By KATIE BORKOWSKI
Because chaplains play a special role in the lives of Catholic school students, Bishop Walker Nickless has assigned a number of diocesan priests to that ministry.
Father Brian Feller is in his second school year as chaplain at Kuemper Catholic High School in Carroll. He mostly interacts with the high school-aged students, though he has interacted with all grade levels.
The priest is also the parochial vicar at St. Lawrence Parish among other ministries. There are several aspects to his position as chaplain – personal, planning, organizing, advising and sacramental.
He said he is grateful to God “for placing me here and at this time with the people of the Carroll County area as their school chaplain.”
A majority of Father Feller’s time at Kuemper is spent interacting on a personal level. Individual students and faculty or staff come to visit with the priest in his office about faith issues, moral issues, the joys and struggles of life.
“I do work with kids who are discerning religious or priestly vocations,” said Father Feller. “I typically do this with high school students and staff, but on fewer occasions I have visited with students in the other grade levels.”
Interacting with all
He also initiates and leads small group Bible studies or discipleship groups of six to ten students. The chaplain also initiates conversations with students in the halls during passing periods at games and in the lunch room. Father Feller also visits classrooms, both theology and non-theology, throughout the K-12 system.
“Sometimes I will field questions, other times I will come in to talk about a specific topic, for example, priesthood, Mary, First Communion, and so on,” said the chaplain. “I attend games and activities outside of school, often times leading a pre-game and or post-game prayer.”
On occasion, Father Feller takes 10 minutes or so out of his day to play with the students in their P.E. activity or at recess.
“I enjoy the goodness of the students,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me,’ so as a priest, I say, ‘How do I help them walk to and with Jesus?’”
In another part of his ministry as chaplain, Father Feller spends time planning, organizing and advising. He helps plan and lead student and faculty retreats and faculty faith formation. He fields teacher and administrator questions and offers counsel.
Father Feller oversees and works in conjunction with Deacon Tim Murphy and Mike McCarty as they plan and organize religious activities – Masses, retreats, etc. He attends and contributes to theology department meetings.
“I research, study and plan ways to evangelize and catechize our parents, faculty and staff,” said the priest. “We have begun to offer parent retreats for the parents of our students to support them in their vocations as Catholic parents.”
At the sacramental level, Father Feller typically celebrates Mass at 7 a.m. on Fridays at Kuemper for anywhere from 20 to 70 students, coaches and faculty – depending on the sports season. He does this unless he is needed for 7 a.m. Mass at the parish.
“I hear confessions before the Friday morning Mass,” said Father Feller. “Next year, I want to make it known to the students and staff that they can pull me aside to hear their confessions during study hall, lunch or by appointment.”
The chaplain also celebrates or concelebrates school Masses either for the K-5/9-12 students or for the 6-8 students as well as all-school Masses in a rotation with the Carroll area pastors.
“I occasionally offer daily Mass in the school chapel if I’m not already scheduled for a parish Mass – that the students can choose to attend if they are free after/before school,” said Father Feller. “I expose the Blessed Sacrament and offer Benediction on First Fridays, with the help of Deacon Murphy. I also expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament on other Fridays as adults come to keep prayer vigil for our students and teachers throughout the school day.”
Father Mauro Sanchez has been chaplain at Le Mars Gehlen Catholic School since Aug. 2, when he started at All Saints Parish. He tries to interact with all grade levels, but “I find it easier to interact with elementary schools kids. I feel they are more open to spend time with me and more welcoming.”
Thus far, the chaplain has been spending time with the students at lunch time.
“When I am there, I greet all the students from kindergarten through high school,” said Father Sanchez. “I usually eat lunch with first, fifth and sixth graders. They eat really fast, so I can spend time with the different groups. Then, I go out to play recess with them.”
On other days, the chaplain goes mainly to the classrooms of middle school and high school students before lunch or after lunch. Father Sanchez sits with them and answers their questions about religion.
“I just became the mentor for one of the students who is having some difficulties at school because of his life situation at home, so we will be eating lunch and maybe playing recess together every Tuesday,” he said.
Father Sanchez supervises at the wellness center on Wednesdays and Fridays after school for an hour, since students are not allowed to be in the center without an adult to supervise.
“I like working out at that time,” said Father Sanchez. “I open the gym for them so that they can lift weights. I go to their games and stop by when they are getting ready for a game just to see how they are doing.”
The chaplain hopes to have an office soon, so students who need assistance, who want to talk to him, who have questions or who want to go to confession have a place to find him.
“I enjoy spending time with the younger kids,” said Father Sanchez. “I have a lot of nephews and nieces, so when I am with them, I kind of feel at home.”
He said having a priestly presence in the schools “can help us to get more vocations to the priesthood because by seeing a priest around we can plant that seed in their minds and help them ask themselves if they would like to be a priest or if God is calling them to the priesthood.”
“They can get more familiar with having a priest around and stop being afraid of priests,” said Father Sanchez. “It also helps them see us as normal people who they can trust and can come to us when they need a friend to talk to or if they are going through a tough time in their lives and need some help.”