Fr. Andy Upah is the new chaplain at Wahlert Catholic High School and Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School. He is also the associate pastor at Church of the Resurrection. Fr. Andy shared the following introduction with Wahlert Catholic High School parents on September 17, 2018:
My name is Fr. Andy Upah and I am the new chaplain here at Wahlert and Mazzuchelli, as well as an associate over at Resurrection, so Mr. Meyers asked me to do a little introduction. I am from Toledo, Iowa, and I went through the South Tama County Public School system, so the first Catholic School I ever went to was in seminary here at Loras College. I was only ordained about four months ago, so this is my first assignment and my first experience in a Catholic high school.
Personally, I wish I could have gone to a Catholic school growing up, but I didn’t have the opportunity. The closest Catholic high schools were about 45 miles away. You see, I grew up in a faith-filled house going to Mass every week and going to religious ed on Wednesday nights. But when I went to college, I was attacked, and I didn’t have deep enough roots to keep me Catholic… I started attending a variety of other denominations, thinking they were all about the same, they all believe in Jesus, right?
Well, I moved to Des Moines, got a great job as a software consultant, and continued my church shopping, but after about six years of struggling, my dad invited me to a Catholic Men’s Conference where I heard about the Eucharist (John 6) and Confession (John 20:23) straight from the bible for what seemed to be to me the first time.
I was absolutely blown away, how had I never heard about these two distinctly Catholic beliefs clearly presented in the bible? This sent me on a search of what else I had missed, to learn the truth of the Catholic faith I had grown up with but never really understood.
So with any free time I had (when I wasn’t playing sports leagues or hanging out with friends), I started reading the bible, reading spiritual books, praying, going to adoration, and even going to daily Mass before work most mornings.
I became really convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church and started trying to figure out how I was going to give back. So first, I started tithing, giving 10% of my income back in donations. I was a single guy with a great job, so giving ten thousand dollars back wasn’t too painful for me, but it was a lot of money to try to spread around.
One of the places I started to support was Catholic Schools, giving to the STO (School Tuition Organization), specifically, in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Even though I was living in the Diocese of Des Moines, my heart has always been here. I thought that was a really good way to give back and ensure kids from home were getting a good Catholic education and wouldn’t leave the practice of the faith once they got to college as I had done.
Eventually, I realized giving the money was too easy and I need to give something of my life to help people retain their faith. I started to think I just needed to get involved in the Church, maybe lead a bible study or something.
But that didn’t seem like enough, so I started to think maybe I need to get a job in the Church, like director of faith formation or pastoral associate, but that didn’t seem right for me. I had really started to respect the priesthood and I understood the need for priests to provide the sacraments, especially Eucharist and confession, so I applied for seminary.
One of the things I was looking forward to the most was helping students and young adults learn more about their faith so they would be confident of the truth, especially of the moral teachings, and hopefully, save them the pain and suffering we unfortunately often go through in college and right after.
What I realized in seminary was that pastors actually have much less to do with that than parents. There was a study by Georgetown University released in 2014 which followed kids for the ten years prior, and they found “Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s… (I’ll repeat that:) “Mothers and fathers… are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping their faith….”
“Of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion, just one percent were highly religious in their mid-to-late 20s. In contrast, 82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations, were religiously active as young adults.” (Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/the-no-1-reason-teens-kee_b_6067838.html)
That is not to downplay the role of Catholic education in your child’s formation; research shows Catholic education to be significantly influential in the life of a child, especially during their teenage years. Young adults who have received a Catholic high school education are significantly (39% versus 5%) more likely to remain active Catholics in their adult years. (Source: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/upload/CARA-Catholic-Schools-Data-Points-white-graphs-2014.pdf)
According to a Harvard study of 5,000 people released last Friday, “Researchers found that people who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s—and were less likely to subsequently have depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection—than people raised with less regular spiritual habits.” (Source: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/religious-upbringing-adult-health/)
So Catholic education will help your students get through the most difficult years of their lives. But there remains a gap between young adults who received a Catholic education and those who continue to attend mass weekly as young adults.
I hear it all the time from people: “My kid is your age,” they say, “and they don’t go to Mass anymore. They struggle with many things, and I know the Church can help them, but I don’t know how to get them going again.” I tell them to pray for them and to keep inviting them back, but it seems so much easier to do everything possible at an earlier age.
As parents, you bend over backward for your kids. You do whatever you can to help your kids be successful. You run them all over the world for sports and music performances, pay a lot of money to send them to the best schools, and even spend a Monday night at the school while missing the start of the Bears game…
Kids are smart. They can recognize an inconsistency between what we say and what we do, what we prioritize and what we don’t. While it might seem like a good idea to “pass them off to the experts,” it remains extremely important to live your own faith to the full if you want them to live theirs.
Since receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, it is most important that they see you prioritizing Mass on the weekends… And since it is Mr. Meyer’s goal to emphasize the “Catholic” aspect of “Wahlert Catholic,” I’ll be adding a weekly Mass on Friday mornings at 7 a.m. starting in October so that Wahlert students and families have an additional opportunity during the week. This is Dubuque, aka little Rome. Opportunities are everywhere, and it’s easier to get them involved now than when they are 25.
Also, on Monday’s, we have Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel down the hall for the whole school day. If you have a spare ten minutes, please come in and pray for your kids, and then let them know that you did.
Your vocation of marriage and parenthood are more important than mine (as a priest) in the life of your child. As a parent, you work in partnership with the Creator to bring new disciples into God’s kingdom. As a priest, I offer an encounter with Jesus in the sacraments. Only by working together can we show your children the truth of the Catholicism, the truth of the sacraments, and raise up the next generation of Catholic leaders and saints.
Thank you for bringing your kids to Wahlert, and investing your biggest resource in the church: your children. Please let me know if I can support you in any way…. If you need to talk… If you made too much food for dinner… my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) can be found on the Holy Family staff directory and Campus Ministry or call over to Resurrection (556-7511) or talk to me at an event. I’m easy to spot in a crowd…