February 3, 2011 // Local

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades makes pastoral visit to Bishop Dwenger High School

For more photos of Bishop’s visit to Bishop Dwenger visit the photo gallery.
Faith and reason of St. Thomas Aquinas consistent with the Bishop Dwenger philosophy

By Tim Johnson

FORT WAYNE — The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of Catholic schools, colleges and universities and one of the 33 doctors of the Church, provided a wonderful setting for Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to visit the diocese’s largest Catholic high school, Bishop Dwenger in Fort Wayne.

Known for its academic pursuits, commitment to social justice, athletic achievements and a burgeoning fine arts department, Bishop Dwenger is a school that combines faith and reason — a philosophy promulgated by St. Thomas Aquinas. Bishop Rhoades helped students understand this throughout his visit.

During the morning hours, Bishop Rhoades visited with senior theology classes — Tom Kenny’s Great Catholic Thinkers and Melissa Wheeler’s apologetics class. The bishop also met with Principal Jason Schiffli and the administration before celebrating an all-school Mass in the gymnasium.

St. Thomas Aquinas was the focus of the homily. St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the 33 men and women who are doctors of the Church, “and many would say,” Bishop Rhoades related, “of the 33 great doctors of the Church, ‘Thomas Aquinas is the greatest.’

St. Thomas studied 4th century B.C. Greek philosopher Aristotle following his reimmergence in the 13th century. While others followed Aristotle blindly, Bishop Rhoades said of St. Thomas Aquinas, “He showed that what Aristotle discovered by use of his human reason was overall great discovery, and he praised the insights of this philosopher, this pre-Christian philosopher.”

Bishop Rhoades said the relationship between reason and faith remains a big issue in the world today. There are the extremes — people who embrace rationalism, who only accept what they know through their own experience by science and math, and people who only accept what is known by faith or “fideism.”

Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century explained, “We can come to knowledge through faith and reason,” Bishop Rhoades related. “Through the truth about God, the truth about the human person, the truth about creation, we can come to know through the natural light of reason and the supernatural light of faith — that faith helps reason and reason helps faith, that they aren’t in contradiction.”
“And that’s why we have Catholic schools,” the bishop said, encouraging the students to see the compatibility of faith and reason in their studies.“In many ways, when we speak about the knowledge of coming to the truth, you have the freedom here at Bishop Dwenger High School to use both reason and faith to come to the knowledge of the truth. You can investigate in your science classes many things, but then you also have theology classes where you look at more ultimate questions, and you can discuss and you can discover.”

Principal Schiffli,  feels the Dwenger community embraces that sense of family.

“The mission of Catholic education is arguably more important today than at any time in the history of the Church. Society in general, seems to be drifting further and further away from the core values of Christianity, and Catholic schools remain a beacon of light to help form and guide young people toward a life of service, value and morality,” he told Today’s Catholic.

Faith, he said, is the main objective at Bishop Dwenger High School.

“We work on improving the students’ faith like a muscle that develops in strength, endurance and flexibility through regular exercise and practice,” Schiffli said. “It gets a workout in the chapel and in the classroom, in hallways, in music and art rooms, on the athletic fields, and in dozens of unexpected places. Our faith gets toned and shaped in academic courses, in prayer, or before a game or play, in liturgies throughout the year, in volunteering, in daily interactions among students, teachers and staff, and in many other ways.”

A special collection was taken up at offertory for the Malmstrom family whose son attends Bishop Dwenger. The Malmstrom parents, who work in the medical field and are parishioners of St. Charles Parish in Fort Wayne, have sold their home and will go to Haiti with their two sons to serve for one year. The collection will assist with finances.

He noted how, in athletics, home games begin with a prayer, and sometimes Mass. This, he said, has been noticed by coaches at other non-Catholic schools.

The school offers Reconciliation on Thursdays for students. Father Jason Freiburger and Father Tony Steinacker are school chaplains and available for students and Mass.

Every class begins with prayer, noted Schiffli. Students get to an opportunity to pray for one another’s needs and needs of loved ones. “It builds such a tremendous sense of family and community,” Schiffli said.

Bishop Dwenger is recognized as an “exemplary” school by the state of Indiana. It is fully accredited with NCA. It is a Lighthouse School in Indiana for its noted writing initiatives. The school has four National Merit Scholar Finalists this year.

“We have a growing fine arts department,” Schiffli said, “and over half of our students take art.”

Again, the community service aspect was expressed recently when several photography and art students joined  department chair Marcy Adams and photography teacher Tristin Conroy for a visit to the Burmese Advocacy Center in Fort Wayne. The students worked with Burmese refugees and interviewed and photographed their new friends in January. They will use the images to create narratives that explore the Burmese culture.

The school’s very active Social Justice Club spent Martin Luther King, Jr., Day delivering and distributing 400 pairs of shoes for children in Indianapolis as part of the Samaritan’s Feet fundraiser.

Twenty-two students and five adults visited the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center in Indianapolis, washed the feet of the recipients, and gave them new socks and shoes.

The Social Justice Club is also active with fundraising for Darfur and the Invisible Children of Uganda.

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