FARGO — When Jessica McEvers was ordained in October, she officially became a pastor on the campus of Oak Grove Lutheran High School — but as campus ministry director, little has changed.

“Some people assume my role is different, but it’s not. I just have the title of Reverend now,” McEvers says. “Nobody here really calls me ‘pastor’ unless they’re teasing me.”

To the students, she’s just Mrs. McEvers or McEvers, she says, which seems to say something about her relationship with them.

Eighth-grade students Emily Meidinger (from left), Kyla Andvik and Ella Frisk watch a slideshow of different renditions of Jesus during a Christian studies class at Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. The class is taught by Jessica McEvers, who is a pastor and also on staff at the school. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum
Eighth-grade students Emily Meidinger (from left), Kyla Andvik and Ella Frisk watch a slideshow of different renditions of Jesus during a Christian studies class at Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. The class is taught by Jessica McEvers, who is a pastor and also on staff at the school. Ann Arbor Miller / The ForumAnn Arbor Miller / The Forum

Tatum Hoff was a freshman when McEvers first came to the high school's campus, 124 N. Terrace, Fargo. Now, as a senior, she considers her a valued mentor.

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“There’s just a certain way she is. You can let down your guard with her,” Hoff says.

Even her classroom is different, Hoff shares. Instead of chairs, students sit on beanbags. “It’s refreshing, not like any other classroom I’ve seen,” she says.

Having worked as both a Montessori teacher and at Hope Lutheran Church in care ministry and as a pastor-in-training before Oak Grove, McEvers says her current position seems divinely chosen.

“It fit my gifts perfectly — what I love to do, and what God had gifted me with,” she says, noting that early on, she felt her call would be different than most pastors. “I had a real peace that I wasn’t going to be doing ministry from the pulpit.”

Pastor Jessica McEvers holds a teacher’s guide while leading a discussion during an eighth-grade Christian studies class at Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Student Azahna Luschen is pictured at left. Ann Arbor Miller / The Forum
Pastor Jessica McEvers holds a teacher’s guide while leading a discussion during an eighth-grade Christian studies class at Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Student Azahna Luschen is pictured at left. Ann Arbor Miller / The ForumAnn Arbor Miller / The Forum

Instead, McEvers helps shape young souls.

“It’s my jam — this combination of education and ministry,” she says. “I love what I get to do every day,” whether it’s talking about “Jesus or boyfriends.”

Additionally, as a Christian-studies teacher and leader of daily chapel, McEvers reveres the freedom inherent in working on a faith-based campus.

“If Jesus is brought up, ain’t nobody here that’s angry,” she asserts cheerfully.

'Man in black'

Southward at Shanley High School, Fargo-Moorhead’s Catholic high school at 5600 25th St. S. in Fargo, rarely does a day — or school event — go by when students don’t encounter “the man in black,” the Rev. Charles LaCroix.

The Rev. Charles LaCroix leads prayer before concerts and sporting events at Fargo's Shanley High School. Shanley High School / Special to The Forum
The Rev. Charles LaCroix leads prayer before concerts and sporting events at Fargo's Shanley High School. Shanley High School / Special to The ForumShanley High School / Special to The Forum

Kent Wanner, a Shanley parent, admires his commitment.

“You see him all over the school, talking to students, helping with lunch, and often giving some kid a high-five, whether a kindergartner or a senior,” he says. “He’s there in a friendship role for people, and the kids are excited to be around him.”

LaCroix is also relentless in making the sacraments available to the students and promoting the anti-abortion message, Wanner notes, along with leading prayer before concerts and sporting events.

“Unashamedly, our faith is important in everything we do, and he touches on that, like praying with the sports teams to do their best and for the safety of all the players — including the opposing team — and that really has an effect," Wanner says.

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When Grace Beauchamp visited Shanley with her parents before moving here from Grand Forks three years ago, LaCroix gave them a tour and immediately drew them in.

“When someone’s that excited about something, you know it’s because they’re sharing something special,” she says.

Now, as a senior and president of the Shanley Teens for Life, which LaCroix advises, Beauchamp works closely with him and observes that passion daily.

“Father Charles is probably one of the happiest people I’ve ever met,” Beauchamp says. “If we’re at school dances, he’s dancing like crazy around the room with everyone. He’s super happy and he cares a lot about everybody. He has a special energy that I don’t see in many people.”

The Rev. Charles LaCroix is often seen reciting the rosary on the sidelines during Shanley Deacons football games. Shanley High School / Special to The Forum
The Rev. Charles LaCroix is often seen reciting the rosary on the sidelines during Shanley Deacons football games. Shanley High School / Special to The ForumShanley High School / Special to The Forum

Most importantly, he meets the students where they’re at.

“He follows our lead,” she says, “but he’s also leading us.”

LaCroix counts himself “extremely blessed” to be the school’s chaplain.

“God gives me a front-row seat to show me the great work he’s doing in the hearts and souls of these young people,” he says, adding it’s “because Christ first loved us” that he acts as he does.

“I’m basically just returning the favor,” he says. “My intention is to have our young people realize their potential, that God made them, loves them and wants to spend eternity with them.”

A spiritual mentor

Across the river in Moorhead at Park Christian High School, 300 17th St. N. — the youngest of three area parochial schools — Matt Larson teaches math, history and the Bible, serving also as a spiritual mentor for students.

“We’re probably a little different in that we don’t have a (campus pastor) position specifically dedicated to that full time,” Larson says. “Though I’ve always thought, if I wasn’t a teacher, I’d probably be a pastor.”

Now in his 17th year at Park Christian, he’s accompanied each graduating class except the first. Like the others, Larson says he’s privileged to journey with young souls.

“I look back through my own high school years and I don’t remember a lot of the history I learned, or the proofs of geometry, but I remember when teachers spoke outside (the lesson plan) and encouraged me,” he says.

Tammy Doeden has two daughters and a son at Park Christian schools. Her freshman, Madison, loves sharing about “Jesus Days” in Mr. Larson’s geometry class, she says, when he’ll ditch the planned curriculum to talk about life challenges.

“When I look at Mr. Larson, not only is he a teacher where academics are important, he’s there for training their hearts and minds to reflect Jesus,” she says. “He so good at just carving out time to go and see each student and just spend time with them — to get to know them, see how they’re doing and come alongside to pray with them.”

Doeden says Larson makes the Gospel real by modeling it wherever he goes.

“It’s not only as a teacher but how he shares himself — his character,” she says. “And he’s not only a believer, but a follower, and that is a testimony in itself.”

The gifts he brings to the students and others, she concludes, go deeper than the surface level.

“He has a peace, you can just see it. He has joy. He has Jesus. And that’s his prayer for those around him — to be able to share that and recognize it’s God’s work, but to have a hand in being able to provide that care for others.”

Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at roxanebsalonen@gmail.com, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, http://roxanesalonen.com/.