“Please make each day count, and may God always be at your side!”
English instructor Patricia Seifert, who is retiring after 40 years on the faculty of Helias Catholic High School, addressed the school’s Class of 2022 during their Commencement Exercises on May 22 at the Crusader Athletic Complex in Jefferson City.
“I hope you will remember that it is okay to enjoy and be happy and excited about the little things,” she told the 181 graduating seniors. “I hope you will surround yourself with people who will lift you up and not tear you down.”
She prompted the graduating seniors to stand up, applaud and congratulate their parents, family members, friends and teachers.
“It is because of your love and support that we have these quality students sitting in front of us today,” she said.
She said it would be easy to question God’s wisdom over the difficulties and losses she and others have experienced this year.
“However, my belief in God has never ceased,” she said. “I continue to believe strongly in God’s guiding force and the power of prayer.”
She encouraged the soon-to-be graduates to find fulfilling professions and continue learning throughout their lives.
She urged them to let God influence their goals for the future.
This year’s graduates have been offered a combined more than $3 million in scholarships including $478,500 worth of A+ scholarships.
The Class of 2022 includes 19 students with a 4.0 grade-point average, five students who each completed more than 500 hours of community service over four years of high school, 12 Bright Flight scholars, 87 eligible for A+ scholarships, and two graduates committed to service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
This year’s graduating class has performed a combined total of more than 16,000 hours of service to the community over four years.
Five seniors earned the John Baptist De La Salle Service Award for contributing 500 or more hours of service over their high school years: Stephanie Dallmeyer, Emilia Godwin, Logan Mathews, Kyle Prenger and Emma Schaefer.
Awards were presented to seniors May 5. The Father Helias Award, recognizing outstanding contribution to Helias Catholic, went to Tyler Sandbothe and Eliza Pierce.
The American Legion Citation, recognizing leadership, scholarship and service, went to Sam Hentges and Gabrielle Bax. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Award, recognizing citizenship, scholarship and good attendance, went to Lee Holloway and Liv Bloomer.
Created to be saints
Twelve days previously, the seniors gathered in the James Rackers Fieldhouse for their Baccalaureate Mass.
Father Stephen Jones, one of the school’s chaplains, presided and preached the homily, with Father Ignitius Nimwesiga, the other chaplain, concelebrating and Deacon Raymond Purvis assisting.
“This is a momentous time in your lives,” Fr. Jones told the seniors. “You are ready to go! And we’re excited for you — excited for the things that you can go and do.”
He urged them to remember that they are all part of Jesus’s flock.
“He knows you, He loves you, He calls each of you by name,” said Fr. Jones. “And you are indeed beloved sheep in the flock of the Master.”
Reminding the seniors that they cannot live their lives or their faith in isolation, Fr. Jones urged them to stay connected to their community of faith.
“Seek always to be nourished by it, to be warmed by it, and to contribute to it with your own gifts and your own talents,” he said. “You’re called to be part of something bigger.”
He reiterated that they were created to be saints, friends of Jesus, “in communion and union with Him, in and through the love of the Father and by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Several members of the graduating class discussed at length about these past four years as a time of transformation.
They have experienced Christian community, found mentors, answered the call to service, tried new things and become better versions of themselves.
“Through all of this, I became more of who I am today, and that’s who I’ve always been,” said Eliza Pierce.
They said they’d miss their friends, teachers and the tight community they and their classmates have forged — many beginning in grade school.
They plan on using that experience to forge tight, healthy bonds with the people they meet throughout their lives.
“I definitely feel like Helias has set me up for the opportunity to form a good relationship with Christ, especially, and find people that are going to help me out with that along my path,” said Tyler Sandbothe, who will attend the University of Alabama this fall.
Eliza plans on putting the leadership skills and experience she’s acquired at Helias to work with her at the University of Missouri in Columbia and her work throughout her future.
“So I’m definitely going to take how I’ve learned to be confident in myself and go after things,” she said. “And I know that God is with me at all times, and you’ve just got to keep going.”
Liv Bloomer said an important lesson was getting involved.
“You get out of life what you put into it, so the more you get involved, the more you put yourself out there, the more fun you’re going to have, the more relationships you’re going to be able to make with people, and the more opportunities that you’re going to create for yourself,” she said.
Logan Matthews said he’s well prepared to work hard on academics and to expect more from himself in everything he does.
“I really think that Helias has taught me to strive to be the best version of myself that I can be,” he said.
Helias Catholic’s service requirements helped him learn to appreciate “the thrill of service.”
“But doing the service, especially starting freshman year, I just really enjoyed helping people and seeing people and how grateful they are for you helping them, especially those who are less fortunate than we are,” said Tyler.
Liv said she’s also learned to be kind to people and never take life for granted.
The delegation of students said they were aware of God’s presence in the school throughout their days there.
“You can definitely feel it, it’s definitely here,” said Logan. “But you know, it’s not overbearing. It still feels like a normal school, and that feels like a really big balance.”
He learned things about God and his Catholic faith that he never knew before. His teachers and coaches helped him move forward in his journey with God.
One of his teachers, Zachary Rockers, became a mentor to him and taught him important prayers.
He started going to daily Mass each morning in the school chapel, which helped him want to find more ways to put it into practice.
Liv said that having attended a Catholic grade school, she took going to Mass, taking religion classes and speaking openly about her faith for granted.
Yet, some of her classmates had never had a religion class before arriving at Helias.
“It was a completely different world for them to step into school-wise,” she said. “Talking to them helped me realize how lucky we are to have those opportunities to grow in our faith every day and we’re so lucky to be able to be so open about our faith and talk about it and learn about it.”
Eliza said she became most aware of God’s presence through fellow members of the school community.
“It brightens your day and it reminds you that God is with you,” she said.
This year, in anticipation of her time away at college, she began looking for and carving out more opportunities to pray and learn about God on her own.
“It’s definitely going to be a change from going to a Catholic school your whole life to going to college next year and having to work that on your own,” she said. “But I feel I’ve gotten a good head-start on that.”
She’s looking forward to becoming active at the St. Thomas More Newman Center as an MU student this fall.
Logan had studied religion all through grade school and practiced his faith with his family, but his relationship with God had stalled.
He was a freshman at Helias Catholic when Father Joshua Duncan, an alumnus of the school who was serving as chaplain, invited him to join a group called the Frassati Fraternity.
“That’s what flipped the switch for me,” Logan recalled.
His relationship with God has been growing by leaps since then, first with Fr. Duncan as chaplain, then with Fr. Jones.
Liv said she’s grateful to all of her teachers and friends at Helias, and especially her parents.
“They’re my biggest supporters and they’re always there for me,” she said. “No matter what I do, no matter what I decide, I know they’re going to support me.”
Knowing that gives confidence and conviction about her future.
Tyler was quick to thank Mr. Rockers, who has not only served as a teacher and coach but also a mentor and spiritual guide to him.
“I’ve been on two mission trips with him to Kansas City, and I really just felt like I found a friend but most importantly a mentor,” he said. “That’s gonna’ help me in my spiritual journey.”
Eliza was reserved and apprehensive when she arrived at Helias Catholic for band camp the summer before freshman year.
Director of Bands Tom Smyth and choir instructor Jana Fox immediately reassured her that she was among future friends who would help draw out her talents.
“I’m so grateful for those two people for keeping me going with music,” she said. “Because music is a big part of my life, and it’s a big part of my faith life, because I love singing in church and whenever I sing, that’s probably when I feel closest to God and that’s when I feel happiest.”
She also thanked her parents for their abundant encouragement and support.
All four said they plan on remaining Catholic in college and throughout their adult lives.
“It’s something I really took for granted until just a few years ago,” said Logan. “And now that I’m involved more in my faith, I take it very seriously, there is no way I’m ever going to give that up.”
Eliza said being Catholic means knowing that God is always there for you, even in life’s darkest moments.
The four students offered several suggestions for helping young people persevere in their faith.
“I would say, just answer the questions that the young people have,” Logan said. “Maybe they’re wrestling with their faith or whatever. Maybe not doubt but questioning is the biggest thing.”
He found that having people such as Fr. Duncan, Fr. Jones and teacher Mark Rehagen who are knowledgeable and willing to answer his questions made all the difference to him.
Eliza suggested creating more opportunities for young people to get involved in their parishes and their communities, especially through meaningful service.
Liv said it’s important for young Catholics to have opportunities to encounter God on Catholic retreats .
She’s excited about getting involved in campus ministry at Truman State University in Kirksville and in KLIFE, which offers ways for university students to help local children in need.
Tyler said it’s important for the Church to continue building-up communities and making itself even more universal.
“I know it’s always been something I could fall back on,” he said. “If I didn’t have anybody else in my life, I could always fall back on my Church community. Especially going to college and then moving into — I guess you could say, the outside world — I’ll always know where to turn, especially when I’m feeling lost.”
Logan noted that day-to-day parish life can feel distant for young people if they don’t have a strong connection to God, which is why the Church exists in the first place.
“We need to figure out more ways to encourage that encounter with Christ,” he said.
Tyler experienced such encounters in the Frassati Fraternity and while on school mission trips, where he met people who were homeless and desperately in need.
“You realize that they have the face of Christ in them,” he said. “And you can definitely see Jesus in their eyes and in the community that they have. It is comforting to know you brought a smile to their face.”