerned that God might be calling him to be a member of that religious community.

After living as a postulant and novice, Brother Jimmy professed first vows on July 28, 2018, and continued in formation at Notre Dame, earning a master’s of divinity degree in May 2021.

Now he is ministering with his order in parishes in eastern Bangladesh, near the Myanmar border.

The foundation stones of his vocation and ministry that have taken Brother Jimmy around the world were laid in part at Our Lady of the Greenwood School in Greenwood and at Roncalli.

In an e-mail sent from Bangladesh to The Criterion, Brother Jimmy said that these school communities laid “the groundwork for a relationship with God.”

“I needed to learn to have that relationship before I could discern in a real way God’s particular call for my life,” he said. “I am grateful for the seeds and all the hard labor of nurturing those seeds that all of my teachers and administrators provided for me.”

Serving in Bangladesh has deepened Brother Jimmy’s appreciation for the Catholic education he received in the archdiocese.

“Many of the families I have gotten to know while in Bangladesh cannot afford to send their students to a Catholic school, or the ones they can afford have very limited space,” he said. “We [in the U.S.] need to continue to be attentive to those who otherwise could not receive such an education. … I pray that we will all share the responsibility of helping families who desire to educate their children through our schools.”

Lighting the way to a vocation

Catholic education has been a family affair for most of seminarian Sam Hansen’s life.

The year before he started as a student at St. Roch School in Indianapolis, his father, Joseph Hansen, became its principal.

Being open to serving God and others was simply part of the air the younger Hansen breathed as he progressed through St. Roch.

“I heard my dad tell all of St. Roch School to ‘use your gifts and talents for God and others’ over morning announcements every day,” he recalled.

And he saw this message put into action by his father, who now serves as principal of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

“You have to work above your pay grade [in Catholic schools],” said Sam. “My dad is very busy, but he’s also very willing. He knows that what he does bit by bit changes other people’s lives for the better.”

But it’s not just his father that set an example of service for Sam in his Catholic education. His longtime pastor at St. Roch Parish, now retired Father James Wilmoth, made an impression on him in his frequent presence in the parish’s school.

“He was my first inspiration,” Sam said. “I remember when I was young seeing this happy guy that everyone loved and admired. We can’t just have one Father Wilmoth. We need Father Wilmoths everywhere. We need people like that all the time.”

Sam has also been inspired by his fourth-grade teacher and parish youth group leader Dick Gallamore. He taught Sam about the sacrament of penance in the classroom and then helped him put its principle of mercy into action as a teenager in projects to help people in need.

“You can become that sign of mercy that you were taught about when you were young,” Sam said. “You see it manifested as you grow up and participate in the ministry of the Church that was anticipated from the start.”

As a student at Roncalli, Sam spent two weeks at Notre Dame in a summer seminary immersion program that he learned about from Gallamore as he was beginning to discern God’s call in his life.

Gallamore, lovingly known by Sam and so many of his other students as “Mr. G,” made a surprise visit to Notre Dame to encourage Sam during his time there.

“When you are openly interested in this calling [to the priesthood], most people don’t know how to react,” Sam said, “but Mr. G is someone who has dedicated his life to the Church as much as many priests have and really lit the way for me.”

While Gallamore acknowledges the influence that Catholic educators can have on young people and their discernment of God’s calling, he sees in Sam, now a senior in college, the same love for the faith that he saw in him as a fourth grader.

“A few weeks ago, I had to go over to the church to pick something up,” Gallamore said. “When I walked in, there was Sam, praying all alone in the darkness, except for the flickering lights of the votive candles. I thought to myself, ‘Some things never change.’ ”

(For more information on a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit HearGodsCall.com.)

Related story: Catholic educators reflect on how schools can encourage students to discern vocations to serve the Church


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