| By David Kerr

Shepherds of Young Souls

The Diocese of Lansing is blessed to have a full-time chaplain at each of its four high schools. Every day of the year, these chaplains provide comfort, offer sacraments, and transform young lives. Diocesan director of communications David Kerr tells us how.

One of Bishop Earl Boyea’s first acts upon being installed as Bishop of Lansing 16 years ago was to insist that each of the four diocesan high schools have a priest as a full-time chaplain. 

“To have a priest serving at our Catholic high schools is a great blessing for staff, families, and students. I am thankful to God that we can provide this important ministry in this diocese,” says Bishop Boyea. “The very presence of a priest in the school corridors and classrooms gives a great daily witness to Jesus Christ and his holy Church. He is not only a wise shepherd to young souls, he also ensures that the sacraments fortify our students and staff as they attempt to grow together as a community of missionary disciples.”

The four Diocese of Lansing high school chaplains are Father Joseph Campbell at Lansing Catholic High School; Father Brian Lenz at Lumen Christi Catholic School in Jackson; Father Anthony Smela at Powers Catholic High School in Flint; and Father John Vinton at Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor. 

“I feel privileged to be able to see the same young people day in and day out,” says Father Vinton, who has been chaplain at Father Gabriel Richard since June 2023. “They are joyful with their friends and teachers, proud at their success on the field, on stage, and in the classroom, and tired from their very full schedules; all the while asking questions and growing in their faith, taking time to visit the Blessed Sacrament and seeking the Lord's guidance for the next step in their lives.”

All four chaplains are young men in their thirties. All have been ordained for less than 10 years. All are on their second or third priestly assignment since ordination. Experienced enough to have some pastoral miles on the clock. Young enough to keep up with the high school kids.

“High schoolers are still growing up and need God's grace and truth as they transition into young adulthood,” explains Father Campbell. “I love being right in the midst of that work of the Holy Spirit.”

Generations of Catholic school alumni can undoubtedly testify to the long-lasting impact of a good school chaplain. Father Brian Lenz, for example, still recalls with great affection his time as a Lansing Catholic High School student when Father Joe Krupp was chaplain. “Day by day for four years, I watched a joyful, holy, captivating young priest simply live in a personal relationship with Jesus,” says Father Lenz. 

“And it is difficult to say how much that witness impacted my perception of God and the Catholic faith during those critical years of growth. I knew instinctively whatever was animating Father Joe's life, and somehow I needed to have that too.”

While times move on, the enemies of the youthful soul remain the same: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Father Campbell says his biggest challenge is “the tremendous pressure of the culture working against the Christian way of life. The power of social media, pop culture, and other social pressures is very real, and all too often those forces are fostering a worldview that is completely opposed to Christianity.” 

Thankfully, the chaplains are not alone in their apostolic endeavors. They have Christ. They have the Church. They have the sacraments. Father Campbell recently began offering all-day eucharistic adoration and confessions every Friday in the chapel at Lansing Catholic High School.

“I didn't expect many to come due to low confession numbers when offered at lunchtime,” he says, “But when the first Friday adoration day came around, I singlehandedly heard nearly 75 confessions.” 

“Almost every Friday since then has had a similar turnout. It has been such a blessing to see that the students' desire for God in the sacraments is even stronger than I was expecting.” 

Meanwhile, on Father Lenz’s desk at Lumen Christi in Jackson there sits a small basket full of cards and notes from students over the past five years who have voiced their gratitude for his priestly influence and example. The consolations of God from the God of consolations.

“I keep that basket within eyesight on purpose,” he says, “When most of our days can feel like sowing instead of reaping, these notes are a visible reminder that Jesus sees me, knows me, and is working through me.” 

“Chaplaincy is amazing; it fills my heart with love for the kids I serve, and it requires every ounce of what I've got. There is never a dull moment.”