By Jay Nies
“With every ending, there is a new beginning,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight told the 178 graduating seniors of Helias Catholic High School Class of 2018.
The bishop gave the keynote address at the school’s commencement May 20 in the James Rackers Fieldhouse.
Joining him on the platform were Father Stephen Jones, the school’s president; Kenya Fuemmeler, principal; Dwayne Clingman, assistant principal; and Sister Elizabeth Youngs SCL, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.
“I pray that you will not be afraid to stand up for those who have no voice, and to put your gifts and talents at the service of Jesus and His Church,” said Bishop McKnight. “This is the way our Lord has shown us how to change the world, ‘to love one another as I have loved you.’”
Ms. Fuemmeler noted that this year’s graduating class “excelled as Crusaders in mind, body and spirit.”
She spoke of state tournaments and championships in sports; impressively diverse achievements in other activities; high academic honors; and over 18,000 hours of combined service.
The graduating seniors have accepted over $1.4 million in scholarships toward college.
Above all of this, however, Ms. Fuemmeler emphasized that the school’s primary mission — which is “for all members of our community to grow closer to the Lord every day” — is what makes Helias “an exceptional Catholic school.”
“Seniors, I hope Helias has taught you to nurture and develop your faith as you leave our walls,” she said. “Please, never forget to act with integrity and virtue in both your private and public life. Never stop fighting for those values within your community.”
She challenged them to keep saying ‘yes’ to God’s plan for their lives, and to keep choosing to make a difference in the world.
“Not for ourselves”
Brian Kirchhoff, one of two recipients of this year’s Father Helias Award, led the opening prayer.
“May our paths take us always toward You and Your eternal joy, through Your Son,” he prayed.
Erin Wyrick, another recipient of the Fr. Helias Award, proclaimed a reading from Scripture.
Bishop McKnight, in his keynote encouraged all the graduating seniors to join the whole Church in thanking God for the fruits of their hard work and discipleship and of the sacrifices many people had made for them.
He reminded them that just as the disciples were sent out into the world from behind locked doors, they are being sent forth from Helias Catholic with a future full of hope.
“Your witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will shine the greatest when you fearlessly take up the cause for those who are most vulnerable, most defenseless, most in need,” he stated.
He emphasized the importance of being grateful to God, Whose love continues to change the world.
“Gratitude is what changes us for the better, and it changes the world around us,” he said.
He pointed out that God has a plan of hope for each of them and that as disciples of Jesus Christ, “we live not for ourselves but for Him. We live for His Church. We live for others.”
“Very bright future”
Julia Maddalena and Ben Husting were selected by the faculty to receive the Veterans of Foreign Affairs Award, based on citizenship, scholarship and good attendance.
Abby Hake and Jacob Ceglenski were selected by the faculty to receive the American Legion Citation, based on leadership, scholarship and service.
Ms. Wyrick and Mr. Kirchoff received the Fr. Helias Award for their outstanding contribution to Helias during their four years of attendance.
Twenty graduating seniors were named co-valedictorians, carrying a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average through high school and taking at least four Advanced Placement courses.
They are: Madeline Arnold, Ashley Atkinson, Bradi Berhorst, Regan Bruns, Dalton Buschjost, Elizabeth Case, Christian Cepeda, Justin Frese, Raymond Helmig, Camden Henke, Dylan Hood, Ben Husting, Megan Kerr, Julia Maddalena, Claire McDonald, John Paden, Brooke Roling, Jack Rundle, Sarah Simmons and Anna Theroff.
“These scholars represent truly the best that we offer at Helias,” said Ms. Fuemmeler. “They have a very bright future and they have put a ton of hard work into having this honor.”
Created to be saints
At the end of the ceremony, Fr. Jones reminded the graduating seniors of what he’s been telling them for four years: that God created them to be saints.
“Someone who is intimately united in love and friendship with Him. Someone who has conformed themselves to his ways rather than our own ways or the ways of the world. Someone who seeks to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. That’s what you, what I, what all of us are created to be.”
Furthermore, they must rely on each other and on the grace of God to continue to become the saints they’re destined to be.
“Go and change the world for the better,” he said. “Go grow in knowledge and faith and holiness and love. … Go and maybe come back some day and share your gifts and your knowledge and your life with the community of Jefferson City and with the Church that values you very much.”
Living, sharing the faith
Afterward, graduates shared happy memories and faith-filled ambitions.
Jacob Hartman said he’s grateful for having had the opportunity to go to Helias Catholic.
“I had a good four years,” he said. “I learned a lot about my faith and things in general.”
He’ll miss his classmates, the atmosphere and the common commitment to learning.
Through his classes, playing varsity baseball and running with the LIFE Runners team, he learned time management and the importance of endurance and determination.
He said there are frequent reminders of God’s presence at Helias.
“There’s an atmosphere where you can express your love of God,” he said. “You’re reminded throughout the day, whether it’s through prayer or the examples of teachers and fellow classmates, of just making God a part of every moment of your life and dedicating your day, making it a prayer.”
He recalled that while struggling through a difficult class, a friend reminded him that “you’re here for a reason and God wouldn’t send you down a path that He didn’t think you could accomplish and fulfill to the best of your ability.”
“Whenever I’m feeling down or having a rough days, I think of that and realize that God has put me here for a reason and wouldn’t be putting me in this position if he didn’t think I could accomplish the task,” he said.
He said he wants to keep being Catholic.
“For me, being Catholic is living your faith and sharing that faith with others,” he said. “And whether it’s a calling to the Priesthood or marriage, either way, it’s a calling to spread the Gospel and share that with others and your family. Through that, being an active parishioner and sharing your faith with everyone you meet.”
He asked for prayers for patience and determination and “to let God’s hand do the work.”
Growing in faith
Miss Hake said she’ll miss how close she and her classmates have become, and how much her teachers care.
I think I’ll miss the closeness of knowing everybody, all my classmates, the faith-centered atmosphere … you know, the teachers all care about their faith.
“They really taught me how to keep my life centered around God and my faith, and so it’s taught me to not miss a weekend of Mass, so I’ll continue going to Mass every weekend,” she said.
She plans to work on staying Catholic and remaining focused on Christ throughout her life. She hopes to invite other people to come to Mass with her and become more faith-centered.
Lauren Micke said she’ll miss her teachers and her friends, “because they’re really amazing and they really helped me grow in my faith, which is so important to me.”
She’ll also miss the Music Department, which she called her second home.”
She recalled how supportive the entire school was when her grandfather died during her freshman year.
“So that really helped me get through it and be happy about it because everyone talked about how great of a person he was, and how for sure he had a spot in heaven, and it just made it so much easier,” she said.
She plans on remaining Catholic and maintaining a close relationship with God through college and beyond.
She wants to get married in the Church, have children and send them to Catholic schools.
She asked for prayers for her and her classmates not to stray from God’s path.
“I always just want to be involved in the Catholic Church,” she said.