Catholic high school chaplains inspire, guide students

| October 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

Father Jame Stiles, center, and Father Paul Shovelain, chaplains at Totino Grace High School in Fridley, talk with student Nick Long in the school commons May 30. Long is a Junior this year. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

After the Sept. 26 death of two 2017 graduates of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in a car accident, Jesuit Father John Paul made himself available to pray and talk to the Minneapolis school’s students and staff.

“Their death really had a profound impact on so many,” said Father Paul, Cristo Rey’s director of Jesuit mission and identity.

Although he serves in an administrative role, providing pastoral care to the community following the deaths of Chris Buñay and Diana Rojas-Martinez fit his work as the school’s unofficial chaplain. He helped to lead a prayer service for the community and spent extra time with students. He said it gives them hope to “know that somebody cares about them” and is “interested in how they’re dealing with all of this.”

Besides helping a community face tragedy, Father Paul does the everyday work of a school chaplain, too: building relationships with the students, offering the sacraments and fostering the faith of those at the school.

A number of priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve as Catholic high school chaplains. They consider it a crucial ministry to serve students in their struggles and joys.

“I have a profound respect for adolescence,” said Father John Forliti, chaplain emeritus of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. “It’s a time of human growth when they need adults who care for them.”

While chaplains serve similar needs among students from school to school, their availability and duties vary.

Totino-Grace High School in Fridley has two part-time chaplains who each minister four hours per week. Hill-Murray School in Maplewood welcomed Father Kevin Manthey this fall as the school’s first full-time chaplain in decades.

Father Forliti, a retired priest and Cretin alumnus, has served at CDH since 2004. He spends one day each week on campus now that Father Patrick Kennedy is the school’s main chaplain.

Regardless of availability, chaplains say building relationships with students is essential.

Like other chaplains interviewed, Father Forliti, 81, said he makes time to visit with students in the halls between classes. The priests also visit classrooms and occasionally teach a class. Father Forliti speaks in biology classes on evolution through the lens of Church teaching. He also talks with the freshman classes about growing up Catholic in the 1940s and 50s, and encourages students to connect with their grandparents.

Opportunities for growth

Providing the sacraments on campus is a regular part of a chaplain’s role. At Hill-Murray, Father Manthey celebrates an optional daily Mass at the school in addition to the monthly school Mass. At Totino-Grace, Father Paul Shovelain and Father James Stiles alternate as presiders for the monthly school Mass. They also offer a Tuesday morning Mass, which a few students and staff attend.

At CDH, Father Forliti said the annual reconciliation services in Advent and Lent play a significant role in his work.

“Those are powerful experiences,” he said. “The confessors who help out like myself are really impressed with the honesty and the sincerity.”

Father Manthey plans to offer confession regularly at Hill-Murray, adding that a confessional will soon be constructed on campus.
Besides Mass and reconciliation, Father Paul leads the Ignatian practice of the examen daily with the students and staff. The examen helps a person reflect on how God is working in his or her life and how he or she is cooperating with his grace.

Campus ministry involvement also plays an important role for chaplains at their respective schools. Father Manthey said he particularly serves the peer ministers, approximately 40 students who help with retreats, liturgies and share their faith testimonies.

“It’s been really powerful and really beautiful to see them blossoming in that way — sharing their love of the Lord and their love of the Church,” he said.

Connecting through sports

Father Manthey frequently attends Hill-Murray’s sporting and fine arts events to build relationships with the families at the school. It’s important for people to see that priests have fun, too, he said.

At Totino-Grace, Father Shovelain runs with the cross country teams to connect with the student athletes. He also occasionally attends meets.

Father Forliti coaches in CDH’s girls lacrosse program. He considers coaching “an important ministry” and a way to help students grow morally and spiritually.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest [lacrosse] coach in Minnesota,” Father Forliti said.

Father Forliti, Father Manthey and Father Shovelain also serve as their schools’ football chaplains.

Whether on the field or in the school building, chaplains hope their work will foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Father Paul said 14 Cristo Rey students visited the Jesuit novitiate in St. Paul last year to learn more about religious life.

Chances for chaplains to serve non-Catholic students also arise. Father Manthey takes time to explain the basics of the faith to non-Catholics. He said he wants the “Catholic faith to be known and loved by those at Hill-Murray” and “to show them the beauty of the Lord’s love.”

Sometimes that Catholic witness inspires converts. Father Shovelain helped 2017 Totino-Grace graduate Brady Bertram join the Church in 2015.

“That was a great blessing — being able to walk with him, getting him connected with a parish and also helping him to receive the sacraments,” Father Shovelain said.

Like Father Paul, chaplains also help students through times of tragedy and loss that affect the school community.

“There’s been more of that than I thought,” said Father Manthey, who has ministered to his school community following the death of a staff member.

Father Forliti said how he helps the students in difficult times varies by situation. At times, it has included hospital visits, he said.

Totino-Grace has relied on professional counselors to work with the student body following the deaths’ of students in the past few years; Father Shovelain said he hopes to provide more pastoral care in the future.

Overall, there’s room for growth in priest chaplaincy at Catholic high schools. Hill-Murray has the only full-time priest chaplain. However, all Catholic high schools in the archdiocese have chaplains or enlist pastors or nearby priests to help meet their students’ spiritual needs.

The archdiocese can place chaplains at a school’s request, but availability of priests also plays a role in placement.

Father Manthey has a long-term vision of how chaplains can benefit the students years beyond graduation. It could help alumni stay involved in the Church, he said.

Father Forliti knows the investment pays off. He has seen its value — first, as a Cretin student, then as a priest with years of involvement in Catholic education.

“It’s really a necessary thing,” he said.

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