Students pursue being Eucharist for the world

Jun 6, 2024
At left, Toby O’Brien, Trinity High School, class of 2024, in his graduation picture. At right, Andrew Beatrice, a class of 2024 graduate of Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland.

This is the first of two stories on Class of 2024 graduates. Part 2 will run in the June 14 e-edition.

ORLANDO | More than 700 students graduated from Diocese of Orlando Catholic high schools this year. As the National Eucharistic Congress approaches, Florida Catholic highlights some of them in a two-part series, illustrating how they are Eucharist to the world around them.

Toby O’Brien

Blessed Trinity Catholic High School, Ocala

Growing up with parents who worked for peace and justice among peoples in Uganda, “Toby” O’Brien grew up learning to care for others. When he was 6, his family moved to Uganda to help reconcile people separated by the war.

Toby O’Brien, of Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, plays with a young orphan while on mission in Uganda. (COURTESY)

“I remember witnessing the daily struggles everyone experienced and how different it was from life here in the United States,” he said. The short time spent there powerfully impacted his view of how to live and his role in the world. “I knew that my life could have a direct impact on others.”

Another turning point was an experience during Eucharistic Adoration at LifeTeen camp in Georgia while in the seventh grade. “I felt an inner peace, a serenity I’d never felt before. It’s the first time I felt something was different about what was going on,” he said.

O’Brien has done mission work in the United States and beyond, and through his parish as a retreat leader for high school students. As part of the retreat team at St. Paul’s in Leesburg, he shares his witness of faith and how God works in his life.

“Faith empowers me to be bold, being able to stand up and be a force, a culture for change,” O’Brien said. “(I try) to live more simply and not get lost in the culture of take, take, take and being materialistic.” It’s a message he shares with his peers.

“Because we’re Catholics, we know God calls us to spread love and be the person of Christ to everybody we meet,” he said. “So, I try to promote a culture of loving and embracing everybody for who they are, not the circumstances they have, not the situation they’re in — because we’re all children of God. We should treat each other as family.”

He said, “As the Body of Christ we are the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. All my actions, all my decisions are led by Him. And whatever turns out, I know it’s His plan as long as I trust in Him.”

O’Brien will attend Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. One of the reasons he chose the university is because of their many outreach programs.

Andrew Beatrice

Santa Fe Catholic High School, Lakeland

Andrew Beatrice, a senior from Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland, coaches Buddy Ball, baseball for young people with disabilities. (COURTESY)

Andrew Beatrice is a baseball player and has been since he was 3. He loves the game and the Tampa Bay Rays. When it came to choosing something to do for others, it made perfect sense to become a coach for Buddy Ball, a program designed for players with special needs.

Since eighth grade, Beatrice has worked with 5 to 8-year-olds, teaching them how to swing, run the bases, and slide into home plate. “I’ve always loved baseball and had a passion for it and wanted to teach other kids how to play,” he said. To date he’s put in 235 hours mentoring others in his favorite sport.

When he arrives to practice, he greets the children, who eagerly line up and do their stretches, run the bases a few times and then split into teams. “They’re excited to see me,” said Beatrice. “I’m always happy to see them and cheer them on. They always have smiles on their faces when they run the bases.”

Beatrice said working with the children taught him how to better live like Christ. “As Christ teaches, do unto others at you want done unto you, I try to be that teacher that Christ was because I know how to play baseball,” Beatrice said.

“These kids are still learning to become better and succeed in the skills they’re learning. I try to be that teacher Christ was to the Apostles and the disciples, to these younger students.”

He recalled when he began coaching in eighth grade. He was a little hesitant and acknowledged “it was definitely nerve-racking” not knowing how the students might respond to difficulties. Gradually, he became more comfortable and decided he could coach friends in Christ as well.

“Coaching Buddy Ball has given me the confidence to teach others about faith and something that I know I can teach; to be that teacher to others and learn how to better ourselves,” he said.

Beatrice loves Peer Ministry, a campus program that empowers servant leaders in the community and beyond.

Beatrice said becoming a peer minister has been the single greatest thing to grow his faith. “I like being a leader at the retreats, sharing my faith with others and talking with them about their faith,” he shared.

Beatrice will attend Florida Southern College in Lakeland this fall and study food chemistry. To maintain his faith alive and rooted, he said he plans to participate in service opportunities for faith and worship on campus.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, June 06, 2024