Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades visited Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne on Friday, Feb. 8. While it was a cold and blustery winter day, nothing but respect and a warm welcome permeated the building.
It is a family atmosphere at Bishop Luers. Photographs of graduates who have dedicated their lives to being priests, sisters and brothers hang on the wall, as they often do in families’ homes. The Chapel of St. Francis, beautiful and simple as was the life of its namesake, invites students and guests with doors open and the tabernacle clearly visible in the distance as soon as a person enters the school.
Bishop Luers continues to be a school rooted in Catholic faith and high academic standards. The diverse student body of nearly 600 young adults, 78 percent of whom are Catholic, learn about the beliefs and traditions of the Catholic Church through the classes and faith-related activities offered. They also come to understand the importance of incorporating service to their local and global communities.
Bishop Rhoades witnessed many of the students sharing their faith openly, enthusiastically and proudly as he visited several classrooms. In many of the classrooms, students rose to their feet to show respect when he entered the classroom. They remained standing until the bishop began speaking. Each class period throughout the day began with a prayer, after the students mentioned any special intentions.
He spoke to them of the memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, celebrated on the day of his visit. He related her non-Christian upbringing, the slavery and suffering she endured, how her coming to know of Christ filled her with love, and that she received the “dynamis,” the power of the Holy Spirit, when she was baptized and confirmed. With excitement in his voice, he connected her story to the pinnacle of his visit — the first Communion and confirmation of two students and the confirmation of three others at the all-school Mass later in the day.
The junior-level morality class focused on following God’s will. The question was posed, “What are you looking for?” Students shared with Bishop Rhoades their concern regarding recent changes in abortion laws and the prevalence of human trafficking in today’s society.
The bishop was happy to answer questions or help solidify the Church’s teaching. Ethan Linker, a freshman from SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington, asked him what sacrament was his favorite to administer and to receive. Bishop Rhoades said his favorite was the holy Eucharist, because the substance changes and in receiving the Eucharist we are united in Christ, which is a foretaste of heaven.
Freshmen at Bishop Luers are learning about Jesus and who He is by studying the Trinity. The bishop explained that we are sons and daughters of the Son, and that we can pray to all three — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — or just one of the three, because the difference is in our relationship with each of the Three Persons.
A class in ecclesiology allowed the sophomore students to learn a little more about the process of Bishop Rhoades’ having been appointed a bishop by Pope Benedict XVI, his vocation journey, some of his responsibilities as bishop and his upcoming visit with Pope Francis in December. When asked for advice on how to stay strong in faith beyond high school, he advised the students to choose friends of the same moral standards, to always pray and participate in the Mass, to not be taken in by a culture that does not adhere to Church teaching, and to continue to grow in faith.
Student leaders spoke with Bishop Rhoades over lunch about their experiences. Many students had traveled abroad, participated in sports or the arts. Some were already catechists in their parishes. The culture at Bishop Luers encourages students to lift each other up. There is great diversity in those who are Catholic and non-Catholic at the school. Students appreciate and value the students’ differences because it contributes to the small, supportive community as a whole.
Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp, co-chaplain at the school along with Father Thomas Zehr, noted students do not put emphasis on physical appearances, but rather students just enjoy being with one another.
During the Mass celebrated by Bishop Rhoades for the student body, he spoke again about the power of the Holy Spirit, and the inner freedom found by St. Josephine Bakhita, which comes from knowledge of Christ and His love. He also acknowledged the deep commitment to service that exists at Bishop Luers.
“In today’s first reading, we heard from the prophet Isaiah about the fasting that God desires: to let the oppressed go free, to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless, and to clothe the naked. Isaiah makes it clear that God condemns the hypocrisy of a religion in which people just go through the motions of religious observance while being unjust in their dealings with others and ignoring those in need. Love of neighbor and works of mercy are proof of a person’s love for God and are a touchstone of true religion. Your love of neighbor and works of mercy here at Bishop Luers High School are proof that you are truly a Catholic school, an authentic community of disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Finally, he encouraged the students in their mission. “With St. Paul, I pray that the Lord will bless our brother and sisters about to be confirmed and all of you, ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ and that you will live that faith through love.”
The students were excited to witness Guadalupe Cruz, Alexis Ditmars, Jonathan Gomez, Michelle Lopez and Yahaira Parra be anointed with the chrism of confirmation during the Mass. Gomez and Parra also received their first holy Communion at the Mass, which concluded the school day.
Family and friends of the confirmed students, students from St. Joseph School who are temporarily studying in a building across the street from the high school, and the entire Bishop Luers student body took part.
“It was really nice to see them confirmed. It feels like they are family now,” said senior Maddie Dunn of her classmates who received the sacraments.
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