New president seeks to build on Helias legacy

As the incoming president of Helias Catholic High School, the Rev. Stephen W. Jones views his role as the public face of the school, providing leadership and guidance to both the faculty and the student body. But he noted Helias has a storied history of success since its inception in 1956.

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Stephen W. Jones, taking over at Helias Catholic High School

“It’s a machine. It’s been running,” he said. “It’s just like inserting a new part in an old car, but the machine keeps running. I happen to be the one fulfilling that role right now to help steer it and determine which direction it moves in the future.”

Most recently Jones has served the Diocese as a sacramental minister at St. Michaels Church in Russellville and as the director of the Diocesan Youth Ministry office.

In that later capacity, Jones facilitated and promoted youth programming, although he didn’t administer the office’s budget.

“I worked with the people who work with youth,” he said.

He also helped organize youth rallies — essentially conferences with speakers, music, games, breakout sessions and food — and trips, such as the March for Life to Washington, D.C.

For example, in a parish where a youth program might have withered, Jones would teach some of the fundamentals of youth ministry, suggest practical ways to get a ministry up and running and recommend possible curriculum choices.

“We would empower them to do it on their own,” he said.

He also would make sure all adult leaders understood the guidelines for supervision and transportation of young people and make sure those rules were followed.

“How can we empower you to facilitate youth ministry in your parish? That’s what my office was there to do,” he said.

After serving as an Episcopal priest in Texas, Jones and his family came to the Catholic faith after a four-year long conversion process, he said. He said it was a combination of studying scripture, theology and history, but he also realized that Jesus clearly taught that “his church be one.”

“My family and I studied, prayed, discerned. At the end of which we just concluded — we were convinced in our consciences — that the Catholic Church was the church that Jesus came to found,” he said.

Jones said he loved his Episcopal parish and his life in Texas, but once he came to the conclusion that Catholicism was the right path, he couldn’t turn back. He also noted the Nicene Creed mentions “one holy Catholic and apostolic church.”

“Where is the fullness of that church found? All of our study and prayer led us to conclude we found that church here in the Catholic Church,” he said.

Jones said it was a difficult decision to leave Texas, but a surplus of married priests in the Diocese of Fort Worth meant he had to look for work in a different region, which ultimately led him to central Missouri, since his wife, Kerri, is from Columbia.

She is a math teacher at Helias. The couple have three children.

Over the years, Jones has served as junior high football coach and as a chaplain and theology instructor in school settings.

But Jones said his six years of experience as a pastor of an Episcopal parish prepared him best for his role as Helias’ president. He noted both jobs require similar skills: being the head administrator, being the face of the institution and providing visionary leadership. He also noted his year serving at Helias as chaplain familiarized him with the school.

“That’s kind of the way I’m approaching this ministry at Helias — the same way I would approach the ministry of being pastor of a parish,” he said. “Those six years probably prepared me best for what I’ll be doing at Helias.”

Jones also said one of his goals will be to grow enrollment numbers at the high school, although he noted enrollment figures tend to rise and fall in waves over time.

He said he plans to work hard with the Catholic middle and elementary schools to “show those young people and their parents what a great thing we have in Helias.”

He noted the school not only is strong academically and athletically, it also offers a distinct spiritual component that the public schools cannot.

He also noted a new admissions director, Travis Reinsch, will be helping boost recruitment.

“He has a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” Jones said. “He’ll work very carefully with the pastors, with the principals, to bolster that relationship to find ways to creatively engage students, so they’ll want to go to Helias when it is time.”

Stan Oschner will continue in his role as dean of students. And Sister Jean Dietrich as principal and Sister Barbara Neist will round out Jones’ administrative team. All three work at the school currently.

As the field of education changes dramatically, Jones said it’s his goal to make sure that instruction keeps up with new methods and technologies, while adhering to traditional teaching.

“Our results can’t be argued with,” he said, noting Helias’ students have strong ACT scores and compete successfully for scholarships.

“The graduate we’re putting out is successful,” he said. “A significant number of our students graduate from college within five years.”

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Other changes in works for Catholic school system

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