Whether it’s a pilgrimage to Rome, a service trip to the
Catholic Indian Mission in Fort Yates
, or a trip to Fargo to pray at the state’s only abortion clinic, students at each of the Bismarck Diocese’s three Catholic high schools encounter many activities that encourage them to grow in virtue and holiness and serve others.
Yet there’s another way seniors in high school have the opportunity to give of themselves in service to their school and to the world around them: the assistant chaplains program.
Founded by Monsignor James Shea when he was the chaplain at
St. Mary’s Central High School
in the early 2000’s, the assistant chaplains program gives seniors the chance to work closely with the high school chaplain in forming a culture of faith within the high school.
“This includes things like setting up for school liturgies, helping with Catholic Schools’ Week, bringing in speakers for the ROCK (Reaching Out for Christ’s Kingdom) events, leading daily prayer for the school and the work of a sacristan,” explained
Fr. Jadyn Nelson
, current chaplain at Bishop Ryan Catholic School.
Fr. Jared Johnson
Fr. Kregg Hochhalter
, chaplains and instructors at St. Mary’s Central High School (SMCHS) and Trinity High School, respectively, and Nelson all agreed, however, that being an assistant chaplain goes deeper.
“Through active apostolic works, including liturgical and sacramental formation, human formation, and a stronger call to witness in the walls of their high school, the assistant chaplain is awakened with a deeper sense of living the Catholic faith,” said Hochhalter.
“As an assistant chaplain grows in their own relationship with Christ, they also grow in their desire to share the Gospel with others,” explained Johnson. “Of course, this is our hope for all of the students in our Catholic schools. But the assistant chaplaincs program provides a unique and tangible opportunity for them to grow in virtue and holiness.”
All the priest chaplains echo that the assistant chaplain is, first and foremost, a witness to the Gospel, allowing the entire school—its students, administration, faculty and staff—to see what it means to live an authentic Catholic way of life.
“The whole year really taught me the importance of having a willingness to give of time and to celebrate the Catholic faith we have been given. It is such a gift!” said Kayla Miller, a 2014 graduate of SMCHS who, as an assistant chaplain the past school year, helped plan a Catholic Schools Week lineup of events that included opportunities for prayer, discussions about the faith, and an inflatable obstacle course.
Briana Dolechek, a 2014 graduate of Trinity High School and a 2013-14 assistant chaplain added, “We had the opportunity to give a retreat with Fr. Hochhalter to the junior high students at Trinity and that was a great experience for all of us in leading by example and encouraging younger students to stay strong in their faith through high school. In encouraging others in their faith, I grew in my own love of the Catholic faith.”
Bishop Ryan High School 2014 graduate and assistant chaplain Hannah Thom spoke of her experience in the program as one of spiritual growth.
“Looking back on this year, I have developed a deep desire to continue to grow in the faith and to express the faith everyday,” she said. “To be close to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on a regular basis as an assistant chaplain really instilled in me a deep reverence for the real presence [of Jesus in the Eucharist] and a desire to keep learning about the Catholic faith.”
In addition to the spiritual fruits, the assistant chaplains program provides students with valuable tools moving forward after high school. Grant Dvorak, a recent graduate of SMCHS and an assistant chaplain, spoke of the leadership qualities he garnered amidst the spiritual growth.
“The whole experience of planning a full year’s worth of events and taking ownership in them has really been invaluable to me,” Dvorak said. “As assistant chaplains, we needed to learn how to balance the duties we were given as assistant chaplains with the school and co-curricular work load we each carried and that became a great lesson in self-discipline.”
St. John Paul II, at one of his addresses at World Youth Day in 2002 said, “Dear young people, let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are.” Truly our Catholic high schools are forming the next generation of leaders in the Catholic faith—leaders who have been captivated by the light of Christ and who will be a light to the world in whatever vocation God calls them.
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