Southsider Voice correspondent
If you accidentally walk into Jeff Small’s math classroom at Roncalli, you might feel like you have entered a religion classroom.
Religious pictures such as a framed photo of St. John XXXIII adorn the walls. There are also many faith-filled sayings, a picture of former Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller and a framed print of The Beatles’ infamous “Abbey Road” album cover, where The Fab Four are depicted walking across the street.
Small holds court in his classroom, which is upstairs, where students can seek advice about math or anything else that happens to be on their minds. Small, like all Roncalli staff members, teaches more than just his specialty; he also guides students in their Catholic faith.
The 28-year instructor was not raised in the Catholic faith, but one would be hard-pressed to know it. “I grew up in the Methodist faith, but we just never practiced it regularly as a family,” he said. “I was asked to go to church by a classmate, so I started attending church on my own. I never really went through a conversion because I have always believed in the truth of Jesus.”
He went on to explain how he would get up and get ready for church. (He either walked or the family of a friend would pick him up if the weather was bad) “It kept me going. My best friend in high school practiced the Catholic faith; that proved to be a big influence for me."
Various incidents influenced Small’s faith, but he emphasized that there are two people who stand out to him. “In my first teaching stint here at Roncalli I met the great Father Don Quinn and later I had great admiration and influence from Father Mel Bennett. Both have now passed.”
He went on to explain how his Catholic faith is so important to him. He tries to get his strength from reading literature, teaching it and attending Mass. He loves the writings of the blessed Dom Marmion. “When I read his stuff I can read a path of life where the Sacred Heart is centered around it, and it speaks to me,” Small said. “It is rich in writing but easy to read. His books are so good that you can find frequent quotes throughout it to guide you each day.”
Small, author of the e-book “The Pilgrim Way,” does his best to guide youth as leader of a group at Sacred Heart Parish in Cicero. He leads the Roncalli sophomore retreat and participated in a pilgrimage for the school, where he met Cardinal Loris Capovilla, the secretary to St. John XXXIII.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I do,” Small said. “I get to teach kids in the classroom and then get to help move them through their Catholic faith too.”