New Helias Catholic president John Knight considers it a privilege to lead and serve


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“Take, Lord, receive, all that I possess. ... You have given me all that I have or hold. I offer it back to You now, to be governed entirely by Your divine will.”

“In many ways, my service is my stewardship, my taking the gifts and talents God has given me and making a return to God in thanksgiving for them,” said Mr. Knight, whom Bishop W. Shawn McKnight appointed president of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, effective July 1.

Dr. Erin Vader, superintendent of schools, also appointed Spencer Allen, current principal of St. Joseph Cathedral School in Jefferson City, to be principal of Helias Catholic.

They did so upon the advice of separate search committees.

They will succeed Kenya Fuemmeler, who will conclude her service as president and principal on June 30 in order to become principal of Boonville High School.

Mr. Knight and his wife, Susan, have two grown daughters who are in college.

Mr. Knight grew up in Ohio, attended Catholic schools and spent six years discerning a possible call to Priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) before devoting his life to Catholic education as a layman.

“My life’s calling is to serve the Church as a teacher and an administrator of a Catholic school,” he said.

Helias Catholic’s mission statement — “we challenge our students spiritually, academically and physically as we help to form them to be active, lifelong, enthusiastic participants in the Church” — speaks to his soul.

“There is no greater calling than to accompany young people on their faith journey,” he stated.

Mr. Knight has a passion for collaboration.

“I am a team leader and a team player,” he said. “I seek to build consensus around a given issue and always hope to move forward unified and supportive of each member of the community.”

He is proud of his Jesuit heritage.

“I always say, along with my mom and dad, the people most responsible for who I am today are the Jesuits,” he said. “Their love for me, their spirituality that they introduced to me at a young age, and my time in the seminary were transformative experiences for me, brought me ever closer to God and filled me with the desire to be a companion of Jesus.”

Mr. Knight holds a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in religious education and a graduate degree as an education specialist.

He has served as a teacher, coach, campus ministry director, assistant athletic director, school counselor, associate head of a school, co-founding principal of a Catholic middle school for boys, and president of four Catholic high schools.

All of this has given him a clear understanding of what makes a school Catholic.

“A Catholic school is a school that embraces the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that sees Jesus as our Lord and Savior, that challenges our young people to develop their God-given talents, to strengthen their faith, to go out and serve those who are in need, and always to be ambassadors for God’s love in the world,” he said. “It’s mission is the formation of young people’s hearts, minds and bodies to that end.”

He said this work is challenging and occasionally difficult but always rewarding.

He left his previous post as president of a Catholic high school due to a disagreement with parents and school trustees over his handling of a disciplinary situation.

He has no regrets about the stand he took.

“For Catholics and all who follow Christ, there are moments in our lives when we have to put what we say, what we believe, into action,” he said. “I was blessed that God gave me the strength and the perseverance to stand by my Catholic faith and act in a manner that protected the vulnerable young people.”

He is pleased that he will now help lead a school named in honor of a Jesuit missionary.

“The Fr. Helias connection is very nice for me,” he stated. “But what has impressed me so much more are the people I’ve met, the legacy, the strong faith tradition of the school and the strong leadership of Bishop McKnight and his emphasis on stewardship.”

Mr. Knight recalled hearing what Pope Francis told a Jesuit colleague about the mission of Catholic schools.

“He said to be at the margins of society, to be sensitive to the least of our brothers and sisters and to continue to serve them in ways that are innovative and unique,” said Mr. Knight. “Those are things that are really important.

“That mentality is part of my background,” Mr. Knight stated. “It’s formed who I am, and I feel a real comfort coming to Helias, knowing that it shares that mindset.”

He said two significant challenges facing Catholic schools today are accessibility and affordability.

Nonetheless, “it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that a solid Catholic education is available to all who so desire it,” he said.

Mr. Knight asks for prayers for several things as he prepares to become president of Helias Catholic:

  • for the students of Helias Catholic to have a safe and enjoyable summer and for God to continue to make Himself known to them throughout these days of relaxation and rest;
  • for the Helias Catholic faculty, staff and administration throughout this time of transition; and
  • for Bishop McKnight and Dr. Vader “as they lead us forward in our desire to continue to form saints and scholars for the kingdom of God.”