This article is the seventh of a 10-part series that seeks to shed light on these and other tremendous things happening at Bishop Machebeuf High School. For more information about Bishop Machebeuf High School or if you are interested in applying, please visit machebeuf.org.
Discernment is the last of Bishop Machebeuf High School’s four pillars. The goal of this pillar is for students to get involved in various ways and discover their gifts and talents so they begin to realize the true purpose in life that God has entrusted to them.
Clare Davis, Student Advisor & College Admissions Counselor, said, “Discernment is about helping students connect with what they’re passionate about. We want them to start to understand who they are, what they’re interested in, their favorite classes, and why. We sit down and enter into this process of discernment with them beginning their junior year.” For example, Davis shared how a student discovered a passion for poetry and literature. “I suggested to him, ‘Why don’t you start a poetry club?’ and he looked back at me and asked, ‘I can do that?’ and of course, he could! So he did. Now, a group of students meets to read and write poetry, and I’ve been looking into poetry scholarships for them.”
Dr. Ted Snow, Assistant Principal for Student Services, added, “A lot of students are oriented toward college — and that’s great — but there are other things a student can do after high school: They can take a gap year or a mission year. They can enter a discernment year with a religious community. They can take some time for guided discernment regarding what to do next. They can enter the military or a trade or a craft. So we try to make sure they know there are other things like this out there they may not have heard of but can think about.”
Dr. Snow described how Discernment as a pillar of the school helps support the school’s overall mission and purpose. “Students will sometimes think discernment just means deciding whether or not you’re going to enter religious life. Or they’ll have the idea that ‘I’m deciding between college option A and college option B,’ and once they’ve decided on option B, they think discernment is over. But there’s more to it than that. Discernment is a lifelong pursuit, an ongoing activity of the Christian life. That’s what we mean by discernment at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Discernment is an important part of good decision-making and growing in holiness. So, we support students in both of those areas and not just help them make a particular decision but to grow in their ability to discern.”
At Bishop Machebeuf, that support comes from the Student Success & Discernment Center. The Center makes tangible a partnership between Guidance Counseling and Campus Ministry. This partnership manifests Bishop Machebeuf’s vision that discernment is an integrated process of planning and preparing for the next step in their journey within the context of God’s plan and design for each student’s unique and beautiful life. That process of discovery, as a result, is aided by the integrated support they receive and the staff members who are ready and eager to serve them.
Discernment as preparation for the next step in students’ journey of life
Mrs. Becky Brown, Director of Mentoring, facilitates partnerships between Bishop Machebeuf and foundations like ACE Scholars, Schmitz Family Foundation, Seeds of Hope, and the Challenge Foundation. She also works directly with juniors and seniors applying for college scholarships. “Just today, I was working with students that were motivated in applying to the Daniels Fund scholarship. The best part of my job is the moments I share with students. I get to celebrate these milestones with them, like when they’ve finished and submitted an over 20-page application. I was thrilled for our four finalists from Bishop Machebeuf. They have learned life skills just to get to this point. They’ve learned how to broaden their experience, how important volunteering is, and participation in extracurriculars within Bishop Machebeuf and outside of the building to help support their communities. All of those things are important.”
Brown values these experiences, which help integrate the students’ entire personhood. She helps work with them through interview preparation. She has witnessed firsthand the benefits of things like the integrated humanities seminar, which allows them to think critically and articulate their views and perspectives in real-time. “We had a combination of Alumni, professionals from the community, and Daniels scholars that were willing to be a part of mock interview panels. It was fantastic! It was stressful for the applicants, but the best part was when they all came out of their real interviews with smiles on their faces. That means through the process, they learned to be better interviewees. Even beyond this particular interview, it’s helping them learn a valuable life skill.”
Senior Nayla Hernandez recently found out she has been awarded a full-ride scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. She plans to major in Political Science. “For me, it always goes back to the faith component. I may have faced challenges with applications and encountered failure, but I always knew my value wasn’t based on that. I knew I had a community behind me supporting me.”
Senior Elizabeth Gallegos also plans to major in political science in college next year. She appreciated Bishop Machebeuf’s emphasis on discernment as a lifelong skill. “From the time I entered as a freshman, the idea of discernment was something instilled in me. Because of that, when it came time to start the application process, I started preparing a lot earlier than my friends from other schools because it was always about the bigger picture. Meeting with counselors and teachers and knowing they are praying for me and having them encourage me in my prayer and discernment was really important.”
While Bishop Machebeuf may be a small high school, graduates have gone on to many well-respected colleges, including Benedictine College, Colorado School of Mines, Creighton University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Gonzaga University, University of Notre Dame, Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and many more.
Discernment as openness to a call to the priesthood or religious life
In addition to offering opportunities for students to receive the sacraments and spiritual direction, Father Julio Amezcua, Bishop Machebeuf Chaplain, also runs young men’s & women’s discernment groups. These opportunities allow students the chance to integrate and root their daily lives and decision-making with their spiritual lives.
“Discernment is the help to discover the particular call that we have in our lives to go to Heaven and enter into the plan God has for each one of us,” said Father Amezcua. “This call leads us to the happiness we are seeking because the closer we are to the Lord, the clearer our path is going to be. The first call always is to be a Christian, to be with the Lord. From that flows the call to the priesthood, religious life, marriage, and even to discern which college is best. That way, the decisions are based on our faith instead of on a career, money, success, et cetera, because those things aren’t going to bring us happiness, but being with the Lord will.” Father Amezcua described the main goal for the discernment groups as helping students learn to listen to the voice of God in their lives through reading Scripture, sharing their experiences and listening to the experiences of their peers.
Father Amezcua mentioned that part of the young women’s discernment group, in particular, is to read the Church’s documents regarding womanhood. “I think that’s helpful for them to discover also because these days it’s difficult to be a woman. The roles of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ are constantly under attack, so this is something I always like to do with them to help them discover how important they are for the Church.”
Junior Katie Harakal is already discerning a call to religious life at a young age. She attends Father Amezcua’s young women’s discernment group and credits her growing relationship with Jesus Christ to the example and witness of Sister Mary Gemma Stump.
“The women’s discernment group meets once a week, and some days we are doing Lectio Divina, some days we’re listening to different women tell their stories about their vocational discernment, some days we’re just talking to each other or receiving spiritual direction from Father Julio,” Harakal said. “It’s all in the context of a community of women pursuing the Lord and what he wants for us. Because of Bishop Machebeuf and the opportunities I have, the Lord decided to reveal my vocation to me now.”
Discernment is modeled and taught as an active, lifelong process
Dr. Snow is also proud of the quality examples students see from the faculty and their vital role as models of discernment to students. “There are many people here who can model what it means to discern. We have several faculty members who have discerned religious life, who have lived for several years of discernment in the seminary, who have discerned other vocations than where they started. So I’d like to say, ‘that’s okay!’ this is just part of the process. We have a lot of people in our faculty, teachers who model to the students how this process works and how it’s done.”
Father Amezcua reflected that God created each of us, and we are beautiful, unique, and unrepeatable. There has never been anyone like you, nor will there ever be anyone like you again. “Our Lord calls us because for him we are very special. The more we enter into our relationship with God, the more we discover that the Lord loves us as we are, exactly as we are, and that he has created us so to be loved by him.”
Father Amezcua told the story of a student who, through discernment, discovered that the Lord was calling him to go not to his first initial choice of college but to one that, instead, would help him stay close to the Lord. “This is what we’re all about because the path of following the Lord doesn’t finish in high school. Sometimes students graduate from a Catholic school, thinking, ‘Okay. Now I don’t want to think anymore about God,’ but this is not how we think in the Church. The Lord continues to be with us, continues to speak to us, and so our hope with discernment at Bishop Machebeuf is that students continue on the path of Christianity and walking with the Lord for their whole lives.”