What is in the air at Catholic High School?

Fellow Catholic High students and his parents clap for 18-year-old Joseph Jones after he signed his letter of intent to be a diocesan seminarian this fall.
Fellow Catholic High students and his parents clap for 18-year-old Joseph Jones after he signed his letter of intent to be a diocesan seminarian this fall.

Catholic High’s seminarian signing day began in 2009, a year after Bishop Anthony B. Taylor arrived at the diocese. This summer, four Catholic High graduates will be ordained priests and one will be ordained to the diaconate ahead of his priestly ordination next year. Bishop Taylor pointed out that Thomas DePrez and Joseph Jones will also join eight other Catholic High grads who are in the seminary.

Currently of the diocese’s 26 seminarians, 12 of them, or 43 percent, graduated from CHS.

“I describe this to other bishops and they are amazed. Oklahoma City, where I come from, is three times the size of Little Rock and has two Catholic high schools and they don’t produce vocations like Catholic High does. I’m very proud of this school,” he said during the May 1 ceremony, later adding, “What this tells me is Catholic High produces men of faith who support each other in discerning and doing God’s will.”

Principal Steve Straessle said Catholic High is “fertile soil” for producing good men and good priests.

“It is not one single thing, but the entire culture of the school. First and foremost, it is the strong spiritual aspects of the environment here but then the other qualities that are generally part of the priesthood like self-sacrifice, serving others, academic excellence — these all come together to form the culture,” he said.

Msgr. Lawrence Frederick, known as Father Fred, serves as the school’s rector and teaches physics and religion, along with Brother Richard Sanker, CFP, the guidance counselor who also teaches religion, and Father Thomas Marks, who lives at the school, all have an invaluable impact on students. Straessle said their presence is a “tangible connection, the visible connection to the Church and all three of them are as joyous about their vocation as they are dedicated. And that’s huge for a teenage boy to see.”

The school will get an additional boost when a graduate and former teacher, soon-to-be Father Patrick Friend, will take his first assignment in June as a chaplain.

The school has always been “the bishop’s school,” Straessle said with both subtle and visible signs, including a reserved parking spot for Bishop Taylor, something Msgr. Frederick made sure was available.

The school offers clubs like Rockets of Faith, where boys support each other in living out their faith.  The Theology Club is student-led and includes investigative topics that enable meaningful discussion. Edward Dodge, the club’s adviser and religion, English and assistant guidance counselor, said it varies in discussion topics, but often returns to the “interplay between free will and grace.” This year’s club has about 18 members and varies beyond Catholics, including Protestants, orthodox Christians, agnostics and atheists, but centers on “respectful dialogue,” he said.

“It’s really about taking ownership of one’s personal experience of faith,” Dodge said.

Whether a student is discerning a call to religious life, marriage or a career, in having a place to find that common ground with others, “then they’re going to be more self-confident in those decisions they make regarding the future.” 

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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