Chaplains Fr. Schultz and Fr. Cummings join Paul VI and John Paul the Great

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The Diocese of Arlington is lucky in many ways. There is an abundance of men and women religious across the diocese who perform many tasks — both mundane and extraordinary — and play many roles in leading the 70 parishes. The priests who serve at schools are an integral part of the faith formation of youths. If a pastor is the heart of a parish, then a chaplain is the heart of a school.

“Having chaplains should be standard at every Catholic high school. We are blessed that we have full-time chaplains at each of our high schools in the diocese,” said Father Paul D. Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy.

A special assignment

Father Cummings was named chaplain of Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, and Father Schultz became chaplain of Paul VI Catholic High School in Alexandria June 28.

When a priest is assigned chaplain, Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge typically makes the appointment after consulting with his personnel board before approaching the priest he has in mind for the job.

That is how Father Schultz got the job. 

“Bishop Burbidge had clearly thought about it and prayed about it before he asked me to be chaplain,” Father Schultz said. “And I said ‘yes’ with a great deal of enthusiasm.”

Father Cummings on the other hand, didn’t wait to be approached.

Under the advisement and encouragement of his fellow priest and friend, Father Donald J. Planty, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, Father Cummings made his wishes known to the Bishop through Father Scalia that he would love to be considered as chaplain, should the position come available. After all, he said, “The worst that could happen is I would be denied.” Luckily for him, he wasn’t.

The role of chaplain

Traditionally, the diocesan high schools have had chaplains. After all, Paul VI, Bishop O’Connell in Arlington and Bishop Ireton in Alexandria were founded by religious orders. That presence is still at O’Connell with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who live and work at the school, and at John Paul the Great, where the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia lead and teach.

The schools offer opportunities for daily Mass, confession and adoration, as well as a chance for students to travel on mission trips and attend retreats. But, it is much more than that.

“Being a chaplain is about connecting with the students and faculty, and the needs for them. That is why I am here,” Father Cummings said. “There is nothing about the faith life that people can’t come to talk to me about. When they have questions or doubts, are struggling, or just want to vent,” he said. “We have those moments where we need someone to talk to, and there is anger and sometimes we are frustrated. I am here to hear that. I know your problems are real, I don’t want to diminish them, I know that God hears them, and I will hear them too.”

Father Schultz describes his role as being there for the faculty, students and their families. “I am a priest for them,” he said. “A lot of what I will be doing is listening to anyone in need. My office door is always open, unless it is closed, which means I am helping someone already.”

Working with teens

Father Cummings’ experience with teens started with his first summer assignment as a seminarian at Holy Family Church in Dale City during the summer program. He then worked with youth ministry at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, while serving as parochial vicar from 2012 to 2017. Those opportunities have helped prepare him for working with teens on a full-time basis.

Father Schultz has an undergraduate degree in music education and worked with teens before seminary. He also worked with youth ministry at St. Timothy Church in Chantilly while parochial vicar from 2009 to 2014. “I love working with teens, and it’s the most important work we do,” he said. “We are guiding them to be saints and citizens and to see the value of the relationship with the Lord Jesus and their faith.”

“The presence of the spiritual father to be with the kids to really ensure that their education is distinctly Catholic — and they build on the good work being done in the parishes — is important,” Father Scalia said. “It is not just about uploading knowledge to the students, but it is part of their formation, and a reminder that Catholic education is about the whole person.”

Homecomings and legacies

As part of his assignment at John Paul the Great, Father Cummings will reside at Holy Family — the rectory he lived at during his first assignment nine years ago. “There’s something full circle about it,” he said. “The pastor, Father Gerry Creedon, has been very welcoming and warm, and some of the parishioners also remember me from my time here years ago.”

Father Schultz, who will reside at St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, echoed a sense of homecoming. “Being assigned to Paul VI is almost like coming back to the old neighborhood,” he said. “So many families are there (who) I knew from before.”

Father Bjorn C. Lundberg, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester, was chaplain at John Paul the Great for five years. “Father Lundberg left behind an incredible program with a lot of opportunity for sacrament and penance, and for daily and weekly Mass,” said Father Cummings.

“I am very grateful for this opportunity to serve this community, and I hope for everyone’s prayers, and to be half the chaplain that Father Lundberg was. If so, I will be successful,” he said. “I don’t think I can possibly follow in his footsteps, but I am going to try.”

Father Schultz takes over for Father Michael J.R. Kelly, parochial vicar at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, who led Paul VI as chaplain for five years.

“I know Paul VI’s reputation is outstanding, and a lot of alumni have gone on to do great things, and they have shared with me how great their experience at the school was,” Father Schultz said. “People don’t believe how happy I am,” he said. “With all the great work a priest can do, and all the things we do day by day that echo into eternity, this is all for the kingdom of God and it’s thrilling.”

New school year

Though their assignments started after the school year ended, both priests have had a chance to interact with students this summer.

Father Schultz started offering daily Mass at the beginning of July. He has already met around 50 students who went to the diocesan mission in Bánica, Dominican Republic. “It’s inspiring to see the teens come to daily Mass during the summer when they don’t have to,” he said. “And they are bringing their friends.”

Paul VI’s theme for the school year is “To Seek the Kingdom of God.” There will be six retreats for juniors to choose from — a mandatory Thursday through Saturday event — as well as two daily Masses each school day, adoration on Thursdays and Confession on Fridays.

Father Cummings surprised people with his organization style when he posted July’s liturgical schedule and office hours in advance. He also made a trip with students to a conference in Steubenville, Ohio, and to the Dominican Republic. June 26, he participated in an “official” changing of the guard ceremony, where Fr. Lundberg passed a school flag to him.

Though the chaplains don’t teach official classes at either school, “they are teaching during the Mass, as well as giving advice and counsel to the faculty, but most importantly to the students,” said Father Scalia.

He added that Pope Pius XI once said, “The soul of education is the education of the soul.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017