By Derrick Kunz
My children see their teachers every weekday more than they see me. Having a teacher that feeds their spiritual thirst and curiosity is not just reassuring, it’s vital to their Catholic upbringing.
At meet the teacher night last fall, I knew my daughter was in good hands when I learned her Grade 5 teacher, Curtis Wagner, was a fellow Catholic Christian Outreach alumnus.
Wagner’s upbringing could be called typical—good moral home, good Catholic schools. And just as typical was his desire for independence as a young adult.
“I wanted to be an actor out of high school,” said Wagner, who studied drama at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) for three years. During that time he filled his life with many things, always looking for something fun around the next corner. “Partying was all I lived for. This, along with the other interests, didn’t leave much room for God. At university I was disillusioned by everything and questioned what I believed. I felt empty and unfulfilled, like something was missing.”
A simple invitation to an ecumenical college and career night changed everything. “For the first time in my life I encountered Jesus in a personal way. I experienced Christ through the music, the speaker—God spoke right to my heart, and I encountered the risen Lord.”
That spark set a desire for God ablaze in Wagner’s life. “I was eating-up anything that had to do with God. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to grow.” An invitation to a CCO potluck from his sister-in-law did the trick. “I realized christianity isn’t boring. These people were vibrant, passionate about their faith and excited about life. They had a peace and joy about them, and I knew that came from Christ.”
No longer did Wagner need an external stimulus to live life to its fullest. He explained, “I experienced a freedom in life like never before. I realized Christianity isn’t about following a bunch of rules; it’s about a relationship with a real person—Jesus. There’s so much freedom in doing something because Jesus loves you and you want to love him and be more like him every day.”
Around the same time, Wagner felt a tug toward the profession of teaching and he earned his education degree from the U of S. Now married with two young children, he is pursuing a master of religious education from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta.
“Catholic education is so much more than a 30 minute religion class.” Wagner said Catholic education is unique and must remain distinct, whether it’s saying grace in public, teaching students to experience the beauty of God’s creation as part of a science field trip or praying for each child during gym class. “As teachers, our faith must permeate every subject and everything we do.”
The Lord himself will give you a sign
World Youth Day (WYD) in Toronto, Ontario in 2002, was a keystone event for Wagner. It coincided with his newfound enthusiasm for Jesus. “I wanted to be involved in everything that would teach me more about Jesus. Nothing could have kept me away.”
Something that became a visible hallmark of WYD to international media, including CNN and People magazine, was transformative for Wagner.
“We found these big white signs in the trash. We scraped off the ‘BBQ and beer’ lettering and spelled out JESUS with electrical tape.
“We would walk down the street and call out, ‘Give me a J…’ By the time we finished we had thousands of people shouting ‘JESUS!’”
Wagner said he would not have been so open and bold about proclaiming the name of Jesus before that experience. “Coming home and seeing pictures of me holding up a big sign with Jesus on it shows just how much my life had been transformed by the Holy Spirit.”
“And who is the man among you whose son will ask him for bread and will hand him a stone?” Mat 7:9
Derrick Kunz is a CCO Saskatoon alumnus. He is editor of the Green & White, University of Saskatchewan alumni magazine and writes about faith and fatherhood at ordinaryjoseph.blogspot.ca. @OrdinaryJoseph1