By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEE’S SUMMIT — One thing about Lukas Nedelco. He isn’t a homer.
When his classmates brought three jerseys to the altar to represent Lukas’ favorite baseball, football and basketball teams, they didn’t bring Royals, Chiefs, Jayhawks or Tigers.
Instead, they brought the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Kentucky.
That’s Lukas, said his friends. Funny, outgoing, smart, and marching to the beat of his own drum.
And that’s why they want him back. And that is why they prayed so hard for him during and after an Oct. 10 Mass at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish that the students led. And that is why they raised and gave exactly $3,430.86 to Lukas’ dad, Jim Nedelco, because they know how hard it is to be without Lukas, and how hard — and expensive — it must be for his parents to drive back and forth from Lee’s Summit to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lukas has been hospitalized, more on than off, for the past three years.
Sure, technology is great. Lukas still “skypes” to school every day from his hospital bed, and his friends see him that way.
But it’s not the same.
“I’d much rather have him here, actually talking to him, seeing him all year,” said Ryan Gippner.
Ben Coates said Lukas is the strongest person he knows, kid or adult.
But his friend still needs his friends.
“It doesn’t matter how strong you are. You still need help,” Ben said.
That thought was echoed in the Scripture passage that seventh-grader Mariah Lynn looked up when she designed the “Team Lukas” t-shirts that all the seventh graders and their teachers wore at the Oct. 10 Mass.
“I looked up verses that dealt with friendship and strength and I thought that one worked nice,” Mariah said.
It is on the back of the t-shirts, and it is from Ecclesiastes, Fourth Chapter, verses 9-10: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”
Jim Nedelco said the entire community of Our Lady of Presentation, especially the seventh grade, has certainly helped Lukas and his parents through their three-year ordeal.
“This is an amazing outpouring of love, and they give it freely,” Jim said.
Lukas is also his dad’s hero.
“Oh yeah,” Jim said. “He’s a tough guy in a tough spot, and he’s fighting day to day.”
Lukas is back at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati battling lung infections and other complications from a bone marrow transplant he underwent two and a half years ago to cure a rare blood disorder, chronic granulomatous disease (CGD), which prevents infection-fighting blood cells from doing their work.
His dad said Lukas spent most of the summer in Cincinnati, but still got to go home for short stretches and pal around with his buddies and be the same ol’ Lukas.
“It hasn’t changed his personality at all,” Ben said. “He just believes he can get through all this.”
So does the entire Our Lady of Presentation community. To them, it’s never a question of if Lukas will be back at his desk. It’s a question of when.
School counselor Vicki Mueller said that through Skype technology, Lukas can be linked by computer from Cincinnati to his Lee’s Summit classroom. With help from a tutor in his hospital, he is not only keeping up with his class, he’s making straight A’s.
“About the only thing he misses out is science lab,” Mueller said. “He’s amazing.”
It’s hard to tell whether the faculty at Presentation has seized this as a teaching moment, or if the students themselves first seized it as a learning moment. Likely, it was both, because both faculty and students seized it at the same time.
The $3,406.86 check that Ben Coates presented to Jim Nedelco at the end of the Oct. 10 Mass came from a “Dress Down Day” fundraiser in which students had to pay $1 each to be out of uniform.
Do the math. There are approximately 400 kids at Our Lady of Presentation School.
“Most people brought in a lot more because it was for Lukas,” said Ryan Gippner. “We know how much his family has to deal with all of this, and we just wanted to help.”
Mueller said some kids brought in $10 and $20 bills. Kindergartners who had never met Lukas shook their piggy banks empty, hence the 86 cents.
Then the kids did what Catholic school kids are taught to do. They got down on their knees.
At the end of every all-school Mass, there follows a day of adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, usually attended by a few of the parish’s adults.
The seventh graders discussed whether they would say a rosary together for Lukas, or spend an hour in silent prayer before the monstrance.
They appreciated the rosary, Mueller said. But it was too quick, too easy, and too indirect. They chose silent, prayerful adoration right before the true presence of Jesus, for an hour after Mass had ended.
“This is what faith is all about. This is what community is all about,” said Presentation principal Jodi Briggs. “This is who we are.”
Mueller said Lukas has bonded the entire school together, but especially the seventh grade class.
And, she said, they will all share a very extra-special day in May 2014.
“Lukas will graduate on time, with his class,” Mueller said.