KCK’s Christ the King School brings families to the faith
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The term “Spirit filled” is hardly strong enough to describe the atmosphere at Christ the King School here.
Eleven percent of the school’s 230 students are non-Catholic and, each year, at least one or two convert to the Catholic faith.
But this year, the school has been tremendously blessed.
Fourteen students have been baptized so far. Those students in turn are bringing the joy of the Catholic faith home to adults in their families, many of whom are attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes to learn more about the source of that joy.
Fifth-grade teacher Franciel Nyakatura, who also directs religious education for the parish, said that when she heard about the earthquake in Haiti, it made her think of Christ the King.
“I was thinking about what happened and how the devastation is at the epicenter of the earthquake,” she said. “Well, when I look at Christ the King, I see us at the epicenter of joy and compassion and Christian teaching. And I think, because of that, with the parish and the school, it just begins to radiate out.”
Indeed, the spreading faith that Nyakatura alludes to is just what pastor Father Bill McEvoy hoped for when he came to this parish.
“Evangelization has been a priority for me since coming to Christ the King,” he said. “And the first thing we looked at is: ‘What are we inviting people to?’ A lifelong faith, yes. But faith is transmitted in many ways through the parish community.”
Part of the reason for the many conversions at the school is that siblings have chosen to join the church together. The group of 14 represents 7 families.
Of those families, six parents or grandparents are participating in the parish RCIA sessions. Two other parents from the school, whose children were baptized as infants, are also attending the sessions.
“We focused on becoming a more explicitly welcoming family of faith,” said Father McEvoy. “And these new members are evidence that our efforts have been good ones.”
Christ the King School faculty and staff work hard to create a real sense of Catholic community in the school, he said.
And that community is nurtured by principal Cathy Fithian who believes Catholicism should be infused into all aspects of the school curriculum.
“I think our students see something — a family of faith that they want to be a part of — and that’s why they choose baptism,” said Fithian.
All Christ the King teachers are currently taking School of Faith classes, and Fithian reminds them regularly to make sure they are consciously incorporating Catholic doctrine into the core curriculum of the classroom.
Illustrating that practice, Nyakatura recalled a recent incident in her English class when a student made a mistake while reading poetry aloud. When classmates laughed, Nyakatura took the opportunity to teach a lesson in faith.
“We talked about how Jesus Christ would have treated that person who made a mistake,” she explained.
But it’s not enough to teach the faith, said Father McEvoy.
“Every Catholic school is a home away from home for our students and faculty,” said Father McEvoy. “It’s a family of faith. And although we teach what Christ taught, nonetheless faith is something that is caught. We want our faith to be contagious!”
When students voice an interest in becoming Catholic, their parents are directed to contact pastoral associate Sister Marilyn Schieber, OSB.
“When I meet with the parents, I try to answers their questions and help them verbalize why they choose baptism [for their child] in the Catholic Church,” she said. “I also ask the parents to contact Father Bill [McEvoy], our pastor.
“Since I am the catechist who teaches the baptism preparation to parents, I invite them to the baptism class for parents. I also expect the parents to enroll the child in the religious education program if they are not already enrolled in the Catholic school.”
The school is very supportive of its members who choose to be baptized. Though most of the baptisms take place at Sunday Mass, when family members can attend, school friends and classmates are always present as well.
“Many of their classmates come to be supportive — especially the older students,” said Fithian.
Naturally, students’ parents become curious about the motivation behind their children’s decisions.
“Sometimes we haven’t been able to reach the parents,” said Nyakatura. “But the word of God says the little children shall lead them. So maybe this is one way we can bring the parents and the rest of the family into the church.”
Sister Marilyn encourages parents to use the RCIA program as a learning tool, without any pressure to convert. But sometimes through the process of learning, a conversion takes place.
“They want to know and understand what the Catholic faith is all about,” she said. “When they join RCIA, they do not necessarily plan to join the Catholic Church — they just want to receive some answers.
“Often, what happens is that they find they like what they see and what they came in search of.”
After attending RCIA, many adult family members choose to be baptized or receive whatever sacraments they need to become fully Catholic.
“For Christ the King, there is so much joy and enthusiasm in living our faith that people want the blessing we have,” said Father McEvoy. “And our faith is something that is strengthened when we give it away. It’s a win-win blessing for us all.”