Column by Jonathan Nagy
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13
Individuals possess fears that come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from spiders and snakes to public speaking and the dark. Another fear that many admit to having is a fear of the future. People are so anxious to know what is coming next in our lives, how our decisions will impact our lives, and what God has planned for us.
As an educator and leader of young children, one of my biggest fears is failing to do everything that I can to direct those impressionable youth the best that I can on the right path. I am sure that others share in my fears. The monumental task that lies in front of us, especially with the state of the world, can be very overwhelming. My daily prayers include a prayer for all of my current and former students, and a large portion of my concerns for my students is their spiritual welfare.
At Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, the faculty and staff work extremely hard to not only provide an outstanding education to our students, but also present them with a complete, Catholic experience. Father Jeremiah Lange, OSB, Chaplain at BCCHS, remarked, “Our goal is to help form true, intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. We want them to not only know what we believe as Catholics, but why. We want them to be able to understand, articulate, and promote their faith.” The students participate in weekly Masses, seasonal Penance Services, Faith on Fire peer sharing sessions, adoration, stations, the rosary, and so much more. Each class begins with a prayer. The students are handed the tools for success. As I like to tell them, “Here are the groceries, it is up to you to cook a meal!”
Several years ago, BC Business Manager Mrs. Lynn Weber and I were trying to think of new slogans and ways to promote what Bishop Carroll is all about. While we examined several options, the one that we kept coming back to was “Faith in Our Future.” We must instill the faith in our students because they are the future! We must have faith in them to carry on everything that we have given them into their adult lives, where they will become leaders of the world. Mrs. Weber said, “When I look at our students, I know I have faith in them to become good, Christian leaders. It is up to us to give them the tools they need to do this.”
A negative falsehood that many believe today is that young people do not care about their faith. I beg to differ! Young people, especially those in our Catholic schools, take a serious approach to their connections with Jesus Christ. They seek the truth, and they know the truth is Jesus Christ.
Recently, I have witnessed some very powerful examples of students responding positively to their faith. A few weeks ago, I was privileged to take my AP Politics class on a historical and religious tour of Loretto. They saw and experienced some of the most powerful symbols of the faith in our area, including the Prince Gallitzin Chapel House, the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel, Mount Assisi Monastery, and Saint Francis University. However, the most impactful moments came in the quiet of the Carmelite Monastery. As we entered, the students sat and knelt in prayer in silence in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. It was a beautiful sight to see the seriousness of the students in the place in which they found themselves! They then had a chance to converse with Mother John of the Cross and several other nuns, including some newly professed nuns, learning about their lifestyle and their commitment to Jesus Christ. The students had so many questions and positive comments and truly appreciated the experience.
Even more recently, the students were able to hear guest speaker from Arizona Mr. Paul Zucarelli talk about his experiences with death, Heaven, and how to prepare ourselves to meet Jesus. The students were attentive and interested and spoke later about how impactful his words were to them. In fact, many went home and encouraged their parents to attend the night session that same evening at the Basilica to hear the witness talk for themselves.
I have seen students step up and become witnesses themselves to their faith. Several students have volunteered to become part of the Student Evangelizer Team (SET). These students are trained to witness their faith to others, to pray for other students, to be leaders of faith in Jesus in the school, and to help at underclassmen retreats when needed. The Evangelizers also have the opportunity to grow deeper in their own faith. Students also joyfully volunteer to fulfill ministries at Mass, such as choir members and psalmists, altar servers, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers, and sacristans. They openly want to discuss their faith with others and are not afraid to speak up.
My experiences in witnessing the faith in our youth is not limited to high school students. Working with the children’s choir at Saint Michael School has been an absolute blessing. Seeing the love these students have for Jesus Christ is awesome. Many times, their singing has brought me to tears. They sing loud, proud, joyfully, and prayerfully, and just like the Bishop Carroll students, have questions about their faith and feel open to discuss it with others. After a recent Mass, one little child looked at me and said, “Mr. Nagy, I had so much fun today.” Students enjoy Mass and worshipping God. I know I speak for Saint Michael’s principal Mrs. Rhonda Seymour and pastor Father John Byrnes when I say that the faith is truly alive at Saint Michael School as much as it is at Bishop Carroll!
These are just a few small examples of how the faith is alive in our Catholic schools. I see students craving Jesus everywhere I look. While most of the credit for the development of these children goes to their parents and their own self drive, I would like to think that our schools have a lot to do with their spiritual development. To quote a billboard that Saint Benedict School in Carrolltown had once, “Good beginnings last a lifetime.” The foundation built through the Catholic grade schools and Bishop Carroll is strong and sturdy. The students then build a lifetime of faith based on their experiences.
Actress Blythe Danner once said, “We all have an obligation as citizens of this earth to leave the world a healthier, cleaner, and better place for our children and future generations.” With all due respect to Ms. Danner, I would add that we have to instill the faith in our children and also have faith in them to do even better than we have in being intentional disciples of Christ. The fear of failure and uncertainty is real.
One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Traveled. This short poem reads:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Again, with all due respect to Mr. Frost, what is waiting for us at the end of the road less traveled is Jesus Christ. He makes all of the difference. We must know and believe that He is our guiding light and is at the end of all paths we take. Often in society, the road less traveled is the one that leads directly to Him. The road can be winding, treacherous, and arduous, filling us with anxiety, worry, and fear, but God is with us.
Reflecting back to the quote from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope,” evidence is clearly shown that God knows the paths we will take in our lives. He has faith in us and our future to find our way to Him. We need to encourage others to press on with their journey to Him, and when we stumble, help to pick each other up. Our young people not only need encouragement from us, but we can find our faith in the future in them.
I would encourage all families who haven’t explored the options of a Catholic education to do so. There are many great schools in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. Those unsure of the schools in their area are welcome to contact the Diocesan education office to learn more. I would also be glad to have a discussion with anyone who is thinking about or has questions about a Catholic education. Take the road to a Catholic school. It will truly make all the difference in putting faith in the future!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.