by Erin Hunninghake
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — People can be drawn to a relationship with God for many different reasons. Some go searching for it. Some just stumble upon it.
A combination of the two seems to be the case for Atchison’s Maur Hill-Mount Academy students James Cai of Shenzhen, China, and Parker Delfelder of Lawrence.
Like many students from China, Cai grew up with very little knowledge about Christianity. That changed drastically, however, after walking through the doors of Maur Hill-Mount Academy.
“A lot of people back home believed in Buddhism — even my family at one point,” Cai said. “But I never had any type of religion before I came here.”
At first, Cai felt reluctant to participate in MH-MA’s religious practices in any capacity.
“It felt kind of weird that we were required to go to Mass,” he said.
But as time went on, Cai became more curious about what he was reading and hearing in his religion classes, at Mass and during school retreats.
Cai also credits former MH-MA music teacher Joe Heron for fueling in him a desire to seek out answers to his many questions.
“I specifically remember Mr. Heron teaching us that there always has to be a creator to create something,” Cai said. “So I started searching about Jesus and, day by day, I believed in him more and more.”
What really drew Cai into the Catholic faith, however, was the music. Cai even began playing bass at the weekly all-school Masses.
“I feel that’s the main reason I started to believe,” he said. “I learned more about Jesus because of the songs I played and the words I sang.”
Cai said he will continue to further his faith life through music upon graduation from MH-MA this May.
Unlike Cai, Delfelder grew up with a religious background but felt disconnected in her faith.
Delfelder grew up Southern Baptist, but said church was never a prominent aspect in her life, only attending services a few times a year.
When she enrolled as a boarding student at MH-MA last year, she immediately realized the vast difference between this small, Catholic school in Atchison and the large public school she had attended in Lawrence.
Delfelder was surprised to see the entire school praying together before school, before lunch, after school and before some individual classes — something that is taboo in a public school.
“I also noticed that the majority of people here are super in tune with their relationship with God, and I admired that,” she said.
Delfelder said she was raised knowing Jesus loved her, but she never really understood what that actually meant until MH-MA. She credited many of her friends and classmates for showing her what a loving relationship with God really looks like.
“I admired their devotion and kind-hearted attitudes toward others and the way they loved so fearlessly,” said Delfelder.
“After spending some time at Maur Hill, attending retreats, Masses and adoration,” she continued, “I came to the conclusion that the reason they were so loving and genuinely happy was because of their relationship with God.”
One specific teacher and coach was the greatest influence on Delfelder’s decision to become Catholic.
“My math teacher and softball coach Sarah Wise made the biggest impact,” Delfelder said. “I had always heard the phrase, ‘seeing Christ through others,’ but I never truly understood that until I met her.”
“Coach Wise may not know it, but she has done a lot more for me than just teach me how to factor quadratic equations and combine logarithmic functions,” she added. “She continues to show me daily how Jesus impacts her life and the lives of those around her.”
Delfelder admits she didn’t grow up without a relationship with God. There was always something missing, however.
After diving head first into the Catholic life by joining the MH-MA family, she decided to take a leap of faith and look for signs encouraging her to join the Catholic Church.
“It seemed as if everything was pointing me toward this destination that I am quickly nearing,” Delfelder said.
Delfelder feels that her transition to a private, Catholic school was the best decision her parents could have made on her behalf. She said that every day that she spends at MH-MA is a day that her relationship with Christ further develops and strengthens.
“I couldn’t be happier,” she said.
Both Cai and Delfelder, as well as several other MH-MA students, have been attending RCIA classes taught by MH-MA religion teacher Manuel Hernandez, and will be entering the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.