By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was given a Luers Spirit welcome — once again with an embrace from one of the students — as he engaged the 540 students of Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne after an all-school Mass on Feb. 9.
Although Bishop Luers may be smallest of the four diocesan high schools, as Bishop Rhoades exclaimed in his pastoral visit, it is “big in excellence. And I am very proud of this school community for all the accomplishments that I constantly hear about or read about, whether it be in the area of sports and athletics, the area of drama and music, your spiritual life, the service that you do, the academic life — I really am proud of Bishop Luers High School. And when I see the spirit, I know that it is truly alive as I see the fruits of all the good things that are happening here at Bishop Luers.”
At the all-school Mass celebrated by Bishop Rhoades, he made the homily a sort of theology class explaining the first reading, aptly proclaimed by senior Sean Driscoll, from Genesis 2, the story of creation.
“These stories communicate and reveal to us very important truths for life: Truths about God, about the human person, about life, about sin and about death,” Bishop Rhoades said.
In the garden of Eden, there are two trees: the tree of life, which represented immortality; and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree whose fruit God forbade man to eat.
The tree represented that there was something different between the Creator and the creature, “that God placed this limit upon humanity.”
Bishop Rhoades said, “God establishes right and wrong, good and evil — not man. It is up to us to discern what is God’s will, what does God want us to do. But it is not our job to determine what is good or bad.”
Bishop Rhoades told the students, “The ultimate sin, and really the root of every sin you and I commit, whatever it is, is this problem of disobedience. That is the first sin, original sin, disobedience, man placing himself in the place of God, as the Creator, as the One who determines good and evil.”
Bishop Rhoades related in his homily, “And every time (we sin), it is harmful to us, just as it was harmful to Adam and Eve, because in a sense, when we sin, we’re putting ourselves in the place of God. We’re willfully saying ‘no’ to His will by disobeying His commandments.”
The heart of our faith is God sent His Son to redeem us, “to restore friendship with Him.”
And Bishop Rhoades pointed out our redemption also came from a tree, the tree of the cross, “which is the tree of new life where Christ was crucified so the gates of paradise would be open to us again,” he said.
Bishop Rhoades spoke about relativism — the philosophy where everyone can have their opinion on what’s good and evil, what’s right or wrong.
“That’s exactly the problem at the very beginning of creation with the original sin — man taking it upon himself that claim that he can determine for himself what is good and what is evil, and what’s right and wrong. That is so wrong. That is so harmful to society and so harmful to us as individuals, so harmful to the human community, because what’s right or wrong, good and evil, has been given to us by God who is the Creator, who is the one who prohibited the first human beings from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Bishop Rhoades said.
Bishop Rhoades encouraged the students, for their happiness, to be obedient to the plan of God.
Bishop Rhoades said the most important thing about Bishop Luers High School “is that here you learn to be holy, that this is a school of holiness, that this school helps you to get to heaven and to inherit eternal life. That’s why our Catholic schools are important.”
Bishop Luers Principal Mary Keefer, at the end of Mass, presented a “Luers Spirit” license plate to Bishop Rhoades.
Keefer said she encourages the students to follow the Gospel and to be kind to one another. Her hope was that whenever Bishop Rhoades would see the Luers Spirit plate, he would be reminded of how the students of Bishop Luers “are being so dog gone nice to one another,” she related.
After Mass, Bishop Rhoades visited senior theology classes of Meg Hanlon’s Catholic Social Teaching. There Hanlon opened class discussing very pertinent moral issues of the day — euthanasia, women selling their ovaries, organ donation, living wills and healthcare proxies. Students engaged Bishop Rhoades with questions dealing with moral issues — such as war and end-of-life issues — and questions about priestly celibacy and what the Church says about alien life.
Bishop Rhoades had lunch with student council members and met with the theology teachers, campus ministry and Principal Keefer.
“It’s a good place for young people. God is present here every day,” Keefer noted in an interview last fall with Today’s Catholic.
Whether its academics, athletics or the arts, clubs wrapped with the Catholic faith, Bishop Luers’ students often find themselves overlapping interests. It is not unusual for a football player to also sing and dance in show choir. It’s not unusual for an athlete to serve at an all-school Mass or be an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.
“You have to be willing to give,” Keefer said. “This is a good time and a good place to learn that.”
Luers has a variety of students from wealthy families to those who live in poverty, from rural to inner-city. “We love them, we teach them, we nurture them,” Keefer said. “We don’t lower our standards.”
“Our kids like being here,” she added. “They are happy here. They are proud of their school. School spirit is alive and well.”
Academically, Bishop Luers offers everything from an academic success program, which helps students who may need assistance and tutoring, to Advanced Placement where students can earn college credit for high school classes.
The goal of the spectrum of learning is “to prepare students for what’s next,” Keefer said.
She said the students of the school value each other, have a strong work ethic and do what they are asked to do.
Once a month, Franciscan Sister Lois, a Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, talks with young women who have a interest in religious life. And the school sponsors a popular vocation day. The presence of priests include chaplains Father Drew Curry, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Wayne; Father Dave Ruppert, pastor of St. Therese Parish in Fort Wayne; and Father Larry Kramer, pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City.
Twice a week, a priest is available for Reconciliation. And a peer ministry group coordinates retreats in the school, helps prepare liturgies, serves Mass, lectors and maintains the chapel.
This atmosphere pulls 20 students from Huntington and one family from Wilshire, Ohio, both over 25 miles away from the school, but Keefer says 20 to 25 feeder schools in the community are represented at Bishop Luers.
“We teach the standards of the state of Indiana infused with faith,” Keefer said.
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