January 27, 2023

2023 Catholic Schools Week

Students’ time encountering Christ in adoration ‘does make a difference’

Students of St. Nicholas School in Ripley County gather with Father Shaun Whittington around a monstrance during a holy hour of adoration on Sept. 28, 2021, in St. Nicholas Church. (Submitted photo)

Students of St. Nicholas School in Ripley County gather with Father Shaun Whittington around a monstrance during a holy hour of adoration on Sept. 28, 2021, in St. Nicholas Church. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Christ’s command was clear: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt 19:14)

Many parish schools in central and southern Indiana are taking this command literally: they are building time in the school day for eucharistic adoration.

It might be for 15 minutes or an hour. It might involve praise and worship or kneeling in prayer or reading Scripture or journaling. And it might be once a quarter or weekly.

But one aspect is constant: the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist displayed reverently in a monstrance on an altar.

“If we really believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity—then that is the best place to have our kids get to know him,” says Father Kyle Rodden. One of his two parishes, St. Joseph in Corydon, has a kindergarten through eighth-grade school.

“None of the faith makes sense without that foundational relationship and getting to know Jesus in a direct way through an encounter and time spent with him in the Eucharist.”

This article looks at how three schools in the archdiocese build in time for adoration: St. Gabriel in Connorsville, St. Nicholas in Ripley County and St. Joseph in Corydon.

‘Jesus is there on the altar’

At St. Gabriel School, students take time throughout the day on the first Tuesday of the month to participate in the parish’s open adoration from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

“The small children have a harder time,” admits Michelle Struewing, the parish’s administrator of religious education. “But the older kids have taken to using it for silence and some journaling to reflect on their faith.

“I think it’s been very good for them. Some of them have started taking prayer books with them and reflect on prayers they learned in class.”

To help their students understand what adoration is, teachers use religious textbooks but also “talk with the kids and reiterate that Jesus is there on the altar, trying to help them understand that concept and answer any questions they have ahead of time,” says Struewing.

She views student adoration time as an opportunity for them to learn “the importance of being close to our Lord and Savior—for the kids to be able to spend time with Jesus in prayer and reflection, to value the silence, to listen for God’s call, to have a conversation with Jesus while he’s right there in front of them and to give them that relationship, to give their faith a deeper meaning.”

‘It just makes everybody feel better’

Once a quarter, the students of St. Nicholas School in Ripley County join their parish’s pastor Father Shaun Whittington in an hour of adoration.

It’s a practice eighth-grade teacher Elizabeth Vollmer says has been in place at least since she began working at the school six years ago.

“We have praise and worship, sing songs and have Benediction,” she says. “And Father Whittington gives talks and offers things for us to think and pray about during our adoration time.”

Adoration is part of the parish’s culture, says Vollmer. “Our priest always talks in homilies about how important being in front of the Blessed Sacrament is. In school [Mass] homilies, he’ll talk about how important it is to sit in front of the Lord and give him all the best and worst part of your day, how he’s your friend and should be one to go to for sharing all your news.”

During his hour of adoration with the students, Father Whittington “usually invites the younger kids to sit right around the monstrance so they can be up close and personal,” Vollmer explains. “Other times he’ll guide us through a prayer where we invite Jesus to come into our hearts and to be our best friend—it’s very sweet. Other times he invites us just to come up to the altar and kneel and pour our heart out to the Lord.”

She appreciates the impact time in adoration has on her eighth-grade students.

“They come away from those holy hours just completely uplifted,” says Vollmer. “There’s just a sense of peace in them. When we come back to class, there’s just a calm about them.

“They really look forward to those days. When we give ourselves to the Lord, it just makes everybody feel better.”

‘It does make a difference’

Peek into St. Joseph Church in Corydon on Monday during school hours, and you’re guaranteed to find students of the parish’s school adoring the Lord.

“Since we have parish adoration on Monday from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., our theology teacher [Tina Schunemann] brings her classes to pray before the Blessed Sacrament,” says Father Rodden.

Schunemann sees the children’s time in adoration as crucial.

“Unless students develop a personal relationship with Jesus, anything that they learn about their faith will not be fruitful or meaningful,” she explains.

Time before Christ in the Eucharist is not just a way for Catholic students to grow in their faith, but non-Catholic students as well.

“Adoration is great evangelization to our students who are not Catholic,” says Schunemann. “The source and summit of our faith is before them every Monday, visible on the altar.

“And in a time when many Catholics do not believe in the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, it is a tangible and real experience of our Lord before them.

“Even if they don’t fully grasp this type of prayer, I believe they will eventually look back at this time as pivotal in their spiritual journey.”

To her joy, adoration is time her students eagerly anticipate.

“If for some reason we don’t attend on a Monday, they are sincerely disappointed,” Schunemann says. “They have come to expect it as part of their theology class. It’s often the first thing they ask as they walk into class on Monday—‘Are we going to church?’

“Many students tell me it’s their favorite part of theology [class], that they find it peaceful and that they wish it was longer than 30 minutes.”

The children’s comments confirm what Father Rodden believes: “When you can encounter the Lord, who is physically present in the Eucharist, it does make a difference.” †

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