Lumen Christi High School celebrated the graduation of 13 seniors on May 11. The class of nine women and four men is an impressive and diverse group, Principal Brian Ross said.
“We have students who came from Texas and South Carolina,” he said. “We have students from private and public schools, including four from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary in South Anchorage, one from Holy Rosary Academy, and one from a Lutheran school.”
The class at Lumen Christi, a 7-12th grade school, which is a ministry of St. Benedict Church, included 11 Catholics, one Lutheran and one Armenian Orthodox.
Ross said the students were a particularly generous and community-minded group, contributing a notable number of service hours, far above the school requirement.
“They’ve given over 3,000 hours cumulatively, which translates to about 230 hours per student on average,” the principal said. “Among many projects, they supported Bean’s Cafe, the outreach program at St. Benedict, and Archangel Attic — a secondhand store at the parish. They’ve taught vacation bible school, confirmation classes, and religious education.”
In a somewhat unusual twist, 12 of the 13 graduates have chosen to remain in the state and attend the University of Alaska next year. They are already seeking an on-campus meeting spot at UAA to continue their friendship, and looking into the university’s Newman Club to continue their growth in faith.
Here is a closer look at the graduates.
Natalie Dickhaus was Lumen Christi’s valedictorian this year and qualified for the University of Alaska Scholars program, which is awarded to the top ten percent of all graduating seniors from Alaska high schools. This award carries a $12,000, four-year scholarship to any of the university’s statewide campuses. Dickhaus was captain of the soccer team her senior year, and co-president of student government. She plans to study civil engineering at UAA. A Catholic who has attended the school since seventh grade, she said Lumen Christi has “been like a second family to me.”
Talene Markossian was salutatorian of her graduating class and also qualified for the University of Alaska Scholars program. Her mom was born in Iraq, her father in Lebanon, and she was raised in the Armenian Orthodox faith. But she admires the way Lumen Christi made her feel comfortable and she points out that the Roman Catholic faith and Orthodoxy have much in common. “At Lumen, everyone has great respect for others’ beliefs,” she said. She plans to attend UAA and study marketing and business.
Annie Thorsness is the second in her family to graduate from Lumen Christi, and she has a sister in ninth grade. Theology classes made a big impact on her, and made the difference in her decision to be confirmed in the Catholic faith at her parish, St. Benedict Church. She, along with friend Natalie Dickhaus, helped out with vacation bible school at the parish every year since they began Lumen Christi in seventh grade. Thorsness was captain of the volleyball team this year and will attend UAA with her sights set on a career in occupational therapy.
Gianna Dufrane is known for her love of performance theater during her years at Lumen Christi, and she acted in a number of the school productions. She spent several years helping with vacation bible school at St. Benedict Church and also assisted with teaching the confirmation class. She plans to attend UAA next year to study dental hygiene.
Chloe Williams graduated with honors from Lumen Christi and now plans to take up the study of psychology at UAA. She is an active parishioner at Holy Cross Church in Anchorage, and she recently received a Knights of Columbus award this year for an essay written about her Catholic faith.
Abby McCormick is the last of a line of siblings to graduate from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary and now Lumen Christi High School. She loves the community feel of her high school and said, “I’ll always have a family here. I had a really good experience.” She plans to pursue engineering at UAA. “I love all science, and here no matter how challenging a course was, you always had one-on-one help (at Lumen Christi).”
Ned Kretchik, a Catholic born and raised in Anchorage, came to Lumen Christi in eighth grade. “It’s a great school,” he said. He played basketball, and was a four-year soccer player. He, too, will head for UAA to major in culinary arts, with the dream of possibly opening his own restaurant someday. At this point, he’s hasn’t targeted a particular cuisine but is open to learning about many. He used his Catholic education to help prepare younger students for confirmation.
Jarrett Fortune graduated from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary. Unlike his classmates, he’s leaving Alaska for college, heading to the University of Montana to study outdoor adventure leadership. An Eagle Scout, he loves “all the high adventure stuff” and said his degree might enable him to start a tour company of his own one day as well as participate in outdoor rescue teams. According to principal Ross, Fortune was a “soccer star” and may play in Montana. He appreciates Lumen Christi’s giving him a solid basis for his Catholic faith.
Randy Samuelson is also heading to UAA this fall, but he is still undecided on what his major will be. His interests include diesel mechanics, business and photography. He was a basketball player at Lumen Christi and spent his summers working on a commercial fishing boat in the Aleutians.
Carolyn Loeffler moved to Alaska from South Carolina for her junior year of high school. At first, she thought adjusting to the smaller class size of her school might be challenging. But, “I love it,” she said. “I love the big family aspect of Lumen.” Loeffler is a Catholic who said the teachers were approachable and helpful as she grew in aspects of her faith. She will attend UAA next fall with plans to become an elementary school teacher.
Jamie Nagel was the subject of a March 2015 article in the Catholic Anchor which chronicled her conversion to the Catholic faith. The then 15-year-old credited the Lumen staff, her theology teachers, Father Leo Walsh, and youth ministers for inspiring her decision to join the church at the Easter Vigil. She has served as co-president of student government this year, and was the team manager for co-ed soccer and for the girls’ basketball team. She plans to study business at UAA this fall.
Qenna O’Donnell studied at Lumen Christi since ninth grade, and previously attended O’Malley Elementary and Anchor Lutheran. As one of only two non-Catholics in her class, she felt she grew in her faith from occasionally needing to defend a different opinion. She said Lumen provided “great community” and said one of things she loved was the school uniform, which saved time in the morning and made life simpler. She enjoyed the service projects and delivering food to Bean’s Cafe. O’Donnell’s extracurricular activities include shooting with the Rabbit Creek Youth Rim Fire League. She plans to study dental hygiene at UAA.
Chiebuka Lebechi, a Texas transplant, arrived in Alaska four years ago and found “the weather was hard to get used to.” Now, he’s challenging his warm-weather background further by enrolling at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to study computer and petroleum engineering. He loved making friends at Lumen, particularly through sports and sports trips, and was active in basketball and soccer. Chiebuka is a Catholic who found the faith experience was made stronger because of the “small school difference.”