Kalee Ternus, left, Kristen Sucha and Rylie Jarecki, eighth-graders at Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Columbus, enjoy the exchange during a recent Rock Talk session at the school. TAYLOR DAHL

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CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK: Rock Talk helps students encounter Jesus with Gospels

How can teens have a personal encounter with Jesus through the Gospels and learn to share that experience with others?

At Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Columbus, the entire student body and staff stop everything once a month to do just that. It’s called Rock Talk.

Taking its name from the school’s symbol – the shamrock – Rock Talk is giving students a chance to learn what Christ is telling them in the Gospels and how to live it out in their daily lives.

Implemented last fall, Rock Talk uses small groups of seven to eight students, grouped by grade and gender, to study the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday, with two teachers, staff or volunteers to lead their discussion. Students stay in the same groups throughout their time at Scotus Central.

Rock Talk began out of necessity, said school President and Principal Jeff Ohnoutka.

“We were being proactive because we knew that we were not going to have a priest assigned to our school as a campus minister, so this is our way of providing evangelization for the students and the adults,” he said.

POSITIVE IMPACT

“It’s really the best thing I’ve been a part of in Catholic education,” Ohnoutka said. “The kids just love it, and the benefits I’ve seen for the adults have been tremendous as well. It has had a very positive impact on our school.”

Ohnoutka touts the camaraderie he sees developing among students and with their adult leaders.

Students also have organized weekly Divine Mercy chaplet devotion in the chapel, they stop in the chapel before school to pray and offer their day to the Lord, and they have become more involved in campus ministry activities such as helping plan school Masses.

And both students and adult leaders are lobbying for Rock Talk to take place twice a month next school year, he said.

For Brea Lassek, a senior from St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus, the sessions are something to look forward to.

“We get to settle down and talk about God and what’s going on in our lives,” she said. “It’s a great way to find peace amidst all the stress and chaos of our lives.

Rock Talk sessions begin with “ice breaker” discussion questions, and students sharing the highs and lows of their week and how God was present in those moments.

“Depending on what people say, we may go deeper into it,” Lassek said. “It’s great when we get to that part of the conversation where we can all trust each other to go deeper in that conversation, and you know it’s a safe place.”

POWER OF SCRIPTURE

Then, as her group examines the Gospel reading, Lassek appreciates the variety of interpretations that come up.

“It’s great to see other people’s viewpoints. When I’m praying, something might not be revealed to me (in the same way) as it is to someone else, so it’s great to share our faith in that way, (sharing) our personal experiences with the same text,” she said.

Dana Ritzdorf, an adult volunteer and member of St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus, is convinced Jesus can reach students through the Scriptures.

“As Catholics, we believe in the power of the Word of God, so hopefully, they can encounter the Lord through the times that we’re praying together, and he would be the one to touch their hearts and help them have that change of heart (so) that they start desiring to seek him.”

Lassek said the most important thing she’s learned is to incorporate God into everything she does so he can work through her. That includes developing a better sense of how to share the faith with others.

“Rock Talk has guided me to look to the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit wants me to say that might affect other people – being authentic and not scripted.”

CAMARADERIE AND FELLOWSHIP

Senior Emmitt Broberg, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Columbus, appreciates the sense of fellowship that has developed within his group.

“I’ve been able to discuss my faith more openly with others, with my friends, and we’ve been able to help each other grow in our faith.”

Getting to know and forming bonds with other students he would not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with is another benefit, he said.

“We’re able to have a fun time while discussing how we should live our faith every day,” Broberg said. “I’ve become a better person and my prayer has become deeper than it had been.”

Broberg no longer believes he’s too busy to pray, and now sets aside 10 to 15 minutes to pray before bed or when waking up. “Jesus wanted us to have time to do everything with him,” he said.

Mike VunCannon, a member of St. Isidore Parish in Columbus and one of the volunteer adult leaders in Broberg’s group, sees building that relationship with Jesus as vital to helping students keep their faith once they graduate and leave home.

“Especially for the seniors, it’s important for them to understand how important faith is as they begin this journey without dependency on their parents,” he said. “Come May, they’ll be making decisions that will decide their future path.”

What they’re learning through Rock Talk “will help kids understand that it’s not a chore to practice your faith – it’s a God-given gift,” he said.