CHRIS BAYARDI

Chris Bayardi was born and raised in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. As a little kid in the small town of Wheeling, he was surrounded by a large Italian extended family who saw each other almost every holiday. Inspired by his great-grandmother’s devotion to the Blessed Mother, Chris was raised Catholic and could walk to mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish where he received all of his sacraments. His childhood was one of Catholic values and small town adventures. 

Yet, as time went on, divorce started to chip away at Chris’ extended family, and Chris would notice at family gatherings. “People were just not there, but they weren’t dead,” Chris remembers. When searching for answers as to why, Chris was unsatisfied by the typical answers he received. “‘Ya know that people fall out of love’….’sometimes things don’t work out’…These non-answers to kids, and kids are like, ‘That’s stupid.’” Which is exactly how Chris felt. Then Chris’ own parents got divorced when he was in 8th grade and everything went flat. “I just didn’t care about going into high school. I wasn’t motivated for anything.” As a result, Chris’ faith fell by the wayside. 

During this time, Chris found friendship with Tim, who was raised in a similar situation at home. They spent time together outdoors camping, fishing and hunting, sometimes to the detriment of school work or other responsibilities, but it fostered certain companionship amidst their family’s struggles. “I remember stopping at my grandparents house so proud of a stringer full of fish one day and my grandpa asked me, ‘You find a job or homework in that creek Christopher?’ Though the outdoors provided happiness and escape, Chris continued his apathetic view on life throughout high school. “I was a dud, plain and simple. The middle kid who was on no radar. Not bad enough to be a discipline issue, not stellar enough to merit attention.” Chris even went so far as to promise that after his senior year, he was never returning to school.

It was in his senior year that Chris was placed in honors English because his 11th grade teacher perceived that he was intelligent, but lazy and always daydreaming of being elsewhere. It was in honors English class that he met the teacher who would change his life, Mr. Louis Volpe. “There was certainty in everything he said. There was truth in everything he said. There was love in everything he said. And there was Christ in everything he said.” Even as an English teacher, Mr. Volpe encouraged his students to get to know God. On his second day of Mr. Volpe’s class, Chris went up to him after class and asked how he could know God. After initially admonishing Chris that he would be late for class, Mr. Volpe gave Chris two instructions: Go to mass and give God five minutes a day in prayer. Chris took his advice, and as Mr. Volpe describes it, Chris became alive. “He pushed me. There was never a moment of ‘Aw, I feel bad for you.’ He pushed me into being better and trying harder, facing fear and insecurity, showing me a role model and leader, and ultimately giving me the certainty that God existed, God loves me, and that I could know that God,” Chris recounted.  

After graduating high school, Chris desired to be an English teacher just like his role model, but at West Liberty University, he found out that he wasn’t very good at the coursework. After struggling through his freshman year, Chris got involved in campus ministry where he met his now wife of 23 years, Sarah, and his other great teacher and friend, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, who was chaplain West Liberty and Bethany College at the time. Msgr. Quirk saw potential and hired Chris as campus minister while he finished out his undergraduate degree. After he and Sarah married, they lived on campus where he continued in campus ministry for seven years. Chris and Monsignor would meet regularly to study Sacred Scripture and the Catechism. “It was like an old school apprenticeship in theology. I loved it! Immersing myself in Scripture and Tradition.” When Monsignor Quirk taught Medieval Papacy on campus, Chris took the class! “As a priest he is a teacher, and those who truly know him will attest, he is head over heels in love with Jesus Christ, the Sacrament, the Saints, the Church, and teaching others about the person and things he loves. He taught me to fall in love with Christ and the Church.” 

Eventually, Chris was offered a job as pastoral associate of faith formation at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling. Prior to taking the job, at Monsignor’s prompting, Chris had attempted to get his Masters in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville through distance learning. “They sent me the tapes. I think I still have the tapes. But I never finished it.” Work and life with his wife were the priority, so the degree took a backseat. 

At this new ministry (also working for the new Cathedral’s rector Monsignor Kevin Quirk) his boss insisted that Chris finish the degree on campus. Chris did finish his masters degree and began to present more in front of groups at the parish. He found that he was at ease in front of people, sharing the teachings of Jesus and the Church. “I remember talking to a confirmation class in the Cathedral and my friend walked by and said, ‘Bayardi, you are in your element.”  Again through the generosity and encouragement of Monsignor Kevin, Chris was able to teach a year of English at his former high school while retaining his job as pastoral associate and, coincidentally, it was Mr. Volpe’s last year and he mentored Chris’ first year. “I loved teaching. I was hooked. I needed to do it full time.” And Chris started looking for a teaching position. 

“Mr. Volpe and Monsignor Kevin are the two greatest teachers I have ever experienced in my life. They will always be my teachers, but now, they teach me as friends and brothers.” 

After years of searching in various cities such as Pittsburgh, PA and Cinicinatti, OH, Chris finally was able to land a religion teaching job at St. Francis de Sales high school in Columbus, OH. During that year, Chris loved the classroom, the routine, the interaction with the kids and fellow teachers and staff. Teaching close to two hundred students, Chris felt that his entire skill set was being used. In reflecting on his year in the religion classroom, he found that he was home. “I was like ‘Oh! This is who God made me to be and what he wants me to do. It was a remarkable moment for me.’” 

It was at that same time, Chris and his wife Sarah were placed with a baby for adoption. Unable to find adequate housing, on a Catholic school teacher salary in a major city, they lived with Chris’ aunt for a year for a stable environment for their newly adopted son while they searched for an affordable home. Columbus was seeming less and less like a permanent home. After looking at dozens of houses in a year’s time, the Bayardis were resigned to the fact that they would not be able to find a house in the area to live in. It was then that a school in Pittsburgh, Quigley Catholic High School, asked Chris to interview for their vacant religion job. He was offered the job, and they moved back, purchased a home, and Chris made the commute each day. Not long after, with the threat of Quigley closing, Chris found a home at North Catholic High School, a growing community, where he taught religion and ran campus ministry for three years. It seemed like a permanent home. 

In 2018, Chris had the opportunity to work for the Office of Faith Formation at his home diocese of Wheeling. “I always wanted to work in that Office because I thought that I could make a difference. I wanted to go home to the Church that formed me and do some good and help the people in parishes and schools struggling to form ‘future of the Church.’” He took the diocesan job which brought his office closer to family. However, Chris soon learned that the diocesan bureaucracy, lay and clergy, cannot be breached. This frustrating experience coupled with a nationally known scandal concerning his bishop had Chris questioning his choice.

Even though he had left North Catholic just a year prior, Chris had stayed in contact with the principal and religion teachers. When he heard they were hiring for two religion teaching positions the following year, Chris jumped at the opportunity to apply again, got the job, and settled into teaching senior religion and campus ministry, responsibilities he has to this day. “I remember Mr. Volpe and Msgr. Kevin telling me, you’re a trenches man Bayardi, not an administrator. Again, my teachers were seeing who God made me to be when I could not.”

When asked about his final thought about Catholic education and why he teaches he said this: “I do it because I love the work. Inviting students to think beyond themselves, to awaken them to the mysteries of Christ and presence of God all around them, to facilitate placing students in front of Jesus Christ through the classroom, allowing students the freedom to ask questions and wrestle with Truth, Goodness, Beauty, is a tremendous gift! Mr. Volpe and Msgr. Kevin did that for me. We all need a St. Andrew to bring us to the Lord. We need dedicated lovers of Jesus and His Church on the frontline of Catholic Education. We are desperate for that. It’s not easy and often the bureaucrats torpedo the work and worker but the Catholic School remains one of the final areas of the Catholic Church where young people actually are and we have the gift of sharing the Gospel with students, parents, and the entire school community!”

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