For years, JSerra Catholic High School administrators have been wanting to reach beyond the walls of
the school to connect with the community.
This notion of building community through faith matches up perfectly with the philosophy of St. Junipero Serra, the school’s patron saint, whose credo was “Siempre Adelante, Nunca Atras,” which means, “Always forward, never backward.”
In order to make an immediate and profound impact, the Catholic high school hosted a large-scale celebration of faith on March 11, the Adelante Fest, which featured a Mass, confession, kid friendly activities, food trucks and dynamic keynote speaker – Fr. Mike Schmitz.
“We took the last word of that phrase, Adelante, and used that for the title of this event because we want to take forward the gifts that St. Junipero Serra gave us 250 years ago, the prayer and formation that he gave to people living in this part of California,” said Patrick Reidy, JSerra’s vice president of Mission and Faith, “And we want to carry it forward to this generation.”
“Fr. Mike,” as he is endearingly called, is the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota and known for hosting his “Catechism in a Year” and “The Bible in a Year Podcasts,” along with his “Ascension Presents” video sermons.
Adelante began with a Mass celebrated by Fr. Mike and concelebrants Fr. Brandon Dang, vocations director for the Diocese of Orange, and Fr. Peter Adrian, a Norbertine priest from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon.
Fr. Mike fought back tears at the start of the Mass as he remembered his mother, Gudrun Schmitz, who died on Feb. 27, 2023, at age 77.
In his homily, Fr. Mike discussed the biblical story of the Woman at the Well from the Gospel of John, which tells of an encounter between a Samaritan woman and Jesus, a Jew, at a well in the city of Sychar.
When Jesus asked the woman for a drink, the woman at the well asked Jesus how He could ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink, as Jews did not associate with Samaritans.
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water,” Jesus replied.
The lesson, Fr. Mike said, is to see people as individuals and not define them by their group.
“Where we are tempted to see people by their group, Jesus sees them as a person,” he said. “He doesn’t define her by her story. This is the challenge for every one of us, to see how Jesus would see.”
Jesus is not saying to pretend groups don’t exist or ignore a person’s background, Fr. Mike said, but to see past the group and see the person.
“Until we begin to do that, we will never see the way Jesus sees,” he said. “If we can’t see the way Jesus sees, we will never be able to love the way Jesus loves.”
When Mass ended, the faithful moved outside to the football field, where bounce houses, games and food trucks were set up.
Despite chilly temperatures and a steady flow of light rain, at least 1,000 people enjoyed the activities, many standing in front of the stage to hear Fr. Mike deliver his keynote address.
“What a great witness to family,” president Rich Meyer said of the turnout. “What a great witness to faith.”
At the start of his talk, Fr. Mike said he wanted to share a universal message for the Catholics and non Catholics in attendance along with those who embrace their faith daily and those who may have been disconnected for a period of time.
To prove the point that Jesus is willing to meet individuals where they are at, Fr. Mike discussed the passage from Luke 5: 1-11, the story of Jesus calling his first disciples.
Jesus was standing along shore the Sea of Galilee, where he saw two fishermen who returned from fishing trip with empty nets.
In one of the boats was Simon Peter. Jesus told Simon to go back out to deep water and lower the nets for a catch.
“Master, we have worked all night but have caught nothing,” Simon said. “But at your command, I will let down the nets.”
When Simon returned, he had caught so many fish, the nets were tearing. Amazed by God’s power, Simon fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Jesus said to Simon and his partners John and James, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men. When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Jesus displays patience by meeting Simon where he was at, and not asking Simon to do become perfect or do anything differently, Fr. Mike said.
“The only difference,” he said, “Is when Jesus tells Simon, ‘Take me with you.’”
Many people say they love Jesus but are hesitant to include Him in every area of their life, he said. But Jesus wants to be in our life 100 percent of the time.
“Monday morning, Jesus is probably not going to ask us to leave everything and follow him,” Fr. Mike said. “What Jesus is most likely going to tell us, is ‘Monday morning when you go to work, take Me with you. I want to be there.’”
JSerra will continue to host Adelante events in the future and continue to invite powerful speakers, Meyer said.
For more information on JSerra’s Adelante initiative, visit https://www.jserra.org/about/adelante