Hearts filled with hope and ecstasy, the 158 members of Helias Catholic High School’s Class of 2019 have been sent forth to continue growing in faith and wisdom.
“Go! change the world for the better!” Father Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic told the graduating seniors at their commencement ceremony in the Crusader Athletic Complex.
The threat of rain had given way to a strident breeze and beautiful sky.
Fr. Jones urged them to do wonderful and amazing things with all they have been given.
“Grow in knowledge and faith and holiness and love!” he said. “Go! ... and maybe come back someday and share your gifts and your knowledge and your love with the community of Jefferson City and with the Church who values you so very much.”
Let your light shine
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presided at the class’s Baccalaureate Mass in the Rackers Fieldhouse earlier that week.
He reminded the aspiring graduates that God had lavished them with spiritual and temporal gifts, intending for them to use those gifts to make His world a more beautiful place.
“Do not be afraid of whatever the Lord has in store for you!” the bishop said.
Yes, there are bullies and dark places in the world — people and places in need of Jesus and His Good News.
“It is also a very beautiful and wonderful world!” he said. “There are so many blessings out there.”
Christians have the privilege of being sent to the darkest corners to proclaim the Gospel, the Light of Christ.
“Rely on the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” the bishop advised. “Shine forth in the darkness and never forget our fundamental obligation to stand up for those who are most vulnerable in society.”
He urged the aspiring graduates to preach the Good News with their mouths and live it fully in their hearts.
“That is when we are most recognized as true and authentic Christians,” he said.
In interviews, three members of the Class of 2019 said what they’ll miss most about Helias Catholic are their classmates and instructors.
“Helias isn’t just a school, it’s a community,” said Martina Lorang, daughter of Tim and Liz Lorang of St. Stanislaus parish in Wardsville.
“No matter what, you’re going to have someone to fall back on if you need it,” said Reese Hamilton, daughter of Denny and Bridget Hamilton of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish.
“There’s a real family aspect to it,” said Noah Jones, son of Joseph and Valerie Jones of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City.
“There’s no one I don’t like, no one I’m looking forward to getting away from,” he said. “I know I’m going to miss them all.”
He noted that his former classmates from St. Peter Interparish School had become very close following the death of their friend and classmate, Dylan Pirner, when they were in third grade.
They still love him and miss him, and God has used that to make them closer to one another and to share that tight bond with their classmates at Helias Catholic.
Mr. Jones said the teachers at Helias have done a great job of keeping the students aware that God is always present.
“There’s definitely a Catholic vibe in this school,” he said.
Miss Lorang said she is grateful, humble and blessed to be “surrounded by so many amazing young men and women of God.”
She said her teachers have been phenomenal and helped form her into the person she is today.
They, the administration and her classmates have also helped her stay connected with God.
“We are nothing without Him,” she said. “God is infinite, and He is love, and He always has been and always will be. His love is so abundant.
“And it’s here!” she said. “I see it everywhere and in every person I meet and in every little thing.”
Miss Hamilton said the most important lesson she learned outside the classroom at Helias is to “always try your hardest and do your best, no matter what.”
She plans on continuing going to Mass and staying strong her faith, and she urges her classmates to do likewise.
Mr. Jones asked for prayers for him and his classmates, especially those who are having difficulties, to hold tightly onto their Catholic identity and “do whatever God wants them to do in the future.”
A time for all things
Father Helias Award recipient Ben Stumpe led the opening prayer at the Commencement ceremony.
“Heavenly Father, we ask You to accompany us as we face new adventures and challenges,” he prayed. “May the paths we take always lead to You and to the eternal joy that is ours through Your Son.”
Fr. Helias Award recipient Ellie Rockers read from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Scripture passage the seniors had chosen.
“I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever,” the passage included. “There is no adding to it or taking from it. Thus has God done that He may be revered.”
Honored as class valedictorians were: Megan Barnes, Jason Binkley, Catherine Conley, Amy Cook, James Donovan, Elizabeth Hentges, Ethan Johnson, Joshua Kliethermes, Martina Lorang, Jada Oldham, Daniel Rhea, Michael Snyder and Emily Zerr.
Each carried a perfect 4.0 grade point average through four years while enrolled in some of the school’s most challenging courses.
Helias Catholic Principal Kenya Fuemmeler said the Class of 2019 was leaving behind an impressive legacy and example.
The graduating seniors accumulated roughly $3.1 million in scholarship opportunities this year, performed more than 15,000 hours of community service and have a projected class average on the ACT of 24.3 — 4.3 points above the state average.
More importantly, Ms. Fuemmeler reminded them, “you are a unique child of God, and no matter the difficulties or successes that lie ahead, He is always with you.
“He designed you in His image and likeness, and you are meant to be exactly the person you are,” she said.
“Things you cannot do”
The graduating seniors selected Pat Seifert, a member of the Helias Class of 1977 and a teacher there since 1981, to be their graduation speaker.
“I sincerely hope that all of you will be lifelong learners — and I do mean learning beyond books,” she said. “I hope that you yearn not so much to be taught, but rather wish to learn. ... I hope you attempt things you cannot do, so that you learn how to do them.”
She urged them never to stop questioning and to believe in their potential and abilities.
She reminded them of “God’s guiding force and the power of prayer.”
“I am sure that most of you have some goals in mind for the future, but don’t be afraid to leave some of that up to God,” she said. “I encourage you to not be afraid to ask for spiritual help to share your path in life.”
Fr. Jones reminded the Class of 2019 of what it means to be a saint: “Someone who has conformed themselves to God, who is intimately united in love and friendship with Him, living in His ways and not the ways of the world.”
“That is what God made you to be,” he said.