I am so blessed to have found such a unique community so close to home. My interest in St. Leo has grown immensely sense my initial contact with Angela regarding my eagerness to help with a children’s liturgy program. I am passionate about my faith, and it is a blessing to introduce children to the grace of God at a young age. It is through a relationship with God (and one starting as a child) that I personally have found peace in the happiest and worst moments in life. 

My story could not be told without a few important characteristics. At the center point of everything are the relationships in my life, I am a daughter, a sister, a friend and an aunt. Growing up and now living back in Northern Kentucky, I am blessed to have so many of my close relationships in the same area. The highlights of these relationships include: watching my seven young nieces and nephews grow, dancing with my friends, and exploring new areas with my family. Laughing, sharing life's milestones and just spending time together are so precious. I am blessed to have a strong network of people so close to home. 

While studying Accounting at the University of Kentucky, I took a semester abroad at the University of Notre Dame Australia. Living with students from Zimbabwe, Singapore, Belgium, China, and Kenya to name a few was rewarding and eye opening. I fell in love with Australia so much that I went back after obtaining my degree to be a nanny for a family of four. Stepping outside the U.S “bubble” was a huge milestone for me, and I truly realized the beauty in diversity. Shortly after returning to the States I was laid off my first “real” job which was a big wake up call to corporate America. I knew that if I were to be successful I’d have to take ownership of my own strengths and passions. In just a couple years, I completed my Masters, gained management experience, and landed my now recent employment with a small company that does marketing for retail. 

Amongst a lot of growing up experiences throughout my twenties, my greatest life story occurred just weeks before starting my Master’s program on October 10, 2009. My fears and faith met eye to eye as I lived through a plane crash into the tallest mountain in Virginia. I was sitting behind my mom with my rosary when that foggy October afternoon turned dangerous for us all and my dad, the pilot, crashed us into the side of the mountain. When the plane was flying into the trees and crashing into pieces, I felt the peace of God. I wanted the crashing to end, and to die quickly before the mental and physical pain worsened. The next sets of events were miracles, and each led us to survival. Many things happened that day that were unexplained and inconsistent with the reality of the situation. 

The plane didn't catch on fire, and somehow we found safety while injured and lost in the forest for hours some three hundred feet up on one of the tallest mountains in Virginia. Emergency crew was baffled at how we survived, because no other plane crash in that area has had survivors. Doctors were amazed at my ability to stay alive and especially walk down the mountain while suffering severe internal injuries. It is important for me to share that I felt the connection of God before and after the crash. I carried my rosary on this flight, because I had a strong feeling of this event, and I knew to put it in God’s hands. Prayer had everything to do with this experience. 

Later juggling the start of my Master’s program while going through intense surgery from the crash brought me closer to God. I am a stronger person because of this event, and I value my life in a different way. Throughout this event and each one of my life's stories, I have felt the presence and grace of God through prayer. I know that it was the early lessons of prayers that paved the way for my strong faith. It sincerely is a blessing for me to helpchildren reach the same understanding of faith that I was once taught. It is my belief that a foundation of faith will enrich each child's life. I look forward to my continued work at St. Leo! 

- Tara Lonneman

P.S. Recently, my father experienced another plane crash and God has protected him once again. We are grateful for God's grace and continuing care as he watches over us and are always thankful for the miracles he is doing in our lives.

St. Leo's Children's Liturgy of the Word program is held during 10:30 Mass every Sunday morning, September through May.

Debra Reyland was searching for a new parish home last year when she heard Fr. Jim describe St. Leo’s ministry. She decided to visit one Sunday and said that she immediately felt an attraction and believed that God had led her here. A music teacher by background, she wanted to share her gifts and began a children’s choir. 

Soon she realized that the children needed more and with the help of a group of faithful volunteers began the weekly Children’s Liturgy of the 
Word program that reaches up to 50 children during Sunday Mass. It’s her own relationship with God that energizes her ministry with the children. 

She grew up Protestant and converted to the Catholic faith about 28 years ago. Like some Catholics she struggled with confession. “But not fully understanding the sacramental blessing it offers us through God’s mercy and grace, I rationalized in my mind and in my heart that it was unnecessary. Besides, it would be so uncomfortable like an itchy, wool sweater and would be embarrassing to show my less than perfect and sinful self. What difference would it make really? I confessed my sins to God all the time and that should be enough, I would justify in my mind. 

But I was missing out on feeling forgiven and having my spirit healed,” she said. Last Holy Week she decided to receive the sacrament. “When the priest placed his hands over my head and through Christ absolved me of all my sins, my knots were undone. I had held onto them for so long… unnecessarily. “I am still grateful for that blessing.” 

She has a favorite picture of Mary which depicts her obedience as untying the knots of sin that began with Eve. “Knots are frustrating, like tangled Christmas lights and tangled necklaces. The tighter you pull away, frustration builds and patience diminishes, the tighter the knot becomes and more impossible it seems to undo. It takes patience to undo knots, turning first this way and then that as little by little progress is made. Although we all know it is better to not get ourselves into a knot in the first place, sometimes they just happen and we need help undoing the mess,” she said. “Knots are the opposite of peace. We all need more peace and less knots.” 

She took her experience with “untying knots” and her devotion to Mary to a recent rosary making project with the children who beaded their own rosaries. “As we built the rosaries, we strategically placed our knots to separate the ‘Hail Mary’ beads from the ‘Our Father’ beads. The knots are separators but also help to move the fingers through the decades of the rosary. As I feel the knots in the rosary, I am reminded to not speed past the knots too quickly thinking they are non-essential but instead considering any knots in my personal life that may need to be dealt with, resolved, forgiven, healed,” she said. 

The children catch her enthusiasm and openness to God. “I like coming to Mass,” one boy said. Another is frequently asking his parents to pray. In class and when they come together to pray with the congregation through song, they are becoming more reverent and attentive. Like their teacher who found her home at St. Leo’s, the children are more and more coming home to a deeper relationship with God. 

- Angela Anno

My name is Jocelyn Evans and I am a senior at Seton High School. I first joined St. Leo's Parish several months ago in October of 2012. As a senior at Seton, a portion of the curriculum includes a Senior Project of the student's choice; these projects range from learning to play a musical instrument, to mountain climbing and all the way to what I have chosen to do.

For my senior project, I decided to become involved in a missionary parish in a way that I would be able to learn more about others and about myself in perspective to building my relationship with God. I chose St. Leo’s because I wanted to become a part of a parish that truly spreads the message of the Lord through service, family, and most importantly, a close-knit and loving community. Joining St. Leo’s has been one of the greatest decisions of my life. I am truly blessed to have been accepted into the parish the way I am and I am also extremely fortunate that Angela Anno agreed to be my mentor for the project, she is a true gift from God for this parish.

Each week, I look forward to mass and cannot wait to go simply because of the people. I have learned that God works in mysterious ways all of my life - successes, disappointments, as well as positive and negative changes. I have three younger brothers who have always been a perfect explanation to me for the existence of God.

Joining St. Leo’s, though, has definitely and positively broadened my horizons of seeing God through others. Working every Sunday with The Children’s Liturgy Program is such a blessing in itself. Having gotten to know many of these children has shown me Jesus in so many ways - they are so grateful, compassionate, and always eager to learn about their religion. Also, the families of St. Leo’s display the love of Christ in many ways some families do not even realize. They have showed me that love is boundless- regardless of what is happening in life, the love of Christ never fails us and we are always able to share it with everyone surrounding us.

Although the Senior Project is what led me to St. Leo’s Parish, my presence will not end when the project ends. I decided in that first week that I will truly commit myself to be an active parishioner here because it has totally changed my outlook on the importance of faith in my life.

 - Jocelyn Evans