A focus on the Real Presence

Published on
West Catholic Haskell

Written by Sara Davies Aldworth | Photography by Heather Abram

At first, Caleb Haskell didn’t have a plan. While his brother Josh, then a senior, attended a zero-hour class at West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, Caleb, a freshman, would sit in the student lounge waiting for first period to begin. He’d pop on his headphones or fidget with his cell phone. He knew there was a chapel inside the school, but didn’t think much about it until, one day, “God’s call got louder than my music,” he says with a smile.

Caleb slipped into the chapel, named for St. John Paul II, to pray for a few minutes. He tried it again another morning. Soon enough, he discovered that when he began his day focused on the Lord, a sense of peace came over him. He was hooked.

“I started praying in the chapel daily,” he says. “I’d be there in the morning and then stop in during my lunch break. I came outside of school hours. I had an insatiable desire to be with God. And then I realized that this was an experience I had to share.”

Energized by his love for the Eucharist, Caleb approached Phil Dolci, then West Catholic’s campus minister. Caleb pitched the idea of exposing the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel each
morning to give students a chance to pray in front of the Real Presence before the first bell. With permission granted, he trained as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and was allowed to expose and repose the Eucharist. 

For the rest of his time at West Catholic, Caleb joyfully took on the responsibility of preparing the chapel each day and inviting his peers to learn what eucharistic adoration was all about. “It helps to really understand it as a relationship,” he says. “When you pray in your bed, there’s communication going on with God, but it’s more like a text or phone call. When you’re in the chapel though, that communication is happening face to face. And like any other relationship in your life, you don’t want just long-distance texts and calls – you want to be together. That’s the beauty of adoration. You are genuinely in the presence of the Lord.” 

His message was well received by other students. Caleb began noticing people coming in little cliques to the chapel. They’d stroll in, spend some time with Jesus and head out before class began. Teachers came in to get their day started off on the right foot, too.

Inspiration struck Caleb again – this time as he attended the Kairos retreat, a retreat for West Catholic juniors led by seniors. Sitting before the Blessed Sacrament with his classmates, Caleb saw how moved they were by the experience of adoration. But once they returned to school, that sense of awe and deep respect seemed to fade. Caleb was determined to help his fellow students revive that feeling of reverence. What better way than to create a video series?

He began scribbling down his vision for each episode and brainstorming who he’d invite to speak. Over summer break, it started coming together. By fall, Caleb was armed with a video camera and ready to record. With the help of his parish priest, Father Dominic Couturier at Our Lady of Consolation Parish, then campus Chaplain Father Rob Mulderink, and Bishop David Walkowiak, Caleb filmed the series in three parts.

“Each short video explores our Catholic understanding of the Eucharist,” Caleb says. “Our belief in what it is and what our response should be.” He began sharing the videos throughout the West Catholic community. Each episode was screened in religion classes. “I’ve gotten really good feedback,” Caleb shares. “I even ended up forming my own small nonprofit, Theotokos Media, to support this work. I love being able to use my gifts to spread the faith.”

Today, Caleb is a freshman at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, but there is still a Haskell caring for the chapel at West Catholic. Younger brother Elijah has picked up where Caleb left off. “For a year, I went to adoration with Caleb and I watched him expose and repose the Eucharist each school day,” says Elijah. “I saw him fall in love with Jesus. I fell in love with Jesus too. And Caleb taught me exactly what to do, so when the time came, I was ready to take on this responsibility.”

Like his brother, Elijah isn’t shy about encouraging his peers to develop a relationship with Christ. As students walk down the hall or hang out in the lounge, he invites them to visit the chapel. “I know if they just spend five minutes in adoration, they will want to come back for more,” he says. “There’s an overwhelming amount of grace that comes from face time with Jesus.”

With the Blessed Sacrament present under West Catholic’s roof, it’s no surprise that the spirit of eucharistic devotion is growing at the school. There have been as many as 60 students in the chapel at one time. Some come alone, others attend with friends, and still others come with
their teammates and coaches.

“It’s interesting,” Elijah notes. “I’ve seen kids come in and become regulars. They start visiting for just a few minutes, one day a week. Then they come two or three times a week. Soon enough, they’ll stop in during their lunch period. They might stay a little longer. And it makes sense, because, after all, we are made to be with and love God.”

Adoration isn’t limited to students either. “My grandma, Lois Flickinger, actually founded adoration for parents at West Catholic back in the 1990s,” says Elijah. “Once the school day starts, the St. John Paul II Chapel is open to parents, grandparents and other members of the West Catholic community. It’s amazing to know that while we are in classes, there are people actively praying for us and our teachers.”

Although Caleb’s move to college has physically separated the brothers, their bond remains stronger than ever. According to their mother, Nancy, the boys call each other often. “I’m completely inspired by them,” she says, reflecting on her sons and their devotion to the Eucharist. “Caleb is able to present the truth about our faith in a way that’s fun and relatable. He knows how to draw people into conversation and they respond well to him.”

“And Elijah has totally taken up the charge to care for the chapel with energy and enthusiasm,” she says. Living in Rockford, Elijah’s morning commute to West Catholic takes a bit of time. Yet, every school day, he rises before 6 a.m. so he can get on the road early and open the chapel. 

“He wants to give students as much chapel time as possible,” she says. “It’s so important to him to ensure that no one ever misses out on a chance to pray in front of the Eucharist.” Elijah agrees. “If you want a relationship with God, you have to spend time with him. Go to adoration. Go to Mass. The more we receive Him, the more we become like Him, and that’s our goal in life.”