Bishop names Fr. Stephen Jones as new president of Helias Catholic High School
By Jay Nies
The recent 175th anniversary celebration of Taos’ St. Francis Xavier parish brought Bishop John R. Gaydos to the burial place of Father Ferdinand Helias, namesake of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City. The bishop prayed for Fr. Helias’ intercession in choosing the school’s newest leader. Inspiration was forthcoming. “Helias Catholic is a very wonderful, venerable institution,” Bishop Gaydos noted. “The Catholic high school tradition here is very long and very strong, going back to the old St. Peter High School in the shadow of the Capitol. “It dawned on me, we have right here in our midst a great president in Father Stephen Jones,” said Bishop Gaydos. “So that’s why I asked Father Stephen Jones to be the president of Helias Catholic High School.”
Bishop Gaydos on June 5 appointed Fr. Jones — current Helias Catholic chaplain, diocesan director of youth ministry and sacramental minister for St. Michael parish in Russellville — president of Helias Catholic High School, beginning with the 2013-14 school year. Fr. Jones succeeds Didier “Di” Aur, who announced May 8 that he would be move back to Memphis to be closer to his family, after seven years as president at Helias Catholic.
“This is a brand-new chapter for Helias Catholic High School, and I think we’re very, very fortunate,” said Bishop Gaydos. “We look forward to the leadership and energy Fr. Jones will bring to his duties. “He’s going to be standing on the shoulders of giants and continuing to grow a very valued, very important work of the Catholic Church here in the heart of Missouri,” the bishop added. The bishop touted Fr. Jones’ depth of experience in pastoral work, youth ministry and education. “He’s a man of faith and of great learning,” said Bishop Gaydos. “He’s had much educational experience and much family experience. He’s worked a lot with young people and teen-agers all his life. And he comes with a very high energy level.”
Fr. Jones said he’s looking forward to working with the rest of the school administration, parents, staff, alumni, the advisory council and board, the Helias Foundation board of directors, and the diocesan Catholic School office to provide students an outstanding Catholic education. As president, Fr. Jones will be called upon to take the long view, working with the school’s advisory council and board, taking a key role in planning for the future and making sure the school has what it needs to make that future a reality.
“It is a ministry of presence, a ministry of cooperation, a ministry of guidance,” Fr. Jones stated. He’s looking forward to immersing himself further into the school and the community. He plans on taking time during his first year “to evaluate the place, look at its strengths and its weakness so that we can continue the ongoing process of formulating a vision for the future.” His long-term priorities include: growing the student population, upgrading academic and athletic facilities, strengthening the school’s curriculum, and helping the faculty and staff develop professionally. He’s committed to continuing the tradition of mission and outreach opportunities for students.
The key to all of this, he said, will be collaboration. “The essence of this job is played out by working closely with the other administrators, with the faculty and other staff members, with the advisory council and board and the diocesan school office, with the Helias Foundation, the alumni and the parents, the greater community, and especially with the students — the ones that we’re there to serve, educate and form,” he said.
Fr. Jones first entered the priestly ministry in 2001 as an Episcopal priest of Fort Worth, Texas. He joined the Catholic Priesthood under the Church’s “Pastoral Provision,” established by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1980. The Pastoral Provision allows former Episcopalian priests to serve as Catholic priests in Catholic dioceses of the United States. A native of the Fort Worth, Texas area, Fr. Jones holds a bachelor’s degree in history and religious studies and a master’s degree in divinity from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, and a master’s of sacred theology degree from Nashotah House Theological Seminary, an Anglican seminary in Wisconsin.
He served as curate (associate pastor) of St. Vincent Episcopal Cathedral parish in Fort Worth and as a teacher and chaplain at that parish’s high school. He then served as pastor of Holy Comforter Episcopal parish in Cleburne, Texas, south of Fort Worth. Fr. Jones, his wife and three children came into the Roman Catholic Church in the spring of 2010, still not knowing whether he would be able to serve as a Catholic priest. Bishop Gaydos hired him to serve as diocesan youth ministry director while the process of discernment unfolded. Last June, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave the bishop permission to ordain Fr. Jones to the Holy Priesthood.
Fr. Jones has developed a great appreciation for Helias Catholic’s storied history and longstanding commitment to excellence in Catholic education. He’s become accustomed to meeting people whose ties to Helias go back several generations. “The roots are deep, and I’ve grown to love how great of a love there is for this school amongst so many,” he said. He feels fortunate that he has been able to serve as chaplain for a year before being appointed president. He’s especially enjoyed being able to maintain a priestly presence at the school and offer Mass each morning for students and staff.
“Getting to know the faculty, staff and administration and having a little time teaching in the classroom has been a lot of fun and has given me a bit of understanding of the pulse of the place — its challenges and its triumphs,” he said. He’s committed to upholding and strengthening the school’s Catholic identity. “That’s the reason the school exists,” he said. “Parents need to understand that they are sending their kids to a school that not only has top-notch academics and athletics, but that also sees it as paramount to form these young people in Catholic faith and values.”
He pointed out that Helias and most other Catholic schools have an announcement posted: “Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes, the model of its faculty and the inspiration for its students.” The priest insists that that phrase must be the foundation for every priority at the school. “We all need to do our best to internalize and live out this truth,” he said. “It should be the constant mantra of everyone who is a part of Helias — as administrator or staff member, whether one teaches physics or literature or math.”
Fr. Jones asks people to be patient with him and pray for him “daily and in any and every way possible” as he works his way into his new assignment. “I’ve got some big shoes to fill in following Mr. Aur, who did some great things at Helias,” he said. “I’m going to need time to adjust and get my feet wet and the other members of the faculty and staff will need time to adjust to me.” Bishop Gaydos has every confidence that it will happen. “This school has been through many transitions throughout its long and storied history, and I am certain people will once again rally around Fr. Jones as we move forward in strengthening the mission and tradition of Catholic education in Jefferson City.”