76 new Tolton Catholic High School graduates sent forth to love God, others, themselves


CLICK HERE to see a gallery of photos from the Baccalaureate Mass.

Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School graduating senior Solomon Canoy told his 75 classmates to “live like Fr. Mike.”

Father Mike Coleman, their chaplain, urged them to “be more like Jesus.”

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight reminded them that they’re sons and daughters of God and of the Church.

School President and Principal Daniel Everett Ed.D. reiterated that they’re loved.

“No matter where we are or who we become, I have no doubt that this class will continue to shine bright as we move forward and blaze our own new trails,” graduating senior Jillian Andrews told her classmates at Tolton Catholic’s 2024 graduation ceremony.

 Bishop McKnight attended the May 19 event, briefly addressed the graduating seniors and distributed their diplomas.

He challenged them to be open to the vocation the Lord has in store for each of them.

“I want you to rely on the intellectual, moral and spiritual formation that you received from this high school, and to remember that you come from God and that you’re going to God,” he said.

Graduating senior Adelaide Devine led her classmates in prayer, offering intercession for the school, the faculty and staff, families and friends, the hardships they’ve endured together, jokes and happy memories, and for God’s love, “which has been made evident through the relationships we will carry with us beyond these walls.”

Center of gravity

In graduation remarks, Jillian spoke of the Class of ’24 as “not just a group of friends who have grown up together, but a family.”

“There hasn’t been a single time our class wasn’t united and working together as one,” she stated.

Although Jillian did not grow up Catholic, she appreciated learning in-depth what the Church teaches and praying and worshiping with her classmates throughout each week.

“Being part of a curriculum that revolves around Christ is something I have really come to appreciate,” she said.

Fellow graduating senior Solomon Canoy talked about common experiences that helped make the Class of 2024 and the entire Tolton Catholic community so tight.

“Our school spirit is the strongest, we all know everyone in our class, and we get to celebrate our faith in everything we do,” he said.

Challenging his fellow graduates to “live like Fr. Mike,” he specified: “Treat those around you with love and kindness, have enthusiasm for everything you do, and most importantly, apply your faith to all in your life.”

Willing Spirit

The previous evening, graduating seniors gathered with their families in Our Lady of Lourdes Church for their Baccalaureate Mass.

It was the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost — celebrating when Jesus’s apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit, 50 days after he rose from the dead.

“That’s the same Holy Spirit that helps us be more like Jesus,” said Fr. Coleman who presided at the Mass.

Specifically, he preached, the Spirit gives people power to love God, love other people and love themselves.

 “When you praise and worship the Lord, you show him your love,” the priest said. “When you love others, you show Jesus in action.”

God created each person uniquely, with a specific purpose that no one else can fulfill.

“From the moment of Creation, Jesus knew you,” said Fr. Coleman. “Your life will be full of meaning, and you will make a bigger difference than you could ever imagine — because of the beautiful, powerful, awesome Spirit of God, working in each one of you.”

Concelebrating priests included: Monsignor Gregory L. Higley, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Columbia; Father Daniel Merz, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish in Columbia; Father Ignitius Nimwesiga, a fellow chaplain at Tolton Catholic.

High distinctions

Among the awards presented to the graduating seniors were:

  • the St. Paul Service Award to Evan Tollenaar, who completed the most hours of community service during her four years at Tolton Catholic;
  • the Fr. Coleman Award to Jillian Andrews and Steven Becvar, for exemplifying the spirit of the school;
  • the Bishop Gaydos Award to Wil Fretwell; and
  • the school’s highest honor, the Fr. Tolton Award, to Margot Mills.

Both the Bishop Gaydos and the Fr. Tolton awards are for exemplifying the school’s mission.

Each student is required to perform at least 80 hours of service prior to graduation. Twenty-three graduating seniors were recognized for completing 125 or more hours of service as Tolton Catholic students.

Graduating senior Solomon Canoy was recognized as a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

Three graduating seniors — Solomon Canoy, Emma Mallett and Paige Uptegrove — were recognized for having completed sufficient credits to earn their Associate’s Degrees through Tolton Catholic’s dual-credit and Early College partnerships with Moberly Area Community College.


Solid bonds

In interviews, graduating seniors Jake Ryan, Audrey Rischer, Sophie Holtmeyer and Joseph Diener considered the impact of their years at Tolton Catholic.

All four went to school together since pre-kindergarten at Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School.

“I’m feeling very grateful that I’m finally here at the finish line for graduation, and it’s all bittersweet,” said Sophie. “Being surrounded by the same group of people for 13 years, and finally saying goodbye — it’s a little heartbreaking, but I’m excited.”

Jake said he’ll most miss the relationships he had built with friends and teachers.

“It’s just been a great experience to grow with them in our sports, in our school and in our faith,” he said.

Joseph said he’ll also miss his teachers, who know all of their students by name.

Sophie will miss going to Mass with the whole school every week.

“That feeling of being all together in one space, worshiping God — it’s something I’ve been doing all my life, and it’s kind of sad that I won’t be able to be around the same people anymore, doing the same thing that we all came here to do,” she said.

Audrey noted that she and her parents chose Tolton Catholic because they appreciate a God-centered education and community.

“I’ve made so many great friendships here that are really faith-based, and that’s important,” she said.

Blazing ahead

All four interviewees hope to carry the best of their Tolton Catholic experience forward into to college.

Audrey plans to study sports management and play on the golf team at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Jake plans to study biology and play football at Truman State University in Kirksville, “and hopefully become an orthopedic surgeon.”

His and his future roommate on campus hope to start a Bible study club, like they did at Tolton Catholic.

Sophie intends to study health science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, hoping eventually to becoming a dentist.

She wants to take with her what she’s learned about creating strong friendships and connections.

“I hope to meet a lot of new people, especially people I can get along with and create a deep faith-based relationship with,” she said.

Joseph plans to study finance at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

They all suspect that people will be able to recognize them as Tolton Catholic graduates.

“Possibly just by our character and how we hold ourselves, carry ourselves, along with our faith,” said Jake.

“Everything we learn and how we grow here — the goal has always been to grow in spirit and heart and in mind and body, and I think people can see that,” Audrey stated.

Never alone

Sophie said she was aware of God’s presence daily at Tolton Catholic by the way people interact in the hallway.

“You can definitely feel that he’s there, especially because so many people are Christlike, show their faith in a very good way that they incorporate into their friendships,” she said.

She shared Tolton Catholic’s lunchtime motto, “No one sits alone.”

“And you just know that God is here, influencing every student to make good choices and be kind to others,” she said.

Audrey said it meant a lot to be able to start a Bible club with four of her classmates.

“We were able to encourage each other and a lot of underclassmen in their faith,” she said. “I was a lot more faith-driven this year, just being able to surround myself with people like that.”

Her relationship with God also matured through a Science and Religion class taught by Mrs. Beratta.

“I think it really strengthened my faith a lot, just being able to understand why we believe what we believe,” she said.

Sophie said the example of Fr. Coleman, whose door is always open, helped her become more open with her faith.

“And, I really just enjoy going to Mass and hearing what he has to say for a homily,” she said.

Friends in her Bible club are also very open about their faith and leading others to God, his word and his love, she said.

Jake took a class titled A Walk With Christ, taught by Miss Lutz, last semester.

The daily lessons drew him closer to Christ, and he plans to carry that with him for the rest of his life.

Sophie lauded her theology teachers, who allow their students to ask questions — “the silly ones, the serious ones” — creating an environment of openness and curiosity that helped her grow in knowledge and love of God.

Joseph said Mr. Hausen’s class on World Religions helped him appreciate humanity’s universal quest for things that transcend this life and this world.

All four said they’re looking forward to helping lead others to Christ.

Sophie especially wants to be a good role model to her younger sister, who hopes to attend Tolton Catholic.

Audrey said her years at the school have helped her build a solid footing for her relationship with God to continue growing.

“Just being surrounded by role-model teachers and friends, I think it’s mainly what’s going to be our foundation for when we’re out on our own,” she stated.

Once and for all

All four interviewed seniors said they want to remain Catholic for the rest of their lives.

“I’m what they call a ‘cradle Catholic,’” said Sophie. “But, in my time here, I’ve been able to really learn why I’m Catholic and why we believe what we believe.”

Joseph said the World Religions class helped him appreciate what Catholics profess.

“Once I have children,” said Sophie, “I want to have them baptized, and I want Catholic relationship with my family. I want to raise my children in the Church and have them be Catholic.”

She said the rest of the Church can help with that by openly living and speaking about matters of faith.

“It’s something to be proud of and it’s something you should want to tell other people about,” she said.

Jake would like to see parishes offer more opportunities for people to join small groups for faith and fellowship.

“We had that in this class I was in, and we were able to become comfortable and talk about what we wanted to talk about and not be scared to share with others what we truly believe in,” he said.

Pray unceasingly

As life’s next phase gets under way, Audrey asked for prayers for all the new graduates to be able to carry their faith with them and share it generously in ways that help bring people to Christ.

Sophie asked for prayers for everyone who’s graduating to be blessed by God and hold onto the love they experienced in such a close, loving community.

Jake suggested praying for each graduate to find God’s path for him or her.

“Please pray for our futures and what we decided to do with them, and whether we have families or not, and how do we take care of the families, raise them Catholic, things like that,” said Joseph.