For Father Matthew Kuna, chaplain at Berks Catholic High School, Reading and assistant pastor at St. Catharine of Siena, Reading, the call to priesthood began while he was a student at Bethlehem Catholic High School. Having been raised in a Catholic family, he always knew that priesthood was one option, but it was his Catholic high school that convinced him that the call to ordained life was the option for his future.
When asked about his time as a student at the coeducational school in Bethlehem, Father Kuna said, “At Bethlehem Catholic, a solid theology teacher and good, holy priests helped me see the power, beauty, and reasonableness of our Catholic faith. I am indebted to them.”
Bethlehem Catholic is just one school that has done its part to help form Catholic role models within our Diocese.
Connecting strong role models with creative programs has been a hallmark of the school’s success. Their twilight retreat is but one example of bringing teens together for an evening of Confession, reflection, and prayer. Many seniors at Bethlehem Catholic can recall their own twilight retreats from past years.
On the elementary level, faith formation may look different but still produces similar results. While each school features frequent reception of the Sacraments, all schools complement this through rigorous religious class instruction and the observance of Holy Days. One school, St. Joseph the Worker, Orefield, discerned a need to go further, forming its own Campus Ministry Team that meets monthly.
Established at the start of the 2022-23 school year, the school wanted to ensure that they were putting the Catholic faith at the forefront of all that they do. Said Principal Joseph Henrich, “The focus was on emphasizing the traditions and celebrations of our faith, creating a culture of caring, establishing our core virtues, and expanding our service in the community.”
The team approach to supporting students in their faith is being seen in other schools throughout the Diocese. Marian High School in Tamaqua has implemented an Evangelization Team. The team is comprised of faculty and student leaders who are formed and trained before being sent out to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The team is centered on devotion to our Eucharistic Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Students attend regular meetings and training, team retreats, and one-on-one mentorship activities. Students then facilitate small groups, retreats, Bible Studies, prayer experiences, and service activities.
The Evangelization Team has had a dramatic impact on the Marian Catholic community. Senior Evangelization Team leader Megan Reaman summarized what it means to be a member of the team: "Being a part of the Evangelization Team is incredible because we get a front row seat to see how faith can transform an entire community. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to give something back to Marian Catholic."
Unique approaches to faith formation can also be found in our schools for special learning. At Mercy School for Special Learning in Allentown, students participate in the Sacraments in ways that are accessible to them. When one enters the building the Blessed Sacrament chapel is to your left, setting the tone for the entire school community.
Penance services are offered regularly. For students who are non-verbal, the school uses pec cards (pictures) representing actions and wrong choices. The students are then able to pick the ones that they want and tape them into a folder. According to Principal Beth Grys, the process is “truly remarkable,” allowing students to make a good confession.
At many schools, co-curricular activities also provide a powerful vehicle for the transition of faith. At Notre Dame High School in Easton, a new initiative called Catholic Athletes for Christ has been formed. According to campus minister Zelenda Hodgeskin, “Our athletes are seeking something more outside of their practices, and Notre Dame High School can now provide a way to feed them spiritually through athletics.
The program is being welcomed by students and coaches as a means of virtue formation since athletics is built on a foundation of hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.
Beyond particular programs that encourage the journey of discipleship, the Diocese has a legacy of priestly discernment in and through our schools. It is estimated that at least half of our current priests attended our Catholic schools. Bishop Alfred Schlert is a prime example of the efficacy of our schools, having attended St. Jane School in Easton for primary school before going to Notre Dame High School in Easton. Both schools were pivotal to his discernment of the priesthood.
Catholic schools in our Diocese provide a beautiful opportunity for students to draw near to Christ. Through creative programs as complements to the Church’s rich sacramental life, communities of faith build up the next generation of Catholics.
By Michael St. Pierre, Ed.D., Superintendent of Catholic Education, Diocese of Allentown.
Photo: St. Joseph the Worker School, Orefield.