Priests assigned at each school help foster relationships with Christ
By Reagan Scott
(SNR) - Priests serve a vital role in the six Catholic high schools in the Lincoln Diocese, as chaplains, guidance counselors, teachers, campus ministers, and administrative officers. All play an important part in maintaining the Catholic identity of the diocese’s schools.
Father David Gayhart, Father Benjamin Holdren and Father Joseph Bernardo serve as chaplains at Bishop Neumann in Wahoo, Aquinas in David City and Pius X High School in Lincoln respectively. Though they all hold the same title, their roles differ from school to school.
Aquinas, David City
277 students, grades 6-12
Father Holdren was given his assignment as chaplain almost three years ago as Aquinas was going through its strategic planning process.
At the time, members of the planning team were reading the book “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Weddell, which outlines five thresholds that one goes through before conversion. It was decided that an attempt would be made to apply some of these lessons to the students.
To help students reach new discipleship thresholds, the school created an Intentional Discipleship Team composed of 15 to 20 members. The group meets once a month to come up with an action plan for the next month to help students grow in their spiritual lives.
Each semester, the team sends out surveys to the students to help them identify which threshold they are on, to help them to gauge the effects of the programming. Father Holdren said that student evaluations help the team to be as effective as possible.
Out of this team also came a spiritual direction program for teachers and students that brings in speakers and displays quotes and pictures of saints up around the school. The program also helps to advertise events and retreats going on around the diocese, to get students interested in attending.
“There are so many good things going on in the diocese, and we want to communicate these to students and eliminate roadblocks,” Father Holdren said.
Together, the faculty and staff are united in their goal of helping the school’s students to grow in their faith lives.
“I think it’s really fulfilling to be able to work towards that goal as a team,” Father Holdren said.
Bishop Neumann, Wahoo
289 students, grades 7-12
At Bishop Neumann in Wahoo, Father Gayhart stressed that the purpose of Lincoln’s diocesan schools is to get souls to heaven.
“If we’re not trying to get students to heaven, we don’t need to be here,” he said. “The greatest witness we can have is our joy and showing students that they can be saints.”
In his role as chaplain for the school, Father Gayhart’s job is to be there for the students as much as he can, as well as teach his class of seventh-graders. When he’s not doing that, Father Gayhart is in charge of taking care of the chapel, planning Masses and confession times, and helping to run youth groups in the school.
“We’re always looking to increase spirituality among the students,” Father Gayhart said. “I love being in the school and working with the kids; I get to see Christ working in their hearts.”
Pius X, Lincoln
1,250 students, grades 9-12
As the full-time chaplain at Pius X High School in Lincoln, Father Bernardo helps the school’s chief administrative officer (C.A.O.), Father James Meysenburg, in his spiritual care of the school.
Some of Father Bernardo’s daily and weekly tasks include organizing and preparing all of the school sacraments, assisting Pius’s campus minister Molly Milana in planning retreats, covering theology classes when needed and ensuring that the spiritual needs of the students, faculty and staff are met.
Father Bernardo started his role as chaplain in June 2017 and has enjoyed the more personal aspect of the position.
“One of the greatest joys is to work one-on-one with students and staff, and to help them grow in their life with Christ,” he said.
St. Cecilia, Hastings
256 students, grades 6-12
In Hastings, Father Adam Sughroue serves in a slightly different capacity as St. Cecilia’s director of campus ministry.
In his role, Father Sughroue is responsible for helping students, parents, faculty and staff spiritually live out the mission of the school and help them grow closer to Christ. Each day, he is present for students to talk with, and every Tuesday he compiles faculty prayer intentions that are sent out the next day.
“I want to remind the faculty that we are praying for one another, not just working for one another,” Father Sughroue said.
Some of Father Sughroue’s other tasks include holding a holy hour of adoration and confessions every Wednesday, organizing service days for middle school and high school retreats, holding special events like a Eucharistic procession and adoration in the school courtyard to kick off homecoming week, and encouraging students to attend retreats or go on diocesan trips.
But according to Father Sughroue, the most important part of his job is helping students to recognize their value.
“The most important part of my job is helping students to recognize their self-worth as a child of God. That will never change.” Father Sughroue said. “Self-worth isn’t in grades or a GPA, and if a student graduates without understanding their self-worth, then we’ve failed them.”
Sacred Heart, Falls City
107 students, grades 6-12
As the guidance director for Sacred Heart in Falls City, Father David Oldham helps high school students in their preparation for life after high school by helping them explore college and career options. Father Oldham also teaches theology to eighth-graders and sophomores.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring the faith to our students and give them a deeper encounter with Christ,” Father Oldham said.
He enjoys teaching the faith and helping high school students with their life plans after graduation, and their souls for eternal life.
“It’s nice,” he said. “We’re preparing students body, mind and soul for this life and the next.”
Lourdes Central, Nebraska City
322 students, grades K-12
At Lourdes Central Catholic in Nebraska City, Father Mark Cyza serves in a different role as the chief administrative officer and junior Theology teacher.
“The most important part of my job is to ensure that we as a Lourdes family are faithful to our mission to assist parents in the education of their children and help them to grow in Our Lord,” Father Cyza said.
In trying to keep the school going in the direction it needs to be heading, Father Cyza has an important task in hiring new faculty and staff who are good disciples of Christ, sharing the mission of the school with parishes, parents and donors and inviting people to participate in what the school is doing.
In his 12 years at Lourdes, Father Cyza has served as a teacher, principal and now C.A.O., but no matter his role, he noted that one of the most profound parts of his job is in helping students in their faith journey.
He said, “You see how the Lord is working in their lives and touching their hearts and that makes it really worth it.”
Despite the fact that all six priests have different tasks in their daily lives, they all share a common goal in helping students to live a life in Christ and to maintain that relationship long after they have graduated from their schools.
Father Cyza said, “When you see people growing in their faith and being on fire for the Lord, you see the difference that makes in their lives.