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Copyright 2019 - Bishop Guilfoyle

Every child who is educated in a Catholic school is taught religion. But there is a gap between simply knowing about the Catholic faith, and experiencing the transforming relationship with Christ that changes lives. And at Bishop Guilfoyle, Religion Teacher Robert Sutton is on the front line of how the high school engages students in evangelization, and how it changing for the future.

                                                                    

The following students were commissioned by Bishop Mark as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Kristen, Robbie, Adam, Luke, Madeline, Gabby, Victoria, Daniel, Brad, Mickey, Samantha, Hayley, Beth, Luke, and Sarah.

 

Starting as far back as the early 1990's, Pope St. John Paul II set forth a new program  called "New Evangelization." He recognized two realities, that there are large groups of Catholics within the Church who practiced the faith but didn't have a personal, transforming relationship with Christ as described in the Gospels, and that while the Gospel stays the same at any period in history, the way in which we transmit the Gospel has to be adapted to the audience who will hear it.

Over the last decade, and especially over the last four years, BG has gone "all-in" on the program of the New Evangelization which Pope St. John Paul gifted to the Church, further supported by Pope Benedict and Pope Francis after him. Now, the emphasis on evangelism, and above all on that personal saving relationship with Christ, is the lens through which we approach all of our religion curriculum, campus ministry, liturgies and extracurricular spiritual events.

“Students are involved with these efforts in various ways,” Mr. Sutton says. “We began with a student peer ministry to give students a sort of 'youth group' experience after school. They attended activities together and began to help out on retreats and other spiritual activities. This led to what we called "Evangelization Training" days, where students from Bishop Carroll and Bishop McCort joined BG students to learn to pray with friends and family members and share their faith with others.” These programs, now four years old, were so successful, they led to further discipleship for those students ready to take their spiritual life deeper rather than just learning and absorbing theology. This past year, seventeen students took the new Catholic Discipleship class designed for this purpose, and this year, that number grew to 42.

            The most exciting development for Mr. Sutton has has been the creation of "Alive," a student-led Catholic youth ministry at the school that just got off the ground over the last few months, with the intent of giving students multiple opportunities each month for faith, fellowship and fun together.

            With these initiatives underway for high school years, what about life after graduation? It all hinges on relationship over religion, Mr. Sutton says. “We focus on helping them understand the centrality of having a personal, saving, irreplaceable relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the absolute heart of what it means to be Catholic. My generation was very poorly served by that lack of emphasis on a saving relationship with Christ, and our current students can't afford to go through the same experience. In reality, our Church can't afford to have them go through that experience either!”

            By opening the door for students to experience a more authentic experience of their Catholic faith, he's found that the Holy Spirit takes over and moves them beyond what BG can offer – which is exactly, he says, what should be happening. Changes exist throughout the school: consciously changing the emphasis in our school liturgies to center on the reality of Christ's true presence in the Eucharist, offering monthly confessions over lunch periods to help students spiritually prepare for Mass, and scheduling prayer time in the chapel.

            Within the classroom,they follow Pope Benedict's dictum "Never presuppose, but propose." Sutton acknowledges a change in Catholic education in America in recent decades. There are students who grapple with the existence of God, the stories of the Bible, some teachings of Catholicism or even just in having a prayer life. BG's job, Sutton says, is not to tell them what to think, but to give them authentic answers and provide them with the building blocks to construct an adult Catholic faith from the inside out, a faith that will take them through life, and literally into eternity.

            It's been several years since BG has enacted change in the way they cultivate faith in their students – has there been fruit? “There's success at many levels,” Sutton says. “Honestly, I think the biggest evidence of our successes are things we did not specifically plan for, because it shows that the Holy Spirit is active and moving in the lives of our students. While we don't want to be taking credit for every positive spiritual thing in the lives of our current and former students, I do feel like the spiritual fruit of our change in approach is evident. A 'fruit-based' approach is the model we've embraced as a measure for success, and we've certainly been encouraged by the fruit we've seen in recent years.”

            Anna Dunning Fera is an example. She's a new religion teacher at BG with a degree in Catechetics from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is a BG graduate. When she was a student at BG, she was one of the founding members in the 'peer ministry' program. "During my time as a student, BG’s spiritual emphasis completely shaped my faith life as a teen, so much so that I was inspired to pursue the path of becoming a religion teacher myself so that I could give back the same faith experience that I was blessed to have at BG to other young people,” she says. “I saw my religion teachers authentically practicing what they preached, and the opportunities they gave me to encounter Christ on a personal level changed my life forever.”

            Anna is one of many graduates who have continued to grow their faith after BG. They've seen an uptick in students getting involved with campus ministries and mission trips when they go off to higher education, as well as two in seminary training for our diocese. Two of our current religion teachers are BG alumni, embracing the model of evangelization they themselves were taught.

            The fruit among current students is plain. There is a larger number of students praying with each other and openly sharing their faith, sometimes before the whole school. Overall, the culture in the school has changed – active participation in spiritual activities is respected even by those students who aren't interested in participating themselves. That in itself has been a huge change for our school over the last ten years, and evidence of just how much the students themselves have done to raise the level of faith at BG, Sutton says.

            Abigail Anderson, a junior, is a member of the Catholic Discipleship class. She says, “BG’s religion curriculum impacts me as a student because it teaches me to be a better person and shows me how to live my life for Christ. It prepares me for beyond high school by showing me how to live how Christ would want me to live while also being able to spread his love."

            This past November, fifteen new ministers of the Eucharist were commissioned by Bishop Mark. Every fall, students are surveyed for interest in becoming ministers. Once they are interested and understand what is expected, Sutton and his team asks both parents and their pastors to affirm that they are attending Mass weekly and publicly affirming the Catholic faith. Then they hold a training session for the students that focuses on the fact that they are in a sense representing the Catholic Church in its most essential function of feeding the flock of Christ with His own Body. It's a very serious moment.

            “I always tell them that they are not meant to be human pez dispensers just handing out the Eucharist; they really are ministers of the Eucharist. They are there to present the fullness of the Eucharistic mystery, both in how they care for the Lord's body and blood and in how they pray and prepare for that unique ministry.”

 

Congratulations to these seniors as they continue to grow in their faith as Eucharistic ministers.

 

Kristen Bettwy

Robbie Byrne

Adam Carey

Luke Ciampoli

Madeline Koehle

Gabrielle Krug

Victoria McElheny

Daniel Potopa

Bradley Shaffer

Mikaela Smith

Samantha Walter

Hayley Wheeler

Beth Yahner

Luke Yanoshak

Sarah Zakrzwski

 

 

 

Caption: The following students were commissioned by Bishop Mark as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Kristen, Robbie, Adam, Luke, Madeline, Gabby, Victoria, Daniel, Brad, Mickey, Samantha, Hayley, Beth, Luke, and Sarah.