By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
The Notre Dame High School community witnessed a milestone in the faith lives of four students.
During the Lawrenceville school’s Easter Mass celebrated on the Wednesday of Holy Week, the school’s students, faculty and staff joyfully and prayerfully looked on as seniors Cate Hahn, Kelly Young and Alexa Schaeffer, and sophomore Manon Bielsa became fully initiated Catholics. The four had been baptized – Schaeffer and Bielsa as Catholics and Hahn and Young in the Protestant tradition – they completed their Sacraments of Initiation by receiving Confirmation and First Holy Communion with their classmates, and in the midst of their school community.
“This is not something that happens every day,” to have four students received into the Church in the context of a high school setting, said Father Jason Parzynski, school chaplain, who noted that he received permission from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., to administer the Sacraments to the students during the Easter Mass.
But this occasion, he said, serves, first and foremost, as an example of the strong Catholic nature of the school’s environment and how the students were led in their desire to become Catholic, he said.
“That says a lot about the ability of how the faculty and staff can help teenagers grow in their Catholic faith,” said Father Parzynski, who, along with the school’s campus minister, Tracy Reed, provided instruction to the four students on the Catholic faith and working under the auspices of the school’s territorial parish, St. Ann, Lawrenceville, in preparing them for Confirmation and Eucharist.
“It was here at Notre Dame where they found Christ.”
In sharing their individual faith journeys, the young women agreed that being in a Catholic school environment, taking religion classes, witnessing school Masses and prayer services, and participating in campus ministry activities were motivating factors for their wanting to explore the Catholic faith on a deeper level.
Schaeffer said that although she was baptized and that her mother is Catholic, her family was not active in their faith and she had attended a public elementary school. When choosing a high school, she chose Notre Dame. “I wanted to meet new people and have a fresh start,” she said.
In preparing to become Catholic over the past three years, Schaeffer was particularly moved to experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation and have the opportunity to “have someone to talk to and someone to listen.”
“I feel that I’ve come full circle,” Schaeffer said.
She added that she plans to continue her campus ministry involvement in Penn State University, where she will be majoring in pre-med.
While Young had “never been concerned” with religion prior to arriving at Notre Dame, her views changed once she entered high school and became part of the campus ministry. During a Caritas retreat she attended in October, she recalled having had a personal experience with God and soon thereafter realized she wanted to pursue the Catholic faith.
“That was my ‘Aha’ moment,” she said of the retreat, which had many prayer experiences and opportunities for faith sharing. “It was overwhelming. I was overcome with emotions,” she said.
She then began her studies in the faith in January.
“It was amazing,” she said of being confirmed and receiving the Eucharist. “I feel like I sealed the deal.”
At first, attending a Catholic school took some getting used to for Hahn, especially since she had previously attended a school where talking about religion was considered taboo.
In her junior year, however, she, too, had a “life-changing” experience when she attended a Caritas retreat and became more involved with the campus ministry. Since then, she’s also been active in helping with school Masses and became more interested in religion through her classes.
“I didn’t realize that I had a relationship with God until recently,” she said, noting the inner peace she found after going to Confession and receiving Eucharist for the first time.
Similar to Hahn, Bielsa also had very limited connections with the Catholic Church until she arrived at Notre Dame. She previously attended public school where religion was not discussed.
Grateful to her parents for sending her to Notre Dame, a place where she feels she could be herself, Bielsa added that she is looking forward to becoming more involved with campus ministry retreats and events in her junior year.
“My parents were surprised when I told them that I wanted to become Catholic,” she said, noting that it was through a friend at school who encouraged her to seriously consider becoming Catholic.
“When I decided, I was smiling the whole day.”
For her Confirmation name, Bielsa chose Mary in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and because of her school’s name – Notre Dame – which means Mother of God.