By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
Reaching back into his days as a member of The Highlands School’s inaugural sixth grade class, Father Daniel Hennessy recalled the name of a school chaplain who would ultimately change the direction of his life.
“His name was Father Lancelot McGrath,” said Father Hennessy, a priest of the Legionaries of Christ who now serves as the International Director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. “He was somebody that we could talk to regularly and just have on hand. For me, in particular, that meant a lot because he then became a good role model for me.”
For the Legionaries of Christ priests currently at The Highlands School, it’s just one example among many that illustrates the need and effectiveness of its priests and consecrated women in forming the students’ spiritual lives.
“When it comes to religious working in schools, each one of them will have their own charism that they bring to the table,” said Father Daniel Ray, current president of The Highlands School, who was ordained alongside of Father Hennessy in 2006. “Part of what our charism is has to do with transforming the culture and society and education is the best shot at doing that well.”
Four years after The Highlands School was established in 1986, the Legionaries of Christ were invited to become a permanent part of its future.
By design, Father Ray said, none of the Legion priests at The Highlands School serve as academic faculty. Instead, they focus on their expertise: the spiritual formation of their students. For the boys, that task is left up to New Zealand native Father Simon Cleary.
“Most schools do not answer the big questions in life: how am I supposed to live in a healthy manner; how am I supposed to find a job that suits me and will also sustain me and my upcoming family; how am I supposed to learn how to love and be loved; what is my purpose in life,” Father Cleary said. “We try with our formation program to point the boys towards answers to those questions.”
While the programs for girls and boys share basic similarities, such as formation classes from fourth grade onward and opportunities for one-on-one spiritual direction, Father Cleary said it is not a “copy, paste program.” Rather, he said, both have been adapted to suit the different needs of the boys and the girls.
Building a relationship is critical in determining whether any spiritual guidance is going to be effective, he said, but ultimately, all a priest can do is plant the seeds of faith and hope God nurtures them.
“(Education) is not about just imparting information,” Father Ray said. “It’s about forming who these kids are growing up to be.”