A Letter from Our New Pastor

To my new Family of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church,

If you want to know more about me as a priest and person, you have to understand this one thing: I believe that the parish is THE SCHOOL OF PRAYER. I want said of every parish that I have the care of, “When I go to that parish for Sunday Mass, I can feel that the people of that parish really pray.”

The parish is THE school of prayer; the pastor is the teacher; and the encounter between God and man – prayer – is the subject taught. It is a vision that I have received from countless priests whom I have encountered and believe to have true priestly hearts after the Heart of Jesus. 

Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, Adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly falls in love.” 

Pope Benedict XVI sets forth the encouragement for pastors with these words, “Your first duty as pastors is not projects or organization, but to lead your people to a deep intimacy with the Trinity. The faithful only expect one thing from their priests: that they be the specialists in promoting the encounter between God and man. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction, or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.” 

You will also learn that my vision and philosophy for parish life revolves around the acronym R-I-M. That stands for Relationship, Identity and Mission. First, how does the parish foster the relationship between Jesus and the individual parishioner? Second, does that relationship foster a person’s identity as being a beloved son or daughter of God? Third, how does (the parish activity, school, organization) relate to the overall mission of evangelization and our call to be saints through discipleship? 

My philosophy on handling problems and issues that arise in parish life comes from my background as a respiratory therapist. I have literally held many lives in my hands from newborn infants to the very elderly and dying. The most important life is the one that I hold in my hands; that’s yours. As a pastor, I am responsible for your eternal life. There is not one thing that we can’t work through, as along as we are both ready to accept and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth of the Gospel is the light to shine on every situation that might arise in the future. 

I strongly believe in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is THE opportunity to begin again as many times as necessary in this life. There is nothing that cannot be solved by a good examination of conscience, an act of contrition, penance and absolution. I know this to be true because it is the formula I rely upon to keep me on the path to sainthood. Once you begin to know me personally, you will realize I take great comfort in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; not only will I offer it regularly as a priest, but I also take advantage of it regularly as a sinner. 

I love being invited out to dinner and to family homes. I enjoy getting to know families on a more personal level, and that is going to be a challenge with almost 2800 families in OLPH. I enjoy hunting, especially upland game bird hunting like pheasant and grouse. I play golf, fish and enjoy the regular bourbon and cigar. I have a dog named Finbar. It is an unusual name, but Saint Finbar was the monk who founded the monastery that became Cork, Ireland. He is a mix between a Great Dane and Airedale Terrier.

I am the oldest of five children of Dr. Harry and Mary Lynne Yokum. I grew up in London, Ohio, and I attended St. Patrick Church and grade school. I attended London High School and then off to The Ohio State University. My seminary studies were completed at the Josephinum and Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland. I was ordained in 2007 by Bishop Campbell. My first assignment was at St. Andrew with Fr. Watson. In 2009, I was named pastor of St. Monica and St. Peter in Chains in Scioto County. Over the past 12 years, I have served as the pastor of nine parishes and three schools over Scioto and Jackson counties. 

“The dignity of man rests, above all, on the fact that he is called to communion with God.” (Fr. Scott Traynor, JCL) God has called us into communion with each other in this parish of Our Lady as pastor and flock. Please pray for me that I may always be a priest of true prayer and witness to the mysteries of Christ in the way that I administer the parish, pray and celebrate the sacraments; and may you always be a flock ready to respond to the grace that is being afforded through the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, through the dignified celebration of the Sacramental Life. 

Peace,
Fr. Joe

Staff Profile: Deacon Michael Kopczewski | Beauty

By Eric Brooks

One of Deacon Michael Kopczewski’s strongest principles is to, “Seek truth, goodness, and beauty and the ultimate end of these is God.” 

He was ordained as a permanent deacon in 2016, a process requiring almost a decade of formation, prayer, and study. According to Deacon Michael, he did not wake up one morning and decide on his vocation, it was a lifelong “drawing and feeling that became more intense over time.” He further describes it as a series “nudges” from Jesus to go deeper.

Deacon Michael further describes that, while feeling Jesus’ call, he used every dodge and excuse to stave off the inevitable. In fact, he states that he went through every one of the excuses used by the Old Testament prophets. It was also clear to those close to him that Deacon Michael was being called. While dating his future wife Camille while they were students at Ohio State, she once asked him if he needed to enter seminary. However, that was not the path God had chosen for Deacon Michael and the two of them would marry at St. Andrews in Upper Arlington. It was not his home parish, but the parish he was a part of while attending college. Camille, at the time a Methodist, so he describes it as “neutral ground.”

There were a handful of pivotal “nudges” for Deacon Michael and one of his favorite stories involves our former pastor Fr. Swickard. The deacon describes himself as an introvert and “painfully shy.” Shortly after our future deacon was married, Fr. Swickard approached him and admitted there were no lectors available for that Mass, asking him to volunteer. Following the example of those ancient prophets Deacon Michael produced a litany of excuses why he could not and Father went on to choose another volunteer for the readings. 

Throughout the Mass Michael felt a growing sense that he should have said “yes” to the opportunity and following the service approached Fr. Swickard to apologize for not agreeing to answer yes. Fr. Swickard promptly replied that “I wasn’t the one asking you.” He stated, “Fr. Swickard probably didn’t think anything of it, but it made me realize that simple small opportunities and invitations to say “yes” to loving and serving Jesus are placed before us every day, many times by those people in our everyday lives”

Other nudges came from Deacon Michael’s involvement with Camille in Pre-Cana, RCIA and his work training altar servers. “My wife Camille has an enthusiasm and passion for caring for people that is inspiring. Working with her in RCIA was a joy and also a gift.” A pivotal nudge came when he became involved with Disciples for Life. He explains that “Jesus was relentless in the pursuit of me to go deeper in my faith and prayer, and I could feel a longing to serve the People of God.” Formation with the Disciples for Life Retreat team and its retreats themselves gave him an opportunity to reflect upon God’s call. The humility, service, and the witness of faith of those on the retreat team was, and still is, inspiring. They most definitely demonstrate in real actions saying yes to being disciples. 

What followed was contacting the Diaconate Office at the diocese and a series of Saturday courses at the Josephinum on history, philosophy, and theology specific to the permanent deaconate over the next three or four years. Next was a serious assessment from the diocese and a year as an Aspirant. At this point Michael had to petition to the Candidacy, a serious undertaking that also involved a letter of permission from Camille. He received the call from the bishop and over the next three years undertook an intense period of contemplation, formation, prayer, and study. This candidacy lasts for three years and involves reaffirming your desire to remain in the process on a yearly basis. Michael progressed from Lector to Acolyte and was then ordained to the clergy on November 26th, 2016 along with eleven of his fellow permanent deacons. 

Deacons are the first of three groups or orders of ordained clergy. During their time in seminary priests are ordained as “transitional deacons” who are then later ordained into the presbyterate or priesthood. However permanent deacons remain in that vocation; permanently. All ordained ministers are called to functions of Word, Sacrament, and Charity and exercise these in different ways. According to the USCCB “As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church’s resources to meet those needs.” For anyone interested or considering the deaconate, more information regarding deacons can be found at the USCCB website: Deacons.

Deacon Michael enjoys drawing, painting, and sculpting both professionally and as a hobby as well as being outdoors. Doing so has given him an eye for recognizing the beauty of a perfect sunrise or an exquisitely formed leaf on a tree, recognizing that God created that beauty. Our parishioners also provide him with beauty, and he describes himself as “being among living saints.” Deacon Michael is particularly humbled by all the works our parishioners are quietly performing without any recognition or need of recognition. “I am so grateful to those who quietly go about giving of themselves in service to the Church.”

If he could have one wish, Deacon Michael would like to share that sense of the beauty of God’s love with the entire world and that God will always love them. “People are attracted to true beauty, beauty that is more than just appearance. It is more than just a superficial or exterior thing. True beauty is the love of God, or in other words God Himself, He seeks us out and we are drawn to Him.”

Michael also appreciates how permanent deacons “straddle two worlds” between the secular and the religious. In the workplace Deacon Michael views himself as “being a witness and humble servant.” It is not through loudly proclaiming fire and brimstone, but by simply living his faith that he hopes to influence our increasingly secular and post-Christian world. “Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 5:15 – 16) It takes a special kind of courage, a special beauty to proudly live our Catholic faith when it is seemingly attacked from all quarters. 

There is also a beauty in surrendering to God’s will and Deacon Michael regularly does this. Being that introvert, every time he accepts the blessing and walks to the ambo for a gospel reading or homily he prays, “Holy Spirit, work through me, that your people may hear your words not mine. I need your help with this.” It also does not help that his wife Camille is an extraordinarily gifted, passionate lector and he sometimes has to follow her. Deacon Michael readily admits that she is integral to his calling and working together in the parish has deepened their faith both as a couple and as individuals. 

In addition to art, Deacon Michael loves spending time with his family. The time he gets to spend with his wife Camille and two daughters Michaela and Melina is truly precious. “I am truly blessed to have such an amazing family and be able to spend time with each other.” Perhaps surprisingly, Deacon Michael also has a passion for motorcycles in his spare time. “Riding a motorcycle is the closest you can be to flying without being in an airplane.” He started out as a child with dirt bikes and then went on to rebuilding larger bikes. Deacon Michael currently most often rides a BWM all road. While it may seem counterintuitive, riding bikes gives him “a time of peace and reflection.” He humorously adds, “Even deacons ride motorcycles.” Deacon Michael also enjoys cooking, giving him yet another opportunity to help prepare a time to gather and be together.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind…” (Eccles. 3:11)

Staff Profile: Camille Kopczewski | Gifts and Talents

Camille Kopczewski is grounded by her upbringing, her faith, and the Our Lady parish community. She was raised in Pickaway County on a working farm and as she explains, “My dad worked incredibly hard and soybeans paid for his daughters’ college education.” As a student in high school, Camille promised herself she would never be a teacher after watching a classroom of particularly antagonistic students reduce a particularly kindhearted teacher to tears. Given her farming background, she obtained a master’s degree in Agriculture Communication and then worked for Ohio State in Extension. Her goal was to work in agricultural publications; perhaps as a magazine editor, radio host, or something similar. 

At the same time, she was teaching dance in Mt. Sterling and realized this was giving her talents a natural outlet and that she was being called to education, despite her promise never to pursue it. Camille taught in South-Western Public Schools for five years, but then wanted to spend more time with her own daughter. As a result, she accepted a part-time position at Our Lady of Perpetual Help as the Director of Religious Education, a role she would serve in for ten years. 

Directing the Parish School of Religion allowed Camille to embrace her talents and she stated, “The PSR families added such beautiful threads into the fabric of the parish.” At PSR’s height during her tenure, she was responsible for approximately 380 students and over eighty volunteer teachers and instructors. She pauses and then adds, “I really do miss that.” 

During the same time, her own daughters were very much a part of her gifts to the parish. From her classroom, Camille gestures towards the church and recalls her toddler daughters in fleece sleepers playing while she was running Thursday night RCIA sessions and how one of them had her own “Office Kid” identification badge because she spent so much time in the church office. 

After ten years as Religious Education Director, Camille needed a change and Julie Freeman offered her a teaching position at the school. For the past eight years she has taught various classes and grade levels. She currently teaches religion and social studies to the middle schoolers and is an 8th grade homeroom teacher. Having previously taught in public schools and being a product of public education herself, Camille is very impressed by the involvement of Our Lady’s school families. “I always remember what a blessing it is that when I’m talking to a student, I know I’m talking to that student’s entire family.” 

Camille also loves how she is able to integrate our shared Catholic faith into all of her lessons, not simply the religion classes. She explained how in social studies her students are currently studying ancient Rome and how she can incorporate the infancy of Christianity into those lessons. This allows Camille to focus on the kids, not simply educating them, but as she states, “I am preparing our future followers of Jesus as well as our future leaders.” Continuing that preparation of leaders, she was happy to introduce me to her current student teacher who was forgoing his own Spring Break to continuing working with her. 

While Camille expressed some reservations regarding my interview and this article because she does not want to be considered “special,” that same student teacher immediately quipped, “Can I tell you how special she is so that would circumvent her not wanting to be considered special?” 

Perhaps Camille’s greatest challenge as a teacher at Our Lady is individualizing her lessons to recognize the “gifts, talents, needs” of her students. She pointed to an empty desk in her classroom and added, “He is so gifted, I just need to bring it out.” Camille added, “I am so blessed when my students challenge me to challenge them.” However, her greatest joy as a teacher is the depth of respect the students and teachers have for each other and that “I get to know their stories.” 

Camille is a fierce advocate for her family, particularly her husband our own Deacon Michael. Despite my eclectic taste in music, I have never been drawn towards country music (I apologize to both my wife and father who attended a Garth Brooks concert a few years ago… no, we’re not related to Garth Brooks) but Camille jokes about a song regarding a preacher husband and teacher wife. She also jokes, “I don’t know how he puts up with me as a wife.” 

However, Camille knows that, “the whole [parish] community loves us and we’re part of their lives and they’ve essentially fostered our kids.” She is also part of the lives of entire generations of students and they are equally a part of her life. “This church is my home.”

A common thread I have observed when speaking with school staff is the level of anxiety of our youngest parishioners. If Camille had one wish, it would be to eliminate that anxiety. Given her history in public and religious education, I asked Camille if she felt that student anxiety has increased over the past years. She responded yes, and that some of it is due to increased awareness of emotional issues, but also placed considerable blame on the rise of social media. It is something the two of us are in vehement agreement on. Camille further explains, “Social media can be so damaging.”

Being the “deacon’s wife” and a teacher with her own children at the school, Camille has learned to develop a careful balancing act. She passionately advocates for her children and husband’s gifts and talents. However, being a part of the larger parish community, she tries hard to not promote them above others. That explains her reticence to be interviewed, but she also explains, “We figured it out.” Camille laughs, “Our family is actually very normal.” 

Having spoken with Deacon Michael several times and now having an opportunity to interview Camille, I am struck by how they compliment each other. And in doing so, add immeasurable value to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Both are completely dedicated to our parish but offer very different gifts and talents. Camille is most definitely intense and passionate, while our Deacon focuses on dedication and humility. Both are certainly devoted to service. 

Camille’s eyes smile above her mask when she recounts a family joke. She is an extraordinarily gifted lector, and her “painfully introverted” husband hates to read after her, given her talent in that particular charism. When she sits down in the pew after proclaiming the second reading, she likes to tell her daughters, “Okay, Deacon, your turn.” 

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Mindy O’Harra | Adversity

“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet numerous trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (Jn 1:2 – 3) 

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov 17:17)

Brad Allen recently told me that Julie Freeman is very good at identifying the strengths of her staff. As Brad also exhibits, many of Our Lady of Perpetual Help school faculty and staff wear many hats. Both of these are true for Mindy O’Harra. Previously Mindy was a substitute teacher and part-time intervention aide at the school while also working outside the school as a personal trainer. When Sam Seggerson, our previous physical education teacher, retired last Summer, Julie realized that Mindy was an excellent fit for that position.

Mindy is a product of Catholic schools, having attended St. Stephen Martyr’s elementary school and then graduating from Bishop Ready High School. Exhibiting the importance of personal connections that Fr. Watson so values, it was at Bishop Ready that Mindy first met Julie and, through her, has formed a connection with the parish and school. Forming yet another connection between the school and parish, Mindy also serves as our Athletics Director, responsible for all sports involving both the school and PSR students. 

With her background as an intervention specialist, Mindy still maintains a caseload of those students despite working as both a physical education teacher and Athletics director. These students face their own personal adversities and Mindy is proud to support them and enjoys the one-on-one interaction when her gym classes are more group lessons, so to speak. Her unique position with its number of roles also gives her the opportunity to “use gym as a reward and get those students [with special needs] to succeed.” 

Outside of the intervention program, Mindy also enjoys facing the other students with adversity in athletics. As she explains, “It’s just a learning experience; they learn the most through losing.” Mindy also knows there are some games some students love while other hate them, but that adversity is also part of the learning process. No doubt as adults all of us have aspects of our jobs that we love and others that we love… not so much. Being able to identify these daily frustrations and handle them in a constructive manner at a young age will be extremely beneficial to our parochial children. 

Beyond Our Lady’s school, Mindy is also responsible for all athletics sponsored by the parish. The current pandemic has certainly impacted the ability to participate in sports, but Mindy is happy that things are slowly beginning to return to normal. She is also happy to serve as a bridge between the school’s gym classes and the larger parochial athletics program and sees her role as a physical education teacher particularly useful for this. “Through gym I can identify kids who might be helped by sports and recruit them. It’s helped to get more than a few signed up.” Doing so also helps to further tie the school students together with the PSR students. As Mindy says, “Athletics is just an extension of bringing us all together.”

Regarding those sports, Mindy recognizes that our shared Catholic faith is central to everything we do at the parish, including athletics. Games begin with prayer, and there is a mutual respect between teams and competitors as well as building relationships. Mindy believes sports are a common language that can bring our parish together as well as build relationships between our parish and our surrounding ones. After a pause Mindy further explains, “We’re teaching them morals, ethics, adversity.” 

She is also glad that our diocese begins sports at the Kindergarten level instead of much later in public schools. As Mindy explains, “That starts them building a community in Kindergarten instead of waiting until middle school.” She then adds, “It brings all of the parish together.” 

Perhaps one of Mindy’s greatest challenges is reigning back the competitiveness of her school and PSR kids. “Even if you’re not keeping score, they want to know who is winning.” As a parent I can completely attest to that; when the twins come up with a completely imaginary game that has no possibility of a score before long, they want to know who is winning. 

The greatest joy Mindy receives as a physical education teacher at the school is the enthusiasm the kids bring to the gym. Given the current restraints of the pandemic, the students are largely confined to their desks throughout most of the school day. However, when they reach their gym class, the students are able to exhibit that energy and excitement that makes them kids. “The little ones run up and hug you and you get to see their smiles and laughs.” Mindy also enjoys being able to see all the kids in the school throughout the week, “I’m so blessed to be able to see everyone.” 

Mindy describes herself as “pretty transparent,” and loves the kids even when “I push them a little harder” than they would like. However, Christ himself pushes us a little harder than we would like; “Afterward he appeared to the Eleven themselves and as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mk 16:14)

In her sparse free time, Mindy coaches high school sports and is present at her own children’s games. Athletics is an extension of her own faith and it brings her, “happiness, peace, and knowing that all of this is happening for a reason.” She is appreciative of the opportunity given to her, “I absolutely love it,” and given helping kids through their adversity, Mindy immediately responds, “That’s why we are here.” 

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Brad Allen | Homecoming

Brad Allen is a product of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and has never really left our parish family. His senior year of high school he started working with the BASE program (at that time referred to as Latchkey.) While in college, he returned every Summer to further work at our parochial schools, and upon graduating in 2009, with an English degree began working as a Kindergarten aide for Chrissy Dembinski.

In what seems to be a common theme I have discovered; Brad was asked by Julie Freeman to “just” take over responsibility for the school’s Facebook page. Then Debbie Ippoliti retired from the school and that evolved into Brad becoming responsible for enrollment, marketing, and outreach. This is a role he has held at the school for six years. 

As Brad phrases it, “Julie knows your strengths and weaknesses and brings out the best of you.”

Clearly this is an impressive and diverse collection of responsibilities, but Brad explains “It’s all for the kids; I want to be part of their journey.” He still remembers the first tour of the school he gave to a new family considering Our Lady’s school and that student is now nearing graduation into high school. Brad enjoys being that first contact for these new families and takes pride in, “showing them everything we are about.” 

For him, the school not only educates our youngest parishioners, but also “reinforces Catholic social teaching.” Helping with that reinforcement, Brad finds particular value in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, how the school evangelizes to the entire parish, and even helps lapsed Catholics to return to the Church. I can attest to that as my own twins enrolling at the preschool drew me back to the Church and strengthened my own faith. 

Regarding those evangelization efforts, Brad works closely with Amanda Athey in the preschool to hopefully enroll those kids into the school. Our Lady’s school is currently enrolling and Brad laughs, “I’m on the phone a lot with Mandy and we have a great working relationship.” Having previously worked with the BASE program and getting to know Amanda makes that relationship easier. Much like Fr. Watson knowing essentially every Catholic in Central Ohio reminds me of Brad having those “working relationships” with almost everyone in our parish.

Further reinforcing those relationships is his involvement with the school’s social media accounts. In that role, he works closely with Melissa Zuk who is responsible for the parish’s social media engagement. Brad takes this very seriously, “There’s some platforms we just don’t want the school represented on and if the school is on those places the kids will think it’s okay.” Despite that, Brad wants our school to be involved in social media and not only use it as a means to connect with parishioners, but “to be a formational tool.” 

He explains, “That’s where our families are” and expounds, “Our parish is actually very young and they’re on social media.” 

Given his involvement with the school, the preschool, and the parish, Brad is very cognizant of how all three entities are interwoven. The school reinforces what the parish teaches on Sundays, and the parish offers opportunities for the kids to continue their Catholic formation outside of those Sundays. As the kids progress through their Sacraments of Initiation, Brad firmly believes, “Our school is doing what it is supposed to be doing.” In his view, “All three buildings are connected” [church, preschool, and school.]

Brad was previously a student at Our Lady’s school and is currently amazed at how much was going on behind the scenes to provide an excellent academic and Catholic education to the kids. “Every piece is integral and now I get to see all aspects of what goes on.” He pauses and then laughs, “Still, it’s wild to me as a former student.”

Outside of the school, Brad is obsessed with live entertainment; concerts, movies, and plays. He is also an enthusiastic cinephile with an interest in classic, documentary, and foreign films. His favorite movie is the 1952 romantic comedy film Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. As Brad describes it, “The movie brings me joy.” Obviously, the pandemic has curtailed these activities, but Brad is looking forward to them returning to them and having previously interviewed Denise Johns, I know that is a common wish.

Regarding coming home, one of Brad’s favorite activities at the school is the “Senior Salute.” This is where the graduating senior alums are honored for their tenure and time at OLPH school. They announce their intended colleges and are “clapped out” by the entirety of the school. I attended a public school which bounced between elementary, middle, and high schools and never had that opportunity to be a part of a community where nine years of your formative development are spent in the same place with the same family. However, I distinctly remember my technical school in the Air Force where we went through a similar process with the graduating airmen. It was equal parts envy and pride watching the graduating class. 

Two of the things I pride myself on (okay, my wife would argue I pride myself on quite a few things… and not in a good way) are listening more than I speak and paying attention. One of the things I noticed while speaking with Brad was a semicolon tattoo on his arm. As we were finishing our interview, I asked him about it, assuming it had to do with his university English degree.

It turns out that I was mistaken; that semicolon is a proud statement of supporting mental health. It is a brazen and outspoken affirmation against self-harm and suicide that Brad wears. I have a number of tattoos, perhaps more than I should have, but was very humbled to hear Brad’s explanation of that particular tattoo. 

Perhaps associated with that tattoo, Brad’s greatest wish is for world peace. He qualifies, “Not just the stereotypical world peace.” Brad further explains, “There’s a lot of violence from differences and I just want everyone to see and celebrate those differences, but still.” Then he stops and thinks and adds, “I want us all to be able to live together. That’s why I work here and I want to help all the students to realize this.” 

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Tina Lee | Unique

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9)

Unlike many of the people I have spoken with, Tina Lee’s path to her current position was uniquely straightforward. She is in her 3rd year as Director of Student Services at our parochial school and has always wanted to be an educator. Tina knew this from a young age and established a pretend school in the screened-in back porch of her parents’ house. Aptly named “Tina’s School” what started as a pretend school was soon conducting actual classes. She ran Tina’s School for two or three years and at its height was running two daily sessions with twelve or thirteen kids in each. Tina also remembers that her parents “strongly recommended” her young brother attend these sessions which, of course, resulted in him becoming the resident troublemaker. 

From there she attended Capital University and obtained a degree in elementary education, later earning certifications as a reading specialist and intervention specialist. After teaching at a secular school, it was the latter of these two that drew her to Our Lady of Perpetual Help school. At the time there was a single part-time interventionist, and with the support of Julie Freeman she has since expanded the program to five full-time dedicated specialists. They serve students with academic, behavioral, physical, and social challenges.

Additionally, she serves on the Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) coordinated by Denise Johns. This incorporates her intervention specialists while also coordinating with administration, Denise, and teachers. The students helped by the IAT do not require full-time involvement with intervention specialists but benefit from that additional support in order to make them more successful in a traditional classroom setting.

As Tina describes it, her job is to “coordinate services” at the school to help any student needing some extra support. Under this model the entire OLPH school faculty and staff work together for these students. Tina also actively engages parents to “reach out and don’t wait” for that extra help with their children. She further explains, “I always want them to know they are not the only ones with kiddos that need some extra help and it’s never a reflection of them as parents.”

In fact, Tina finds herself drawn to these unique kids and feel they are equally drawn to her. Although masked during our interview I can tell she is smiling when she adds, “The more unique they are, the more I’m drawn to them.” This reminds me of lyrics from the Baz Luhrmann song Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen, “The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.” 

One of Tina’s greatest joys is watching these unique kids adapt and overcome their personal challenges during their time at the school. “Sometimes it takes two or three years, but you see a lot of growth. And then there’s a breakthrough and it’s so fun to watch. It’s like they’re a member of my own family” As we were speaking one of her kids stopped by Tina’s office and without pause, she instantly was able to tell him what his morning looked like and offer him some guidance. 

Being part of a parochial school is important to Tina and she is extremely impressed by the commitment and dedication of both our parents and students. In those students Tina also finds they exhibit respect and reverence in both their academic and sacramental lives. For anyone who wants to know the character of OLPH schoolkids, she encourages them to attend an all-school weekday mass. She is also deeply moved as they progress through the Sacraments of Initiation; Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. 

Tina reflects on that same student that stopped by her office when we were speaking. Her own youngest daughter is in the 8th grade and recently went through Confirmation, as did that student. “It brought tears to my eyes.” She pauses and then adds, “You find Jesus here [in the school].”

The rapid development of the intervention staff and adding new services has been exciting for Tina, but also “scary for sure.” She is now the one that everyone else goes to for answers, but also has great support from administration and is able to coordinate and network with other diocesan elementary schools on best practices. Tina very much wants Our Lady’s school to provide services for every unique student facing their unique challenges. 

One of her greatest fears is for a family to withdraw their child because the school cannot meet their needs and to that end uses every resource at her disposal. Examples of this are Our Lady school capitalizing on the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship and partnering with Columbus Therapy for speech and occupational therapy services. Tina further explains, “We are still evolving and learning and sometimes OLPH isn’t the best fit for all students. This truly keeps me up at night, but I know we have to take it slow and try to get it right.”

Perhaps Tina’s greatest challenge is balancing her time. She is a teacher, test coordinator, administrator, and all these roles overlap throughout every day. Tina does her best to balances these roles, but they can conflict, and she wants everyone to know they are individually important to her despite the shuffling. Sometimes she also needs to prioritize her time and rearrange issues to the next day and this is particularly difficult for her. The intervention program has grown so quickly and generated so much interest among parents and students that she is still adapting. Servicing some of the unique moderate to intensive needs is an area they are still currently working to address. 

Outside of the school Tina enjoys good food, good coffee, and athletics, having a background in swimming and teaching swimming lessons. She also loves volleyball, having played and coached the sport. However, her two daughters are avid equestrians, the oldest having placed competitively at our local Quarter Horse Congress. While Tina and her husband are very supportive of this endeavor, she is personally somewhat scared of riding horses and her husband is content to relegate himself to the role of “sponsor.” (After a harrowing incident of riding polo ponies on the beach without saddles during our honeymoon in the Caribbean my own wife heartily agrees with Tina’s fear of the unruly beasts.) 

Her greatest wish is every family and student who wants a Catholic education can obtain one and then adds, “I want that every kid to be a success.” Tina also expresses that her door is always open to parent, student, or parishioner. “Any way I can help, I want to be there for them, I want to pay it forward.”

After considerable prayer, contemplation, and discussion Tina has made the exceedingly difficult decision to not return following this academic year, allowing her to spend more time and attention on her family. While this is certainly a loss for our school, I am happy and excited for Tina as she progresses into this next stage of her life. 

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Denise Johns | Copilot

“Fly along with me, I can’t quite make it alone.” Foo Fighters, Learn to Fly

Denise Johns is a fan of 90s grunge bands, a self-avowed superfan of the band Foo Fighters (having attended six concerts and counting,) and has been the counselor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help school for the past ten years. In that role she has flown along with countless families and students. 

From a young age Denise knew that she wanted to help other people, describing it as, “I feel this is always who I was.” Her undergraduate degree is in criminal justice because, at the time, she felt becoming a police officer was the best opportunity to help others. However, as graduation neared, Denise realized “I was not meant for this.” Instead, she decided pursue counseling, becoming a copilot and flying along with those who were in most need of it. 

Her first job was in a school setting which convinced Denise that she had no desire to become a teacher, but that she wanted to work with children. Following that, she worked with a number of community resource organizations as a foster care therapist and then helping parents who had lost their children through court actions to reconnect with them. In this latter position Denise gained some of the most valuable lessons that have influenced her own life. “These mothers were at their lowest but still loved their children so much, and I realized they loved their kids as much as I loved my own.”

After living in Cincinnati for some time, career changes drew Denise’s family to Grove City. They were looking at houses and attended a Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Later that night, Denise dreamed of the parish and realized she was “meant to be here.” With the transfer of the former Our Lady school counselor, Denise accepted the position and started full-time the same day the Julie Freeman became the school’s principal. 

Out of four days of the week Denise is officially employed by Southwest City Schools, but Julie Freeman has always ensured that a fifth day is funded by Our Lady’s school. This allows Denise to engage in the students’ sacramental life; she can attend all-school Masses, openly discuss spiritual concerns, and display religious symbols in her office. 

One poignant example of this is when a student, Catholic or not, has experienced a personal loss Denise asks them if they would like to walk over to the church and light a candle in the nave. None of the students have turned down that offer. This is an opportunity for Denise to copilot and fly along with them, supporting them in their moments of grief, to offer a real and physical example of her dedication to them. 

As the school counselor, Denise is particularly involved in the social and emotional health of the students at OLPH school. Her goal is for the entire faculty and staff to be cognizant of the students; checking in with them and helping them to work through “stuff.” Copiloting. An excellent example of this is “temperature checks” where faculty ask, “how are you feeling right now?” No doubt the ongoing pandemic is affecting all of us and the mental health issues of our children are only now beginning to become understood. 

Given the response to the pandemic, Denise is concerned about the long-term effects on the kids’ mental health. As she explains, “We are just now seeing the impact and the upcoming [academic] year will show more of that impact.” Denise hopes there will be more research so “we’re just not throwing things up against the wall to see what sticks.”

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available now that were not even in existence a few years ago. In fact, Denise will soon be bringing in a team from Nationwide Children’s Hospital to address teenage suicide and screen the kids to determine their risk. 

When I asked Denise what her greatest joy in her position at the school was, her answer was immediate. “Oh my gosh, the connections with the kids and the families. I love the families.” Particularly given the pandemic, some families at Our Lady are in more precarious positions while others are blessed with financial success. Regarding the latter, Denise explains, “I am so touched they just want to help” and regarding the former, she is so pleased to be a bridge to bring them resources to help. Denise pauses and then adds, “I feel like this is my family. I hope I can portray the message that we love each other.”

As a copilot and fellow flier of this crazy world, Denise wants to make sure that all of us know that none of us “have it all together.” She believes that all people are inherently good, something that is reinforced by “people knocking down my door to provide resources.” Denise appreciates being a bridge between those donating the resources and those needing them, “There is so much joy and appreciation.”

Outside of the school, Denise is clearly an aficionado of 90s grunge music and her husband Andy is a metalhead (my own oldest twin has also recently embraced that metalheadness as well… I realize that metalheadness is not really a word but wanted to coin it.) Once the pandemic responses have lifted, Denise cannot wait to attend in-person concerts, “I love going to concerts. I’m an introvert and have even gone to concerts alone.” 2020 stole her seventh Foo Fighters concert and a Rage Against the Machine concert she wanted to attend with Andy, but hopefully this year will be different.

Before the pandemic Denise’s favorite moment at the school was in the morning. All the kids were in the gymnasium “throwing around backpacks,” shouting, chasing each other around… having fun. And then Julie Freeman would announce it was time to begin morning prayers. “This hush would fall over the gym.” 

Having spoken with Denise I recalled two things: 

“It’s times like these you learn to live again. It’s times like these you give and give again.” Foo Fighters, Times Like These

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;” John Gillespie Magee, High Flight

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Marti Hurd | Familiar

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send me these, the homeless, the tempest-lost to me…” -Emma Lazarus

Those lines are drawn from a sonnet inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty but could just as easily refer to Marti Hurd’s ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. For the past twenty years she has served as the Pastoral Minister at our parish for those undergoing their most challenging times. Marti has walked as a companion with those having recently lost loved ones and oversees groups dedicated to grief support, widows and widowers, cancer survivors, and divorcees. 

She also works with those who coordinate Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion who provide that Sacrament to the homebound and helps to arrange priests to provide the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to those needing it. In addition, Marti coordinates members of the parish family who take Communion to the five care centers we currently serve, and prior to COVID, made sure monthly Masses happened at four of those five centers.

Her path towards this ministry was a convoluted beginning in northwest Illinois when her then husband accepted a job transfer in 1986 to Central Ohio. They were leaving a rich history and great closeness of friends and family; the transfer was only supposed to last for a few years. Marti has two sons and at that time enrolled them at Our Lady’s elementary school and, being a teacher, was offered and accepted a position as a part-time aide in the school. In the spring Bill Groce, the principal, offered her a Kindergarten teaching position; at that time Kindergarten was only half day. 

In the summer of 1991 Fr. Romano asked if she would, for one year, coordinate the Religious Education program during the other half of her day. A short time later in February, as Marti describes it, Fr. Romano in his Italian accent approached her saying, “The families are happy, I am happy, you are happy.” That one year turned into ten years and during that time Marti also earned a master’s degree in Religious Education.

In 2000 with Fr. Steve Hawkins as our pastor, the Parish Religious Education program was moved to Sunday mornings. As the part time Director of Religious Education, Marti was present on campus on Sunday mornings running that program. Fr. John Swickard was appointed pastor at OLPH and assumed that responsibility April 3, 2001. His first weekend as pastor, before even learning the full names of his parochial staff, Fr. Swickard was suddenly confronted with three deaths. Marti was the only member of the parish staff he could find that Sunday morning, and she assisted him in navigating many of the details. 

Her empathetic and passionate handling of that situation resulted in Fr. Swickard asking Marti if she would begin working as a part-time pastoral minister, along with being a part-time Kindergarten teacher. Karen Cook was part-time youth minister and Fr. Swickard asked her to also assume the Religious Education duties for the remainder of the academic year. It soon became apparent that our parish needed a full-time pastoral minister and Fr. Swickard asked Marti to take a one-year leave of absence from the school to see if she and the position were a good fit. Much like her “one year” as Director of Religious Education, the “one year” leave of absence has now continued for twenty years. 

Since that time, Marti has proven to be a companion to everyone who is hurting, whether it be physically, emotionally or spiritually, at our parish. She describes this calling as, “I get to do what I love and get to see God’s hand even in the most difficult situations.” Her experiences as teacher, Director of Religious Education, and Pastoral Minister have all been fulfilling and rewarding in their own unique ways, allowing her meandering responsibilities to follow along God’s path for her. 

During that convoluted path towards this ministry, Marti explains that she had felt “this tug” for some time, a certainty that God was inviting her into something deeper or something more involving ministry. The coursework for her master’s degree started with common classes for all the students and in course seven they diverged into a focus on either Religious Education or Pastoral Ministry. With sixteen years of teaching experience, including three in Illinois, and 10 years coordinating PSR the obvious choice at that time was Religious Education. However, Fr. Swickard convincing Marti to take that one year’s leave of absence led her into full-time ministry in Pastoral Care, revealing “tug” had been satisfied.

Perhaps her greatest challenge in her current role is simply not having enough hours in the day to tend the needs of those hurting in the parish. Marti is obviously a methodical person who likes to have her days organized, but “The phone rings and your whole day shifts.” She pauses and then adds, “Maybe your whole week shifts.” As the youngest of twelve children, Marti credits her family for helping her to adapt to changes and shifts, shaping her for flexibility.

Marti’s joy as a pastoral minister is being “a companion to people when they are hurting.” She believes she is doing what God is asking her to do, and that He has given her the grace and strength to companion those who are hurting. Having experienced great losses within her own family and suffering through her own divorce, Marti believes God is using her pain to companion others who are similarly hurting. 

I asked Marti how she can weather constantly companioning those who are literally undergoing their worst possible moments. She immediately responded how the book Fortunate Son by Lewis Puller Jr. impacted her worldview. Lewis is the son of legendary marine general Lewis “Chesty” Puller and followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a marine officer. He was horribly wounded in Vietnam and Marti recalls a section in the book devoted to his physical therapy. The PT’s constant advice to him was “strength and balance,” something Marti strives to apply in her own life. She turns to our Lord for her strength and knows the constant need to keep a balance in all things. As someone who regularly reads military history and having somehow missed Fortunate Son, I will be purchasing the book.

Regarding her own life, Marti has grown to appreciate and treasure moments of solitude. She expressed the older she gets, she moves into being more contemplative, something I personally can certainly appreciate. She loves spending time with her family including her two sons and nine grandchildren who live near her in the Grove City area. Marti also enjoys cooking, sewing, doing cross-stitch, puzzles, and reading. In the last of those Marti focuses primarily on spiritual books.

As with many of the parish staff I have interviewed, if Marti had a genie best friend or magic wand with one wish, she would dramatically increase the space on our parish campus. In particular Marti would like to build a new performing arts center for Kim Nocero at the school. 

I try to take something away from each of these interviews, something that reflects the person, something they bring to the parish. With Julie Freeman it was her absolute devotion to the Our Lady school children; with Amanda Athey it was her looking at everyone in the image and likeness of God; with Karen Cook it was how she has gracefully put up with me constantly being a source of annoyance for nearly a decade. 

With Marti it was when we sat down in the sacristy and I pulled out my notebook and pen. Before I could even get started, she asked me for my story. Even for someone ready to tell her story, Marti first wanted to know mine and be my companion on my personal faith journey. 

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Sue Taylor | Familiar

Sue Taylor raised three boys at our parish and was deeply involved at Our Lady of Perpetual Help during that time. Her involvement allowed to her to meet countless other parishioners and she took great joy in learning their stories. In her words, “I knew everyone.” She was clearly that familiar face at PTO meetings, bake sales, and generally helping at the parish. 

However, her boys soon began to leave for high school, college, and careers and Sue’s involvement with the parish likewise began to wane. While attending Mass a few years ago she looked around and suddenly realized that she did not recognize a single familiar face in the congregation.

Around that same time, Sue was looking for a new job and a friend mentioned the parish was looking to hire a new receptionist. She applied for the position, was hired, and has worked in that role for six years. In addition to simply answering the phones, the receptionist, “is a lot more than you would think.” 

In fact, one of Sue’s greatest challenges is the constant interruptions, something I can attest to. As we were speaking in the basement, Sue tilted her head and said, “My phone is ringing upstairs.” She laughs and adds, “You can never get away.” Apparently, the technology department has wired Sue’s hearing aid into the phone system so there is no escape from it. That is what I would call dedication!

In Sue’s service and work, I am reminded of Martha, “Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she has a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving…” (Lk 10:38 – 40) Clearly sitting at Christ’s feet and listening to His words are extremely important, but someone still needs to prepare the meal, or answer the phones. 

As part of her paperwork, Sue is also responsible for maintaining records for Protecting God’s Children. This is a vitally important safeguard run through the diocese. It ensures that anyone working with children or vulnerable adults has undergone comprehensive training and a thorough background check prior to that work. Sue further explains the requirements are vigorous enough that almost everyone must undergo the process before doing anything even remotely associated with the school. Maintaining those records is obviously extremely important in the parish, and Sue is happy to do so.

Anyone interested in more information on Protecting God’s Children can find it at Virtus Online. 

Sue is also a familiar face and a familiar voice for new parishioners seeking to join Our Lady of Perpetual Help. One of her favorite phrases is, “Let’s get you registered.” She is also familiar with the parish office staff and frequently helps new and existing parishioners to navigate whatever processes they need to. One of her greatest joys as our receptionist is to be that familiar face and “getting to talk to and know” the people that walk into the office. 

With her magic wand or best friend genie, Sue would use her one wish for world peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (Jn 14:27) The pandemic and uncertainty with pastoral leadership have been challenging for her. “It has been very difficult not knowing what’s going to happen.” However, Sue is excited at the recent announcement that Father Joe Yokum will be joining Our Lady as our pastor. 

In her free time, Sue enjoys quilting and sewing, something my departed grandmother would have greatly appreciated. I have a handful of her quilts and they are literally tapestries to our past. There have been numerous times when my father or uncles have visited our home and recognized a swatch in one of those quilts and commented on whose clothes it came from. Also connecting our past into our future, Sue loves spending time with her grandchildren.

She would like everyone to know that she is friendly and easy to approach and loves meeting new people. Again, being that first familiar face you will see in the parish. However, she is contemplating retirement and, nearing seventy, does not want to work for the rest of her life. She hopes to use her retirement spending more time with her grandchildren and traveling, particularly to Toledo where some of those grandkids are. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28)

By Eric Brooks

Staff Profile: Mandy Athey | Little Ones

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Mt 19:13 – 15)

Amanda Athey has been the Preschool & BASE Director since June of 2014. Unsurprisingly, her greatest joy in that position is not the voluminous paperwork she needs to maintain for the Ohio Department of Education, but “just seeing the little ones.” At the preschool, Amanda is building the foundation of those little ones, both preparing them for future academics and beginning their faith formation. She views them as the preschool’s “legacy” and loves walking down the hallways of the elementary school and peeking in the doorways to see what her previous students are up to. 

As she describes it, there is something extremely special about having the “shyest kid at the preschool” and years later see them standing in front of a classroom confidently giving a presentation. 

During her tenure, the preschool has continued to grow and flourish. As director, she inherited an Early Childhood Education grant from the state. Essentially Ohio has realized that it lacks sufficient “seats” in preschool for the number of prospective students, and Our Lady’s preschool was given funds to provide more of those seats. Amanda then participated in an accreditation process, Step Up to Quality Ohio, as part of that grant. The accreditation provides a one-to-five-star rating based on the documentation and processes of preschools, with the goal being to exceed the base licensing standards set by the state. Our preschool underwent extensive auditing by the state and, in 2017, was awarded the maximum five-star accreditation. 

During the preschool’s growth, Amanda describes the process as “scary and stressful and we’ve never done that before.” Despite those fears, Amanda knows this growth is an amazing opportunity and was excited at the opportunity. With that in mind, it was a leap of faith with the entire staff doing their best and then trusting in God for everything else. They set goals, worked as a staff, and relied on each other as a team. Their results speak for themselves. 

Amanda remains “humbled by her children,” both at the preschool and in her own family. They are “so pure and honest and believe with their whole heart.” However, one of her challenges is reminding herself that they lack nuance at such a young age, and adults “need to be careful with their words.” She recalls a recent instance with her own three-year-old when they were preparing a prayer space for him. Amanda was planning on having a deep spiritual conversation with him as they arranged the space. Then he left the room, returned with some Hulk toys, and added them to the prayer space, “because.” I am reminded of when my own twins built a representation of Jesus’ tomb out of Legos, added an actual stone from Henry’s rock collection to seal the tomb, and then added a Lego dinosaur. Because. 

Perhaps Amanda’s greatest challenge is simply needing more hours in the day. She very much wants to “put my whole heart” into everything she does, but it’s simply not possible to pour one hundred percent into the preschool and then one hundred percent into her own family. She laughs that “God probably doesn’t want to make two of me.” Instead, she has learned to put more trust and responsibility onto her staff and “rely on my team.” 

Beyond her little ones, Amanda views the preschool as being “the welcoming committee, the welcome back, the welcome home” for their parents. Some, perhaps many, of those parents have been away from the church or only been loosely associated with their Catholic faith. I can attest to that having been born and raised Catholic, drifted away from our shared faith during college, and only truly began a return when my twins were enrolled at the preschool. Amanda wants to be a resource to those parents and remove any roadblocks to their return to the church. She further explains, “Okay, you need to register at the parish? Here’s where the office is and who you need to ask for.” “Questions about tuition, here’s who you need to email.” “You need some sacraments yourself, talk to this person, they’ll be really happy to help you.”

Between giving one hundred percent of her heart to the preschool and one hundred percent of her heart to her own family, Amanda has precious little free time. When she was younger, that free time was consumed with a passion for sports, but recently she has discovered an equal passion for genealogy. Amanda and her mother have traveled to Virginia where her family first settled in the United States and were able to drive the actual roads her ancestors traveled on. She discovered that Mary Polly, her fourth great-grandmother, was a slave and has been fascinated at unraveling that portion of her family history. Given the proliferation of home DNA tests Amanda is hopeful she will be able to delve even further into her family’s story. 

Given her magic wand or friendly genie with a single wish (one of my favorite questions and apparently one of the most disliked) Amanda wants everyone to know how much Jesus loves them. When I spoke with her, Amanda’s faith was clearly deeply personal and extremely vibrant. I am not surprised she wants to share that faith with everyone around her. Much like Julie Freeman she then snuck in a second wish for more space in the parish campus. With COVID-19 distancing, the preschool was forced to trade in its Atrium for class space and Amanda wishes there was simply enough room to accommodate both robust academics and faith formation. 

At the end of our conversation, something Amanda said deeply struck me. I have arguably eclectic tastes in music; everything from alternative to punk to traditional and modern Irish folk tunes. One of those genres is absolutely 1990s alternative from when I was in college. Erik Frances Schrody, also known by his stage name Everlast, had a song in 1998 titled “What It’s Like.” In that song he sings:

We’ve all seen the man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
He asks a man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
“Well, get a job, you $#@&*% slob[‘s]” all he replied
Well, God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues

Amanda tells me she always looks those men “beggin” and the meme-inducing people at Wal-Mart and everyone else in the eyes and smiles at them. Acknowledging them as fellow human beings. 

“… for God made man in his own image.” (Gen 9:6)

I would like to think the purity and honesty of her little ones has influenced Amanda. Or perhaps it is the other way around.

By Eric Brooks