School of Faith helps local man answer call to evangelize
Through an organization called School of Faith, John Leyendecker discovered his mission is teaching teachers.
“School of Faith started working in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati,” said Leyendecker, a northern Kentucky native who now resides in Milford. “Last year, we took 15 Catholic school teachers to the Holy Land for a pilgrimage to help them have a deeper encounter with Christ and kind of plant the seed for what was going to take place in schools.
“Last year, it was all elementary school teachers, and this year we took (elementary teachers with a) Purcell Marian High School teacher. Every other month I would invest deeply in small groups of teachers to disciple and mentor those teachers’ lives of prayer and formation — a deeper experience of the faith with a particular emphasis that they would be able to reach out to their peers and the people around them,’ he said
“Discipleship is personal and I can’t invest in every single Catholic school teacher, but certainly I can invest deeply in a few who can invest deeply in others and so we were trying to do that. This year in three schools we started working with small groups. Eventually we will do an entire faculty formation. We took teachers from St. James, White Oak and St. Ignatius, Monfort Heights. Then we took teachers from St. Andrew/St. Elizabeth Ann Seton elementary and middle school and then Purcell Marion, St. Jude and Our Lady of the Visitation,” Leyendecker said
Teachers went in small groups — 14 or 15 people total.
“Tim Reilly, the principal at St. Ignatius Monfort Heights, is so convinced about what happened to himself and the people we took to the Holy Land last year that he raised funds to reach out to people to take six more of his teachers this year. So, we took six more teachers this year from St. Ignatius,” Leyendecker said.
The Holy Land trips will continue annually for the next several years — taking small groups of teachers from schools currently in the program and School of Faith plans to soon expand to three more schools. Leyendecker said he works full time for School of Faith.
“This venture to invest deeply in Catholic school teachers is one part that has been invested in by the archdiocese, Leyendecker said. “Another part has been invested in Ruah Woods where we are working with them to teach teachers more effectively. The beauty of our program is that I actually go to the schools in their own community on their own terms to provide, basically, a half-day retreat monthly either in small groups …or with the entire faculty.
“Ruah Woods is connected because they are a benefactor for us to work with the teachers. The other third of my job (is) development — working for and identifying partnerships with people in the archdiocese to support these schools.
Prior to joining School of Faith, Leyendecker worked with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Student) for seven years and is past youth minister at immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Anderson Township.
He and wife, Lisa, are members of St. Barbara Byzantine Chapel, Dayton. They have seven children. Leyendecker is a Xavier University honors program graduate with a degree in Greek, Latin and philosophy, with minors in classics and theology.
Tim Reilly, principal at St. Ignatius School said, “I am not typically an early adopter of programs as far reaching as School of Faith. I recall feeling pulled to investigate and to be open and very straight forward about my discernment to commit myself and my staff to the pilot program. The content and methods of the program immediately appealed to me, due to the focus on mission and not maintenance, an accompanied journey, and not more hoops through which to jump. (At the time) John Leyendecker not only talked to me, he traveled from Kansas City to meet face to face. In a world of tight budgets and overflowing schedules, that impressed me. This program knows how to do it right. It is all about relationship and it doesn’t take long to be won over by John’s easy, charismatic personality. He does not judge, but he also knows how to respectfully challenge. John is humble, humorous and very human.”
“The trip to the Holy Land was great, but with John it was amazing. In the first couple of seconds of meeting John in the airport I was blown away by his outgoing personality and welcoming spirit,” said Scott Schaerer, religion teacher at Our Lady of the Visitation. “John has this natural ability to make you feel comfortable and that draws you to him. John knows so much information and he is truly gifted in how he shares that information. He does not talk down to you, but shares it like you’re an old friend having a casual conversation. The trip was amazing and I believe every teacher should go. As a teacher of religion, I can now tell my students what it was like to walk and pray where Jesus walked and prayed. In my religion class, I try to bring our faith into the everyday world and this was a tremendous help. I was able to get a deeper appreciation of the struggles Jesus went through for us.”
Sharon Bohlen, a teacher at the St. Andrew Campus of St. Andrew/St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, said: “Take my hand and let’s walk together. This pretty much sums up John’s approach to the New Evangelization. John is so open, and so accepting of everyone. He sees only the goodness in people. John truly sees Christ in everyone he meets. For John, interacting with people is the same as interacting with Jesus. I am amazed at how deeply he lives ‘what you do to others, you do unto me.’
“What I learned with John I can readily bring to my eighth grade students. John makes deep theological concepts so understandable while also calling me to action. As Catholic school teachers, we want to draw out the best in our students and help them reach their full potential as young disciples. John draws out the best in teachers, so that we can go forth and share the New Evangelization with our students, our spouses, and our own children.”
This Everyday Evangelist feature first appeared in the September 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.