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Rocket Theology Blog

Archbishop McNicholas High School Theology Department faculty discuss how McNicholas students are understanding, building, and living the Catholic faith in our classrooms and communities. 

August 30, 2019--Class of 2020 enriched by Kairos 119
August 30, 2019--Class of 2020 enriched by Kairos 119

Class of 2020 enriched by Kairos 119
by Mary Beth Sandmann, Kairos Director

As the first semester of their senior year begins, many members of the Class of 2020 have been immersed in spiritual growth through their Kairos experience.  Forty-one seniors participated in Kairos 119, held August 6-9 at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford.  The Kairos retreat offers our students a chance to disconnect with the busyness of their lives for four days, and focus more deeply on their relationship with God. They reflect and examine the ways in which this is evident in their daily lives, specifically through;

  • relationships with friends and family
  • sacramental celebration
  • the growing realization that each one is made uniquely, beautifully in the image of God and loved unconditionally by God.

Adult leaders, Steve Dalton, Bill Losekamp, Julie Dill, Teresa Davis, and Jenni Tumser contributed to the success of the retreat through their witness of God’s love. The retreat was directed by Mary Beth Sandmann.   Fr. Dave Endres, served as Chaplin for the retreat and was assisted by Fr. Eric Wood, and Fr. Jeff Stegbauer.

We are thankful to our student team, seniors Tara Reich, Allison Young, Emma Jasper, Sophie Gephardt, Abby Jarrold, Mac Holt, Griffin Jutze, and Zach Twomey. These leaders gave much time and effort over the summer to prepare this retreat and guide their classmates through the retreat with the opportunity to grow closer to God.

Kairos 119 participants were Megan Arnold, Maily Nguyen, Maggie Nunner, Loghan Voelker, Andrew Walsh, Dominic Daley,  Stephen Collett, Ella Barnhill, Izzy Mulvey, Megan Suckow, Allison Vaughn, Stephen Tippenhauer, Kaden Dehner, Elton Clifton, Morgan Pico, Casey Kuhlman, Dominic Sumner, Abby Wesselkamper, Caroline Pour, Christopher Georgiades, Will Brokamp, Amanda Bush, Ella Heidorn, Abby Sankey, Brianna Taylor, Meechi Georgiades, Nick Booher, Kate Custer, Isabelle Bowling, Abby Hamerstadt, Bridget Schmitt, Jack Munzel, Aiden Guessford, Ian Barnhill, Harper Esterle, Allie Hart, Mary Schuh, Whitney Stanforth, Phil Miller, Tyler Jenkins, Nick Russell

The spirit of Kairos will continue for this senior class as the next retreat group will attend Kairos November 12-15.


Nov. 28, 2018--Entering Advent Faithfully
Nov. 28, 2018--Entering Advent Faithfully

Entering Advent Faithfully
from Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth, Theology Teacher + Director of Campus Ministry

"Let the love of God, the kingdom of God, and the love of Jesus take root in your heart and you will have peace, you will have freedom, and you will have fullness of life.”
                         from the Angelus Message of Pope Francis on November 25, 2018

May all of the members of the Rocket family joyfully anticipate the coming weeks of Advent and the opportunities the season holds for us to grow in faith together. In the spirit, enjoy these resources by which to enter more fully into the spirit of the season in which we await the coming of Christ:

Light the Way.
The lighting of the Advent wreath is a great way for all to be reminded that we’re living in sacred time. Family traditions take on even more significance when they’re accompanied by prayers like these: the blessing of an Advent wreath, the blessing of a Christmas nativity scene, and the blessing of a Christmas tree. Consider also prayerfully reviewing each day with this abbreviated version of the daily examen.

Live in Sacred Time.
The Advent season is a perfect opportunity to give special attention to how we live in time by following the rhythm of the calendar together as a family. Printable Advent calendars with daily reflections and suggested activities can be found here from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and here at the Loyola Press website.

Take back St. Nicholas.
While it wasn't a part of my childhood growing up, we observe the feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) in our house by giving each of our boys a Fair Trade hand-crafted Christmas ornament from Ten Thousand Villages in O'Bryonville in their stocking each year. A brief reading or reflection on the life of the real St. Nicholas (despite the little that is known of him) can help to place the gift-giving tradition in proper perspective.

Friday Morning Mass
Fr. Dave Endres will be present to preside at the Friday morning Mass at 7:00 am in our school’s chapel on both November 30 and December 7, and Fr. Paul Ruwe will join us on Friday, December 14. Please consider making time to gather together as a special commitment to prayer during the Advent season.

Lessons and Carols
The celebration of Lessons and Carols is a beautiful way to enjoy the sacred music of the season as a complement to the unfolding of our salvation history. The annual Lessons and Carols service at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary will be held on Friday, December 7 at 7:30 pm in the St. Gregory the Great Chapel. 

Our own celebration of Lessons and Carols will feature the very dedicated and talented McNicholas High School Liturgy Choir under the direction of Dr. Loretta Graner and will take place on Sunday, December 9, at 7:00 pm in the sanctuary at Guardian Angels. We hope you'll make plans to attend with your family and to invite other families to do so as well!

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass
Because the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary falls on Saturday this year, our entire school community will gather in celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Wednesday, December 12 at 1:20 pm in the sanctuary of Guardian Angels presiding. As a sign of solidarity with our friends throughout Latin America, this bi-lingual Mass will feature readings and music in both English and Spanish. Please feel free (as always) to join us if your schedule allows.

Enter the Story.
When St. Francis of Assisi initiated the first Nativity scene in the early 13th century, he was both hoping to awaken the senses to the story of Jesus' birth as depicted in Luke's Gospel and also to deepen peoples' appreciation of Christ's humble beginnings in contrast to the materialism and excess that characterized life for a growing number of people in his day. 

A visit to the Nativity Scene at Krohn Conservatory, complete with live animals, is a beautiful way to immerse the imagination into scene of Jesus’ birth.

Additionally, since 1947, the Comboni Missionaries have hosted an annual Animated Nativity with music and narration at their mission center at 1318 Nagel Road. To reflect together on the Nativity stories the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is a powerful way to root the experience of Advent in the story of Christ's coming.  

Give a gift to the world.
If you seek to commit to the tradition of gift giving that is inspired by the gifts given by the Magi as reported in Matthew's Gospel, our school will host an Advent Fair Trade Sale in the Café and Student Union on Thursday, December 13 and Friday, December 14 during both lunches. Hand-crafted gifts made by our friends in Nicaragua will be available for purchase and will be a blessing to many that have faced added hardship this year as a result of their country’s political turmoil.

In whatever ways you and your family choose to celebrate the sacred season of Advent, on behalf of the Campus Ministry Team and the entire Faculty and Staff of Archbishop McNicholas High, we wish peace and blessings to you all!.

Nov. 13, 2018--Three Things
Nov. 13, 2018--Three Things

Three Things
By David Sandmann

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

There is a lot going on in the world.  We have just experienced one of the most divisive and negative election seasons in recent history.  Negative ads filled the airways trashing political opponents provoking fear in potential voters.  Election day came and went and still neither side seems happy with the result.  We have seen yet another mass shooting with 12 killed while enjoying a night out in California, right on the heels of the 11 killed at a house of worship in Pittsburgh.  Every day the news seems to be filled with stories of hatred, contempt, and anger.  We have seen an increase in mental afflictions like anxiety, depression, and stress which seem to weigh on the minds and hearts of more and more people as they fight through the day to day. The world may seem headed to a darker and darker place right now, yet there is still light.

Why is all this happening?  What can be done to fix things?  I do not have answers to these questions, as they are far too complex to be debated in this space.  What I do know is this: there is still much for which we can be thankful.  This past summer, I took a class that included a section on positive psychology, and in it, we learned a simple practice that has been shown to improve happiness in as little as five minutes once a week.  The practice was just being grateful.  Take five minutes out of your day, and intentionally think about three things for which you are grateful.  If you are into journaling, you can write about it.  If you are not a writer, just reflecting on these three things is enough.  It takes some practice, but from my experience, it works.

This idea of intentional gratitude is not new.  Each year, my sophomores learn a little about St. Ignatius Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises.  The element of Ignatius’ work that students come to appreciate is the Daily Examen, a short reflective review of one’s day.  The central piece of the Examen is to review your day with gratitude.  The idea is that so much happens throughout the course of a day, our lives become one thing after the next and we never stop.  Taking a few minutes to pause, reflect, and be grateful does wonders for noticing those little blessings and moments that might otherwise have passed us by.  It allows us to appreciate those places throughout our day when we are not alone and when we were our truest selves.  It leads us to see that God is in all things.

At our school's National Honor Society induction this morning, I was reminded by an old friend of a process in disaster relief of “sifting through the muck.”  It is the process of cleaning up after it seems like all is lost.  It is about finding hope when it seems like there is none.  It is about recognizing that though we may be going through a dark time, we have people who love us.  As we enter this season of Thanksgiving it is the perfect time to be mindful of all that we have to be thankful for.  Whether it is spending 5 minutes once a week in gratitude, or pausing to reflect briefly at the end of each day find some time to be thankful.  Let’s stop and recognize what we can be grateful for, and hold on to that.  The world can seem like a dark place at times, but through it all we can see the light.

Nov. 8, 2018--Forming consciences for faithful citizenship
Nov. 8, 2018--Forming consciences for faithful citizenship

Forming consciences for faithful citizenship
By Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth

While I dutifully affix my 
“I love voting” sticker each year, I do so more as an outward sign of what is for me a sacred duty than as an endorsement that I can stand behind 100%. It often takes some creative arrangement of our family schedule each year to ensure that we can get to the polls while also fulfilling all of our other commitments. As the long lines at many polling places on Election Day this year reminded, participation in democracy takes effort.

In their letter entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the United States Catholic Bishops have insisted that "as Catholics we are called to participate in public life in a manner consistent with the mission of our Lord, a mission that he has called us to share."  

Enjoy this post-election prayer from Deborah Weiner:

Loving and Transforming Grace,

Source of creation,

Be with us now.


We have endured the hard night of struggle for our nation’s soul

for lo these many months, and find ourselves looking inward,

to each other, to all fonts of wisdom, for guidance.


Some have experienced moments of rejoicing –

for glass ceilings shattered,

For a sense that our chosen candidate has prevailed –

And some may be in deep mourning

for the loss of the person we supported and believed in,

so that now, we are in the pit of despair.


Where do we go next?

How do we mend the wounds of this nation,

borne out of an audacious and tentative experiment in democracy?

How do we become united once more?


On this day – on all days going forward,

let us look to ourselves, into each others’ eyes, to the skies,

as we recognize that we must find ways to join together as never before

if we are to build the future we dream of.


Alone, we will surely fail.

Separated, we face defeat.

But together – summoning up those angels Lincoln spoke of long ago,

We may yet redeem our country’s greatest hope –

Of one nation, respectful and loving of all people –

To give birth, again, to the dream.



Oct. 15, 2018--Appalachia Fall 2018
Oct. 15, 2018--Appalachia Fall 2018

Appalachia Fall 2018
By John Norman, Theology

What is it about the Appalachia Service-Learning Retreat that continues to attract, then inspire our seniors? 

Many of you have seen the pictures and heard the stories of the most recent trip to Joppa Mountain, the name of the Glenmary retreat center in Grainger County, Tennessee. I am inspired by the spirit of generosity and kindness lived out by our students in Tennessee.   I also am inspired by their enthusiasm to work for the good of another, whom they are meeting for the first time. Some people ask me how can I spend so many years working with self-absorbed teenagers. That question gives me the opportunity to share with them the many examples of compassionate McNick students in Tennessee, Nicaragua, Stepping Stones, Matthew 25 Ministries, Mt. Washington Care Center, St. Vincent de Paul and on and on.

Here are a few words from our students about what they have learned from the people of eastern Tennessee, from the natural beauty of the mountains, from one another, and from the Divine Presence whispering in the morning sunrise to the worksites to the shared meals and conversation and finally in the Eucharist, our Sacred Communion.

 “I have learned to put my trust in God's plan, appreciate and love the wonderful life I am living today, simplify when I can, always look for the opportunity to help those who need it, and embrace every good and bad moment in the journey of life.”
--Jill Tore

“This...has taught me to be humble, and to use my talents for the advancement of the world, not for prestige.”
--Anthony Brandt

“During the retreat on Appalachia, I was inspired by the people I met in Tennessee. They didn't even realize that they inspired me. I learned that I should be more grateful for what I have.”
--Julia Brune

“Getting up early in the morning to see the sunrise showed me that God is with us everywhere we go. In the wind, sunrise/sunset, people and nature.”
-- Maggie Schoolfield

“I have made connections with the people that will always stay forever. I have been motivated to volunteer my time more!”
-- Christina Brunner

“I was truly inspired by the simplicity.”
-- Hailey Bell

“Full Stature in Christ” is a life-long journey of communion with the Lord and loving service to our neighbor, near and far.  Joppa Mountain, for students and staff, is a beautiful part of this journey with the Lord.

Yours In Christ,
John Norman

Oct. 8, 2018--Heritage Week instills understanding, appreciation of foundation
Oct. 8, 2018--Heritage Week instills understanding, appreciation of foundation

Heritage Week instills understanding, appreciation of foundation
By Sam Roflow, Chair, Theology Department

JTM.JPGHeritage Week was established seven years ago with the goal to instill a sense of pride in our rich tradition at Archbishop McNicholas High School. Catholic schools are built on the foundation of the order of sisters, brothers, or priests who started the school and the mission of the school’s namesake. We felt it was important for our students and staff to have a proud understanding of this heritage. This connection to our founding became extremely important when the Sisters of St. Joseph, because of diminishing numbers, left our campus around the turn of the century.

As a result, the Theology Department designed a program for all new members of the McNicholas Community. Teachers in the Theology Department dug deep and researched what made up the foundation of Archbishop McNicholas High School. The first year, the entire staff and students experienced the resulting program.  The next year, and from that point forward, all new members of the community (freshmen and new staff) go through the program during Heritage Week in the month of October. Theology breaks the program into four instructional days with a test on the final day.

Monday - During freshmen Theology classes, students and new staff learn about the history, mission, and charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph, our foundresses.

Tuesday - The subject is the person of Archbishop John Timothy McNicholas. They learn about his roots as an Irish immigrant, his quick rise to bishop, and his legacy as Archbishop of Cincinnati.

Wednesday - A slide show and commentary illustrating the history and growth of McNicholas High School is explored.

Thursday - All of the foundational parts are put together to point to our future.  

Friday - The freshmen are tested on the information they learned so they understand the importance of knowing our heritage. (The staff gets to forgo this part of the program.)

We feel really good about the success of this program. Since it began, we have noticed that there is a much better understanding of who we are as a community. The staff has been very appreciative as this program has been part of the welcoming process. The improved understanding and appreciation of our heritage has brought students and staff together and helped to make our foundation vibrant and strong. It keeps our mission grounded in the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph and Archbishop John T McNicholas. And lastly, it is much easier for all of us to have a sense of pride in who we are as members of the Archbishop McNicholas Community.

Sept. 10, 2018--Kairos 115
Sept. 10, 2018--Kairos 115

Kairos 115
By Mary Beth Sandmann

K115.jpgForty-three students in the Class of 2018 took in the experience of the Kairos retreat in early August.  Over 4 days, they set aside the distractions and busyness of everyday life and spent time focusing on who they are, their relationships with family and friends, and who God is calling them to be.  Our hope is that these seniors returned with more awareness of the goodness within them, a better sense of the sacred in their lives, and that they are each loved deeply by their parents, family, and friends.

The summer retreat, held August 7-10 at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford, was directed by Mrs. Val Combs and Mrs. Mary Beth Sandmann.  The student team gave much time over the summer break, and thoughtful effort into preparations for this experience for their classmates.  This team included Bryce Kellerman, Georgia Cheek, Carly Suttles, Carly Fehr, Liz Huber, Lillie Zimmerman, Shea Dugan, and Mark Dill.  They were supported by the adult team ,who with the directors, also gave their time and insights  to the retreat; Mrs. Julie Dill, Ms. Hannah Schwab, Mr. John Chadwell, & Mr. Trey Aultman.  Fr. David Doseck, along with Fr. Chris Geiger and Fr. Ed Smith led the group in Sacramental celebrations. 

Participants in this retreat were Christina Brunner, Jasmine Burkhardt, Jessica Cranes, McKenna Collins, Audrey Estes, Rylie Higgins, Madisen Imbus, Skylar Maushart, Katie McCort,  McKenzie Miller, Ellie Moss, Kate Murray, Christina Poole, Maggie Schoolfield, Julia Smith, Sally Smith, Sarah Snyder, Sophia Sponsler, Kelly Strotman, Brenna Threet, Olivia Tore, Ellie White, Myles Bailey, Cooper Billies, Chase Beuerlein, Anthony Brandt, Ben  Bravard, Josh Burkhardt, Garrett Estes, Bryan Fehr, Patrick Johnson, Aaron Lynd, Grant Murray, Jack Potter, Noah Robb, Nick Russo, Andrew Sarge, Josh Scales, Caleb Tenkman, Thomas Ton That, and Sam Witter.

We look forward to our next senior Kairos retreat that will be held October 30 – November 2, 2018.

Aug. 27, 2018--The BIG Read
Aug. 27, 2018--The BIG Read

The BIG Read
By Teresa Davis

Big_Read.JPGThis summer, my time was spent cleaning out my house of 15 years of accumulation.   Day after day, I made many runs to St. Vincent de Paul to donate, stuff the recycle bin to the top every week, and even placed furniture on the lawn with FREE! signs.  The furniture disappeared within hours each day, and the house is now lighter of things not needed. It was not easy deciding what was worthy of keeping at times, and sentimentality had to be kept at bay.  Throughout 15 years, I gathered stuff that was tossed aside this summer.  We live in a disposable society.  Sometimes “stuff” and human beings are lumped in the same category of disposable.   As Catholic Christians, we know that not one of God’s children is disposable.

The English and Theology Departments came together this past winter to brainstorm a collaborative read for students.   Books were brought to the table at each meeting to find ones for freshmen/sophomores and juniors/seniors that expressed a common theme. In May, we came to the realization that the 2018 Big Read for our students would be steeped in Jesus’s example and ministry that ALL people are worthy of life and dignity.   It is the cornerstone of Catholic Teaching:  All are made in the image and likeness of God and the dignity of all is inviolable; never can it be taken away.  Throughout the Gospels[1], we see Jesus shoulder-to-shoulder with those who had no voice in society, the forgotten and the outcast.   In Palestine 30 A.D., those who were discarded (neglected) were the poor, orphans, widows, and the sick (POWs as Mr. Norman teaches).  Jesus found them worthy and restored them to new life. Catholic living means loving and caring for all of God’s people from conception to natural death.

 In An Uncomplicated Life, Paul Daugherty introduces us to his extraordinary daughter, Jillian.  She has Down Syndrome but that doesn’t make her extraordinary; she is Paul Daugherty’s daughter and that’s what makes her extraordinary.  Jillian shines in the pages as we read that she becomes exactly who God meant her to be.  She is a resilient, smart, funny (sassy!) young woman who is capable of much, and full of love to spread.  Mr. Daugherty weaves Jillian’s growth through his own struggles, tears, joy and love of (for) his daughter.   Jillian teaches us lessons of inclusion, unconditional love, and the consequences on young people who are excluded.    As Catholics, we know we swim against a “culture-of-death” that wants to determine worthiness by standards of production, beauty, and perfection.  Jillian is someone we now know and can point to when speaking to the foundation of our faith.[2]

In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson tells us a heart-breaking story that underscores that all people are worthy of life and dignity.   Mr. Stevenson takes us into spaces we would not often choose to go—jail, prison, and Death Row.  It is in the darkest of places that Mr. Stevenson shines the light of truth for those unjustly accused and the system-in-need-of-reform that put them there, as well as gives us the reality of the sin of racism.[3]  With the help of statistics, history and first-person accounts, we learn we have folks in society that have been put in dark places with no hope.   Mr. Stevenson speaks of a woman who chooses to be a ‘stone catcher,’ referencing, of course, the woman caught in adultery.[4]    Mr. Stevenson urges us all to be stone catchers, rather than stone throwers.   Why?  Because we have all sinned and we are each called to respond to one another with mercy and compassion, just as Jesus did throughout his encounters.  Justice cannot truly be, as defined in the Gospels, without mercy and compassion.[5]  Just Mercy is a compelling, hard read that is necessary.  Our Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Helen Prejean, champions Mr. Stevenson’s writings and works as she has often stated, “All human beings are worth more than the worst thing (they have) done in their lives. Is that not the message of Jesus to all of us?” 

Our faith must be in our minds, our hearts and our feet (cognitive, personal, and active.)   These books identify the truth that all are worthy and give us reason to see that intrinsic value in ourselves and others, and then go out into the world and be the example of Christ.  English and Theology will unpack both books in various activities and assignments throughout 2018.  

My house is clean and lighter now.  There’s a plaque by the front door—“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [6]   The Big Read of 2018 will certainly help me do that.



[1] Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-37; Man born blind John 9:1-12; Centurion’s servant healing Luke 7:1-10; Woman at the Well John 4:1-42 ; Faith of the Caananite Woman Matthew 15:21-28  ; Raising of Widow’s Son at Nain Luke 7:11-17  (just a few of many examples)

[2]  Additional reading:  Evangelium Vitae      

“A Perfect Gift”;  

[3] Responding to the Sin of Racism

[4] John 8:1-11

[5] Works of Mercy

   Beatitudes  Matthew 5:1-12

[6] Joshua 24:15


Aug. 20, 2018--Theology curriculum at Archbishop McNicholas
Aug. 20, 2018--Theology curriculum at Archbishop McNicholas

Theology curriculum at Archbishop McNicholas
By Sam Roflow, Department Chair

Archbishop McNicholas High School has a rich and multi-faceted approach to a Catholic education for young men and women. The Theology Department follows the “Bishop’s Framework” for Catholic high schools teaching the students current Catholic teachings in the basics of their faith. This learning takes place in the classroom and is the academic portion of a student’s education. The Campus Ministry Department offers each student the opportunity to learn through various religious experiences and to apply what they learn in the classroom.  This takes place outside of the classroom and sometimes outside of school.

The Theology curriculum follows the “Bishop’s Framework.” When this was mandated a couple of years ago in Archdiocesan Catholic high schools, Archbishop McNicholas did not have to make many adjustments. It turns out that we were already teaching a solid Catholic curriculum, what the Bishops were trying to do in their mandate. This made sense to us because our students always do well on the ACRE Test, the national Catholic standardized test measuring students’ knowledge of their faith. The Archdiocesan office had some of the other schools contact us for various recommendations on how they could improve their alignment with the new system. All Archdiocesan high schools, including Archbishop McNicholas, did have to buy the new “Framework” textbooks for their courses. All Theology courses are semester classes. The curriculum is as follows:

9th Grade          
– This course explores the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in the Old Testament.

Christology – This course studies the life, ministry and message of Jesus Christ as the center of our lives.

10th Grade        
Catholic Morality – This course explores Catholic moral principles, human sexuality, life issues and basic decision-making skills for Catholics.

Church – This course looks at the Church over the centuries, Church leadership and Church involvement in the world.

11th Grade        
Sacraments – This course studies the rich tradition of sacramental theology and practice. It also looks at living sacramentally.

Vocations – This course explores how we are called by Christ for a purpose, whether it be to the ordained priesthood, consecrated religious life, married life or committed single life.

12th Grade        
Social Justice – This course studies the social teachings of the Catholic Church through encyclicals and pastoral letters over the years. The Service Practicum is presented during this class.

World Religions – Vatican II called for a mutual understanding and respect between Catholics and those of other religious traditions. This course helps students have at least a minimal understanding of other mainline religious traditions.

The Campus Ministry Department plans and implements liturgies, retreats and service opportunities for the entire Archbishop McNicholas Community.  Look for more information on these opportunities in future posts!

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