By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Students come and students go at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, but it’s what those students do during his or her four years at the school that will help define who they will become after graduation.
Eighteen-year-old senior Emily Horan is set to graduate in a few weeks and attend Emmanuel College in Boston, while 15-year-old freshman Kevin Baker is just beginning his time at the high school; and the common thread between the two isn’t just Bishop Feehan High School, it’s their personal journeys that involve more than just a long list of accomplishments.
“When I was really little I remember being with my grandfather a lot at his parish, which was St. Elizabeth’s in North Falmouth,” said Baker, “and he was one of the people who brought me into being active [in the Church]. I remember him showing me what to do, how to set up for Mass and stuff like that. My parents were a big influence because at preschool age, I remember going to Mass every Sunday, which we still do now.”
Baker started altar-serving at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro in the fourth grade, and he found it to be a great way “to be able to help in that way during the Mass and having the close connection to Christ during the Mass is a huge part of” his faith, said Baker. “I feel that if I wasn’t an altar server, I may not have been as active as I am now. I’m grateful for where I am now.”
Having been an altar server since the sixth grade, Horan said she also appreciated the close connection to the faith that serving provided, and said one of her highlights was serving during an Easter Vigil Mass and “seeing someone become completely initiated into the Church, and I thought that it was so cool to help out with that,” she said. “I thought that was amazing.”
Altar-serving has helped her connect all the rituals “and even the way you do things, how it works and why you do it, and can help other people learn the same things,” and has been reinforced by the classes she has taken at Feehan, said Horan. “As I’ve grown older and taken the theology classes, it just became a catalyst for understanding what I’m saying and what I believe.”
Her years at Bishop Feehan have been filled with notable moments, including receiving the Pope St. Pius X Award, being a member of the Poetry Club and Book Club, volunteering for numerous community services through the school, and earning varsity letters for fencing her junior and senior years that also include winning medals and championships for fencing, as well as becoming assistant captain for the fencing team.
As she readies herself for college in the fall, her decision to major in biology/pre-med is the logical next step for someone who won the Sturdy Memorial Hospital Junior Volunteer award for putting in more than 100 volunteer hours.
Volunteering at the hospital had been a desire of hers “since I knew it was a thing, since I was four years old,” said Horan. “A lot of my family have a medical background; I didn’t learn I had fingers and toes, I learned I had phalanges. I remember when my mom would be in the shower and I would sneak past her and watch ‘Trauma Life in the ER’ when I was six because I just thought it was so cool. She’d come out and I’d switch it back to PBS.”
When her mother got a job in the ER, Horan would visit and wanted to help out. Her mother encouraged her to become a volunteer and as soon as Horan hit the required age of 13, she signed-up.
“I started out delivering water and flowers to patients, and would talk to them and see how their day was going, which I loved,” recalled Horan. “People who didn’t have visitors, I would let other people take different floors and I would sit with them for two hours and make their day. I loved it.”
When she became a receptionist at the front desk, Horan shared a story of a pregnant mother who was wheeled upstairs before her husband came out of the bathroom, and Horan set about helping the man find his wife: “We walked through the hospital and talked about how excited they were for the new baby. I got to be part of their birth story.”
Along with helping patients, Horan spent the last few years being a patient herself, and was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that will need to be monitored and treated for the rest of her life.
“I’ve been in and out of hospitals starting in eighth grade,” she said, “and they didn’t figure out what it was until this year. They told me one time that I could be infertile; I was freaking out about it. Then they said it’s not even close to that, it’s a whole other thing. There were so many different diagnoses. I ended up getting a kidney stone because of the malnutrition. Now we’re trying to figure out the right treatment plan.”
When Baker entered Bishop Feehan, he was nervous but having gone to Catholic school his whole life, he brought his fellow classmates from St. John’s the Evangelist School in Attleboro with him.
“Everyone has been so nice,” said Baker. “I wanted to really come here to Feehan because if I had gone to public school I wouldn’t have had theology classes; it’s an important thing for me.”
Theology is an important thing for him because Baker is discerning a call to become a priest. At the end of sixth grade, Baker met Father Riley Williams, who had been assigned to St. John’s Parish as parochial vicar, and in whom Baker found a confidante.
“He’s also taught me a lot, and to have someone like that in my life has been a big deal,” said Baker, who credits Father Williams “for being a big person in my life and helped me get closer to my faith.”
Baker had been thinking about becoming a priest long before he met Father Williams, but once he met and opened up to him, Baker found a willing ear in Father Williams, who shared with Baker his own path of discernment.
“I asked him about discernment and what the call was, and he answered me and would tell me about his own experiences and personal life and that just made me feel good to know that someone else went through this as well,” said Baker. “When he was my age, he would tell me stories or certain things that I could relate to, and those stood out to me.”
Last summer Baker was interviewed by Father Robert Reed of CatholicTV.com after Father Reed found out that Baker was discerning a call and thought having a young person on his show would help other young people also discerning their own call.
“For me, that was an incredible experience; I enjoyed it so much. I had the interview and I also did a commercial promo explaining what discernment is, and different ways you could get in touch with someone for help. Having that experience was moving and I was happy to be able to spread the message in that way,” said Baker, who offered advice to those discerning their own call to pray and celebrate the Sacraments. “A lot of people didn’t know I was thinking about it, so to have all these people know and are coming up to me now; I have a lot of new relationships.”
Baker also became the online technical support for his parish after designing and maintaining the parish’s website. He’s also a member of the parish’s youth group and evangelization committee. At Bishop Feehan, he’s a member of the chorus and Liturgical chorus, does spring track, and participates every Friday in PAWS, a praise, adoration and worship program held in the school’s chapel.
Baker also made his first pilgrimage to the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. in January: “It was very moving for me,” said Baker. “I’ve always had a connection to [Pro-Life]. Just seeing all the people that went down there; the line for the march never ended. Just to see some of the signs too. One sign said, ‘I regret my abortion,’ and that just moved me. It made me think about it more.”
It’s been almost a year since his grandfather passed away, and though one of his biggest supporters is gone, Baker will continue to explore what the right path will be for him by talking to Father Williams and Bishop Feehan staff, including the campus minister and theology teachers.
“In the next couple of years, I hope to continue what I’m doing now and hopefully that’s the call for me,” to become a priest, said Baker, and even if he doesn’t become a priest, he may become a teacher of theology or history, his “two favorite subjects,” but Baker said he’s ready for whatever God has planned; “Prayer every day and knowing that God is always here, and just always having that ground and solid rock in faith.”
Horan said she has appreciated all the community service opportunities Bishop Feehan has provided, from food drives and helping local families, to teachers teaching Catholic lessons that suddenly click, like the true meaning behind the “Our Father,” which was dissected during her sophomore year: “We went through each line, what did it mean, and I realized [then] that I was 15 years old and I really didn’t know what the words meant,” she said. “I just knew the words and I could recite them. Once you bring a meaning to it, it makes the entire process evolve for you.”
She said she will keep that process going after graduation, taking the Catholic foundation she built at Bishop Feehan and apply it to the ups-and-downs of life: “Someone is always watching you; you’re never alone,” she said.