Careers in aviation and aeronautics in their civilian and military applications have spawned hit movies and memorable advertisements. While some U.S. Air Force recruits look to be a “Top Gun,” some airline pilots “Love to fly and it shows.”
Among diocesan faithful are young adults gaining flight hours, earning cockpit promotions and choosing to serve their country in advanced jet fighters. Together these faith-filled individuals, though not associates, are making a concerted effort to “Fly the faithful skies.”
Twenty-two-year-old Ernie Anderson, and Mitchell Bolda and Joey Topor, both 25, are among Region-grown Catholic pilots whose religious families, faith-based education and commitment to being active churchmen have led them to incorporate their values to soaring at 36,000 or even 45,000 feet above sea level.
Joey Topor is a St. Thomas More School alumnus. Dreams of taking an aerial tour over Northwest Indiana really took flight while the Munster resident was a teen. He earned his first private flight license when he was a senior in high school.
Instrumental to his fast tracking, Topor transferred from Purdue Northwest in Hammond and joined an accelerated program with ATP flight school in DuPage, Ill.
Topor had his ratings, or qualifications, lined up by the time he was 19 or 20, but began a search for a less conventional way to earn his flight hours. “You can’t find a job until you have 1,500 hours,” he said
He landed a job in the Marianas Islands responding to an opening for an island-hopping passenger service.
“I thought, whoa, that sounds like an adventure, way more fun and enjoyable than flight instructing,” Topor recalled of the Pacific flying. “It was awesome; I miss the island life.”
Topor’s family, especially his mom Maryanne Topor, have been supportive of his quest to fly. Before having her two sons, of which Joey is 10 years younger than his brother, she was a stewardess on Eastern, then later, United Airlines.
Her prayer life includes keeping the safety of her son as a primary intention, as she follows some of his flights on tracking apps.
Joey does his best to live his faith, being patient with the different flight crew members he encounters. And he’s always wearing a gold scapular, crucifix and a medal of St. Joseph of Cupertino, patron saint of aviation.
In his current job flying at 45,000 feet in a Nextant 400XTi jet, he gets the chance to show hospitality to corporate executives.
Through icing, oil leaks and other potentially serious technical issues to witnessing the beauty of the sun shining over the cloud ceiling, Topor believes someone always has his back.
“It would definitely be a hard career without faith, I think,” Topor said. “I know my parents still pray for me constantly … it’s definitely helped me to get to where I’m at; I’m still alive.”
Ernie Anderson, Andrean High School class of 2019, remembers playing with all kinds of toy cars and trucks when he was a boy growing up in Lowell. Before long he was riding off-road vehicles and responsible for powerful tools on his family’s farm.
During his time at the Merrillville school, he looked to the skies during his participation in a 59ers immersive learning program. He chose to complete flight training and earn his private pilot’s license with a Griffith-Merrillville Airport collaboration, flying a few thousand feet above the Region in single-engine Piper aircraft.
“The only job I ever wanted to do was be a pilot in the Air Force,” said Anderson, a St. Mary Catholic Community School of Crown Point graduate. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
Already a member of the Air Force ROTC from which he earned college scholarships, Anderson initially went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, but his plans like those of millions were stalled by pandemic shutdowns. He eventually returned to school and battled homesickness to earn his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical science.
This summer he prepared to report to Air Force officers school hoping to begin a 10-year career. That wasn’t before he reconnected with longtime diocesan school friends such as Jaxson Belich and generally spent time “being chill before the real world starts.”
With each take-off and landing he is not only communicating in MHZ frequency; he makes certain to also say a prayer.
“My thing is to make sure to say a prayer to make sure it goes good,” said Anderson, who hopes to pilot an F-22 or F-35 fighter jet. “Afterwards, I say, ‘thank you.’”
Already an airline pilot for Texas-based Envoy Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines Group, Holy Spirit, Winfield, parishioner Mitchell Bolda is ascending within the “small, tight-knit” profession.
As if ensuring he is home as frequently as possible to stay with his wife Kieren Bolda and six-month-old daughter and first-born Alva, isn’t exciting enough, he recently announced that he anticipates being promoted to the rank of captain.
Bolda, who has been active in youth and young adult ministry, subscribes to the commitment of “sanctifying work,” or in the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá, “make everything a prayer.”
“I was also thinking about becoming a meteorologist,” said Bolda, who attended Crown Point High School. “One day one of my friends, who was a flight instructor, wanted me to go up (in a plane). I liked it. Then I was learning to fly as a hobby.”
So, how did Bolda find such a direct route to being behind the yoke of an Embraer 175 jet? Prayer and persistence, he said.
“During that time, I was discerning the priesthood, so there was a lot of prayer going on – to really figure out what the big guy had planned for me,” Bolda said.
Bolda enjoys greeting passengers (including celebrities) with a Christmas-like cheer. He finds great “joy” but doesn’t see being a pilot as something that defines him.
“I love flying, I love my job, but when I come home, I’m a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a best friend … but most of all, I’m a child of God who’s doing my best to work within our Church,” said Bolda. “It’s a good home and work lifestyle balance.”
Caption: Diocesan faithful Ernie Anderson (left), 22, Mitchell Bolda (center), 25, and Joey Topor (right), 25, savor moments from their military and commercial aviation responsibilities. Anderson, an Andrean High School graduate, recently joined the Air Force; Bolda, a Holy Spirit parishioner, is a pilot for Envoy Air; and Topor, a St. Thomas More School graduate, flies a corporate jet for executive clients. (Composite photo by Anthony D. Alonzo)