FINDING A NEW MISSION AND CULTURE
By KAREN LAIRD
A.J. Barker was a standout athlete in high school and a D-I football player in college. Now he is an alumnus of the Master of Arts in Catholic Studies program and a religion teacher at Saint Thomas Academy, an all-male, college prep Catholic school in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. As more than 20 sixth-grade boys tumble into Mr. Barker’s room for religion class, oxford shirts are tucked in, ties are straight and voices are loud. Barker smiles at the innocent chaos around him as he calmly walks to the whiteboard to start the period with a prayer. The volume drops and class begins.
was neither straight nor smooth. But it was intentional, and he draws on that experience as he travels down a new road deeply immersed in the mission and culture of Catholic education. As a talented athlete, Barker’s first mission was to find success on the football field. He was a professed atheist, and he viewed the world through a godless lens. But this mission was interrupted when his football career ended abruptly during his senior year of college. The culture upon which he had built his life crumbled beneath him. The soul searching began, literally and figuratively. It was a dark, lonely time filled with equal measures of anger and self- loathing. Fortunately, his well- grooved discipline and desire to seek excellence served him well as he searched for answers.
All within a secular context, Barker used this time to get healthy, to meditate and to seek virtue. “I wanted to know the truth of things and I was trying very hard to do this without God,” he says.
He consumed everything he could find in art, literature,
culture, poetry, psychology and philosophy. He read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard and the Bible, among others. He wrestled with the literary, philosophical and spiritual “giants” and identified with their struggles. A painfully slow process, Barker started to think that perhaps “this religious thing was not what I first thought.” Barker eventually “stumbled” across Introduction to Christianity , then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s 1968 groundbreaking work on the Apostle’s Creed, and everything changed. “I read it in a week and
His road to the front of a classroom, not to mention the Catholic faith and Catholic Studies,
Page 4 stthomas.edu/catholicstudies
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