In a seminary in Southern California, set in beautiful buildings within a citrus grove, men are preparing to bring the Gospel to diverse realities of the people of God. One of the realities the seminarians are preparing to address is Catholic schools--a great challenge and a wonderful means of evangelization.
As a member of the 12th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program who returned to my home in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after ACE Commencement last summer, I’m currently director of students at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, CA. I’m preparing to use my educational leadership formation by helping these seminarians to explore their roles in the future of Catholic schools.
After my ordination in 2008, I frequently visited classrooms and worked with teachers at St. Monica's Parish in Santa Monica, CA. I then moved on to a chaplain’s post at Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montelbello, CA, in 2012 and got to know those teachers, including ACE Teachers from Notre Dame. That led to my application, and acceptance, to the Remick Leadership Program.
I’ll return to classroom duties in the 2016-2017 school year with a ministry tool recognizing the need for future priests to learn more about Catholic education—not necessarily for service as principals or superintendents, but because priests and pastors in parishes with schools can help drive cases of cooperation. There’s a beautiful collaborative atmosphere that should be and can be achieved within a parish community, between the pastor, the principal, and the whole parish family. That is a key message in the course I will teach: “Catholic Schools—Mission Driven, Data Informed.”
My syllabus will outline Catholic schools’ history and relevant teachings from Church documents in order to show how the Church’s mission is embodied in its schools. That will include teaching about practical challenges like finances so that best practices can be applied in carrying out that mission.
I’ll also emphasize the development of community spirit—enjoying one another—alongside the other focus on Catholic identity and academic excellence. The research I completed during the Remick Leadership Program, studying the welcoming nature of the parish community around St. Alphonsus elementary school in East Los Angeles, will inform some points I make, especially about relationships within a Hispanic neighborhood. It was from the rich cultural environment of East Los Angeles that I wrote my Remick Leader thesis, titled “Catholic Schools: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in the Immigrant Population.”
An environment of real encounters, like all the aspects of a Catholic school, relies on collaboration among clergy, consecrated religious, and laypeople. Leadership is shared, but pastors play an expansive role in the life of a school. This is symbolized when principals and teachers welcome a priest into their classrooms. It’s a great opportunity for ministry not only to the students, but to their parents.
Besides my thesis research, other influences from my Notre Dame days will shape my efforts to spark lively conversations among the seminarians next semester. One of the first lessons I learned is listening—being aware, opening your eyes and ears to the People of God and how the Holy Spirit is guiding school leaders’ discussions. Striving for this receptivity is the most important quality for a teacher, minister, or administrator.
Experiences of diversity in nearby Los Angeles have influenced me and will continue to shape the approach I take to in our classroom conversations. Leadership in a caring Catholic school community demands a range of skills, financial and otherwise. I’ll also emphasize working together to serve immigrants and the poor, to help them break the cycle of poverty.
Pope Francis is leading us in that direction. We need to provide safe places for young people to get to know the love of Jesus and to further understand the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Priests of today and tomorrow need to minister to whole families, encountering the struggles and strife outside the seminary walls, meeting the needs of those in the margins.