A tall man with a long beard stood by the banks of the Jordan River this past June with a ball cap perched on his head blocking the wash of white sunlight from his eyes while clutching a bible in his hand. Before him were the pilgrims— faculty and staff from Catholic schools from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati— listening intently as John Leyendecker, the man in the cap, led them in reflection at one of Christendom’s most holy sites. They collectively pondered and considered the Baptizing of Jesus by John the Baptist as they sat together at the edge of that sacred location. The group leader, Mr. Leyendecker addressed the pilgrims as they attentively listened while the river water flowed past only yards away. And though all ears were tuned in to Mr. Leyendecker, it was impossible to ignore the poignant backdrop of a group of young men garbed all in white being Baptized that very day in those very same waters which washed over our Lord those 2000 or so years ago.
And that is what Mr. Leyendecker, Cincinnati Mission Director for the School of Faith, was doing that day as he led educators in prayer, meditation and reflection as they walked the very ground once tread by Jesus, His Holy Mother and the Apostles.
It is little wonder that the pilgrims, that is, our local Catholic school teachers and catechists, return saying things such as, “Life changing!” and “Transformational!” after having come home from the 9-day trip to Israel.
Christina Riggins, a teacher at St. James School in White Oak writes, “This experience makes all you have ever know about your faith and the life of Jesus Christ come to life and become so real.” It is this reality of Jesus, Jesus who is alive and present, that an energized Mrs. Riggins brings back to her students.
The strangers being Baptized that day last June waited their turn to be born anew as children of God while standing chest high in the River Jordan. The concentric circles and little lapping waves their bodies made intersected and rippled far beyond their small group. Soon would come the moment when the sacrament would be performed thereby beginning their new lives in Christ.
Likewise, the contingent of faculty and staff in attendance from our Archdiocesan schools were preparing to begin a journey along the same theme. They too would be leaving that holy site to begin their new lives as disciples whose faith and spiritual selves had been set aflame by the experience. And with that new fire came a renewed calling, not to keep this transformative growth to themselves, but to bring it to their colleagues, their students, their families and neighbors. It was time for them to take what they had learned back across the water to their own shores, schools, and homes.
This newly kindled purpose set alight in these educators is not left to sustain itself. They gather within their particular schools for follow-up sessions and small group discussions led by Mr. Leyendecker. They meet with other program participants for fellowship and sharing witness to the ripples of positive change they’ve brought forth to themselves and those around them. They share their struggles and their successes. But most importantly, they share their faith.
Each year the Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA) supports New Evangelization programs that help Catholics experience Christ in their own lives. The School of Faith is just one New Evangelization efforts in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati taking root and changing lives. The School of Faith (first established by Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City, 2005) was invited to minister to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati by way of invitation and endorsement from Archbishop Dennis Schnurr in 2015.
For more information on the “School of Faith,” please visit http://www.catholiccincinnati.org/ministries-offices/one/school-of-faith/ or contact: [email protected]