The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 calls to mind an important example of transformative approaches that have borne fruit for Latino students and Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., says Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM, diocesan superintendent of schools.
Those approaches, informed through a partnership with the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), have paved the way to a 20 percent increase in Latino enrollments in one year throughout the diocese—a jump of 571 children in pre-K through eighth grade, she says.
In some schools, the changes have included basics like the arrival of a statue honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic schools have traditionally honored the saints held dear by immigrant groups that were heavily represented in their parishes, says Sister Barbara, but sometimes they were slow in their outreach to new waves of immigrants whom they were also called to serve.
"You walked into some of our schools that were already in largely Latino areas, and could you find Our Lady of Guadalupe?" the superintendent asks rhetorically. "Well, she's there now. She's everywhere."
Placement of this beloved image of the Blessed Mother in schools was not a panacea, but neither was it merely symbolic. As with schools that embraced the values of European immigrant groups of the past, the presence of the new statues intensified relationships and community, Sister Barbara says.