By Brian A. Ross
Principal, Lumen Christi Catholic High School
Last August, despite the challenges of COVID-19, Lumen Christi Catholic High School opened its doors to in person learning for 92 students, the largest student body in the school’s proud 25-year history. From its humble beginnings in 1996 to today, Lumen Christi has become synonymous with academic excellence, strong moral development, and solid spiritual formation for grades 7-12.
Since 2015, Liz Loeffler, the school’s Campus Minister, has been a critical player and role model to Lumen’s junior high and high school students’ spiritual and character development. Even though she does teach a couple of theology courses, Loeffler’s primary task is to lead Lumen’s campus ministry program with the dual purpose of enabling Lumen students to integrate their faith into their daily lives and to become persons of deep moral character. An experienced Catholic educator, Liz moved to Alaska after over 30 years in Catholic school campus ministry in South Carolina. Along with her husband and three children, she brought with her enthusiasm, energy, and a passion for the Catholic faith and a deep desire to share that faith with young people.
On a daily basis, Loeffler helps Lumen students live the Sacraments and put their faith in action. A student’s day at Lumen begins and ends in student-led prayer, often followed by a short reflection on a virtue or a word of encouragement from Loeffler. In January, as the nation marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she led a 9-day Novena for Life every morning, with daily intentions, prayers, reflections, and acts of reparation. Every Friday at 8 a.m., before academic classes start, the entire school gathers for the celebration of Mass at St. Benedict’s Parish. Loeffler supervises student participation in all aspects of the liturgy, from altar servers, to lectors, choir members, and extraordinary ministers. As a result of this weekly participation in the school Mass, many Lumen students become more actively involved in their home parishes. During Advent and Lent, Loeffler coordinates a reconciliation service for all students. Archdiocesan priests minister the sacrament to students in a beautiful and moving ceremony of reflection, an examination of conscience, and forgiveness.
Highlighting the importance of faith-based education, Loeffler states, “Our Lumen family faces the same human challenges as everyone else. The difference is we meet those challenges from a faith perspective. Being able to live my faith and share it with students, families and teachers brings me great joy.”
In addition to sacramental opportunities, Loeffler has made the most impact in retreats and community service areas. In August each year, Lumen seniors participate in a two-day “Servant Leadership” retreat. Using Christ as the model, Loeffler and other Lumen staff members set high expectations for the graduating class to be servant leaders and persons of character during their final year at the school and beyond. Caleb Furneri, a member of Lumen’s Class of 2021, remarked that “Mrs. Loeffler works hard to put together awesome retreats where we can reflect on our faith and grow spiritually.” Inspired by his retreat experiences at Lumen, Caleb has volunteered to be a camp helper at St. Therese’s Camp during the summer. He plans to attend Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, in August.
Loeffler also coordinates Lumen’s Faith in Action program, which provides students service learning opportunities and experiences. Over the years, Lumen students have been called to put others before themselves, providing much needed assistance and support to Anchorage community agencies like Clare House, Brother Francis Shelter, St. Francis Food Pantry, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Special Olympics. While each student is expected to fulfill between 20-40 “Faith in Action” hours annually, depending on grade level, most Lumen students selflessly go above and beyond the minimum requirements each year.
Setting the example to her students in her personal life, Loeffler’s accomplishments and impact extend beyond the classroom and Lumen as well. Loeffler recently completed a Master of Arts in Catholic School Administration through Loyola Marymount University while also volunteering with the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains, providing emotional support to first responders and aid to people in crisis. In December 2020, she was promoted to Deputy Chief Chaplain and received the organization’s prestigious 2020 Heart of Service Award.
In a radio address to the Italian teachers’ union in 2015, Pope Francis said that schools should not just teach content or technical knowledge, but rather transmit “the values and customs of life.” Thanks to the dedication and personal example of Loeffler and other teachers at Lumen Christi and in thousands of Catholic schools around the nation, students are actively learning how to be persons of character and put their faith into action.