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Catholic School Advantage

Catholic School Advantage: A Letter from San Antonio

Written by William Schmitt on Friday, 09 December 2011.

By Field Consultant Paul Rodriguez

Paul Rodriguez is ACE's Field Consultant for the Catholic School Advantage campaign in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. He sends this update on a success story he learned about while working with the people of St. Gerard High School in San Antonio.

Situated on the east side of San Antonio, Texas, there is a Catholic high school that has served the city’s youth since 1927. It is a school that is rich in history and tradition and has produced some of the city’s most prominent leaders.

St. Gerard High School has been a partner of the Catholic School Advantage campaign for almost an entire year, and as the field consultant representing this campaign in San Antonio, it has been an amazing experience to witness the continued growth and rejuvenation of one of San Antonio’s true gems.

The recent success of the school does not necessarily result from a booming enrollment or state-of-the-art facilities. Rather, the true success of this school emerges from a student body that is motivated and committed to their faith and academics. In addition, the school truly embodies a sense of social justice and service to the community.  In fact, St. Gerard’s has recently developed a satellite campus at St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home (St. PJ’s). Through the partnership, SGH extends the Catholic School advantage to abused, neglected, and abandoned children. 

Most notably, the inspiration and revived spirit of this school are a primary result of the energy and enthusiasm for Catholic education found in their principal, Mr. Peter Rivera. When speaking of the school, he stated, “St. Gerard High School is serving a great need for the urban area of San Antonio in the Catholic Tradition. Our goal is to impart a love of learning in our student body.”

            As a second-year principal of St. Gerard High School, Rivera has revived the appearance of the school on the inside and out. Every time I visit the school, I am amazed by the courtesy of the students, staff, and faculty. Respect and a willingness to succeed as a collective school community permeate the hallways and the inside of classrooms.

            Complementing the discipline and the focused curriculum are the spiritual presence of the Ursuline, Franciscan, and School Sisters of Notre Dame, the vigor of a football coach who shows the utmost care for his players, the grace of an office manager who never ceases to smile and welcome visitors, and the environment of an art room able to inspire even the most gifted and talented artists—and of course the passion of a school principal who arrives early and stays late.

            Sr. Elizabeth Hatzenbuehler, technology teacher and Ursuline Sister, stated, “Our work is about helping students work towards peace and reconciliation.  With the challenges our students face, I try to help them understand on a daily basis that they are unique and that God loves them.”

            Mr. Rivera has executed multiple outreach initiatives to increase the community’s knowledge of the great things that St. Gerard has to offer. During one particular week, I witnessed groups of eighth graders from multiple schools touring the campus, being led by St. Gerard student ambassadors. In the view of Mr. Rivera, students must be able to connect with other students to directly experience the spectrum of school culture. One student, senior Maria Fernandez spoke of the school’s greatness. She stated, “What I’ve learned most is the ability to communicate with all people and confront the world.  St. Gerard’s has taught me about morals and the difference between right and wrong. I could not have learned these life lessons without the guidance of our Sisters.”

            There is no doubt that students who graduate from this institution are equipped to do more than just excel in their next academic endeavor. They are prepared for life as confident individuals filled with faith and joy. Mr. Rivera and the entire school community are committed to the continuing improvement of the institution and the extension of the Catholic School Advantage to more youth in San Antonio.

            Significant increases in enrollment are not an overnight phenomenon, but through excellent leadership and an enthusiastic school community, there is no doubt that St. Gerard’s High School will prosper in faith and hope for many years to come.

Accompanying photo: Maria Fernandez, a senior at St. Gerard's, created this mural for a Mass with the Archbishop.

Catholic School Advantage - A Letter from New York

on Friday, 09 December 2011.

by Field Consultant Rudy Vargas

Rudy Vargas is ACE’s Field Consultant for the Catholic School Advantage campaign in the Archdiocese of New York. He sends this update on a success story he has seen while working with the people of various elementary and secondary schools in the Bronx and elsewhere in the New York City area.

“One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests.”
– Scottish Clergyman Peter Marshall (1902-1949)

I have been visiting with madrinas in these past few months in my work with the Catholic School Advantage campaign in New York. The madrinas groups have been initiated since June 2011 as one of our major strategies to increase Latino enrollment and retention. These visits with madrinas have been a blessing.

From the Field: Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C.

on Thursday, 08 December 2011.

Father Joe Corpora, C.S.C., an alumnus of Notre Dame and a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross, is the director of University-School Partnerships in ACE. He works to build lasting alliances with schools and dioceses as leader of ACE's Catholic School Advantage campaign, the initiative to double the percentage of Latinos who send their children to Catholic elementary and secondary schools by 2020.

Father Joe served at the University of Portland in Oregon for six years before beginning two decades as a pastor-first at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, Arizona, a parish that is 90% Mexican-American and Mexican, and then at Holy Redeemer Parish in Portland, Oregon. In the former position, he founded the first Catholic school to be opened in the Diocese of Phoenix in thirty years. He returned to Notre Dame in 2009.

Catholic School Advantage: A Letter from Chicago

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 06 December 2011.

by Field Consultant Juana Sanchez

Juana Sanchez is ACE's Field Consultant for the Catholic School Advantage campaign in the Archdiocese of Chicago. She sends this update on a success story she learned about while working with the people of St. Genevieve Catholic School in Chicago.

At St. Genevieve, an elementary school not far from downtown Chicago, students from all backgrounds have been brought closer together by learning about the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe that is deeply rooted in the faith of the school's Latino community.

This learning takes a very tangible and compelling form every year on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, when the school community gathers for the presentation of a play about the Feast. The play had its genesis in one teacher's personal spiritual experience and her desire to serve Our Lady, the Church, and her school.
Daisy Perez, director of development at St. Genevieve, prepared this report on this play, due for its third annual performance on Dec. 12:

A Children's Play of Our Lady of Guadalupe was written, directed, and produced by Heather Cleaver, St. Genevieve Catholic School's second grade teacher. It was co-directed by the fifth grade teacher, Julianna Flores. It was performed by the second and fifth grade students of St. Genevieve School for the past two years and will be performed again this year on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Genevieve Church on Dec. 12, 2011.

The following description of the play is an abridged version of Heather Cleaver's Preface to A Children's Play of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it explains the driving force for the production of the play within the St. Genevieve School setting. [Publication of the play, written by Heather Cleaver and edited by Otilia Nigaglioni, is planned for the late winter in 2012.]

"About ten years ago, I had a strong urge to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Virgen de Guadalupe) in Mexico City," Heather Cleaver writes. "I kept having visions in my mind of her image as I was praying. I knew little about her story except what her image looked like and that her image was honored in the Mexican culture. I had a gut feeling that these recurring visions were a sign from God to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe .

"Over the years, I read a lot of literature, looked her up on the internet, and spoke with different people about Our Lady of Guadalupe. People shared with me her story from their own knowledge base. I came to a better understanding about her appearance to Juan Diego. She is mother to all of us, so in her apparitions, she appears to one of the people in the form of a human in their own ethnicity. Mary appeared as an Aztec princess, speaking to Juan Diego in his own Aztec language.

"I didn't really understand why I was called to go to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe until a couple of years ago.... However, a couple of years ago, I had a strong desire to celebrate her. I felt a need to spread Mary's message to my students and the rest of the school. . .

"My school has a very large Mexican/Latin American student population, but as a school we did not celebrate her together. The parish did a lot for the church members, but I strongly felt the school needed to do something as well. I talked this over with my principal, and she agreed that a prayer service was a great idea to move forward in their religious growth. I wanted to create a celebration of their cultural heritage in writing about Our Lady of Guadalupe, so after pondering about it, I decided to write a play to help the students honor and celebrate her. This play is a cultural preservation of Mexican history for generations to come. Acting her story out would help foster children's understanding of Mexican culture and our Catholic history."

This invitation is open to all parishioners and to the community to come and join St. Genevieve Catholic School faculty, staff and students in celebrating La Virgen de Guadalupe."

Accompanying photo: Marlene DeAngelo as Our Lady and Nathan Houlihan as Juan Diego in the school’s 2010 performance of the “Children’s Play of Our Lady of Guadalupe” at St. Genevieve School.

Catholic School Advantage: A Letter from Los Angeles

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 06 December 2011.

by Field Consultant Sylvia Armas-Abad

Sylvia Armas-Abad is ACE's Field Consultant for the Catholic School Advantage campaign in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She sends this update on a success story she learned about while working with the people of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill Catholic School in Los Angeles.

Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill Catholic School is located in the Northeast area of the City of Los Angeles. The Community of Rose Hills has a rich history, dating back to the time of the early native settlements of the Tongva Indians, who originally named this community Otsungna, which means "Place of Roses."

During the time of the Spanish missionaries, these lands were referred to as "Rancho Rosa de Castilla." The name still included a reference to the rose, because of the abundant roses growing on the hills and along the bank of the stream that was parallel to this area. In 1920, the Sisters of Social Services began teaching catechism classes in what is now the recreation center across the street from today's parish and school.

In 1924, the property was named "Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission," under Father Antonio Arias. The site continued to grow during the 1940's, and in 1953 the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill was built, followed by the construction of the parish school in 1957. The Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary would administrate the school for many years to come.

After serving the Community of Rose Hills for the past 54 years, Our Lady of Guadalupe School has dedicated its efforts for the past year to re-establishing a strong connection between the school and parish and to provide a curriculum that will prepare the students to compete in a global market.

Serving a predominantly Latino population, Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill recognizes the importance of fostering the bi-cultural and bilingual journey that their students are experiencing in America. The school has also developed the following philosophy: "We, the faculty of Our Lady of Guadalupe School, believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children. We are dedicated to the Catholic formation of each student to be lifelong learners in the service of Christ and all His people. We challenge our students to be spiritually adept, academically superior, healthy and self-disciplined in a true Catholic environment."

In the summer of 2010, at a time of change and uncertainty in the parish, Victor Serna was appointed as principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill. An ongoing decline in enrollment had taken its toll on the school's budget, and there seemed to be very little room for improvement. However, it was a matter of taking small, but very important, steps to create effective changes.

The first step was to establish a positive working relationship with the parish's new leadership. Father Nelson Trinidad, an Archdiocesan priest, was appointed as the new administrator of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill parish. Both he and Mr. Serna began their work at OLG in July 2010. Working collaboratively has resulted in positive changes. In May of 2011, the parish and school held their first parish-school fiesta. The organizational work was shared among both parishioners and school families. It was a true depiction of individuals coming together to rebuild their community.

Furthermore, as a partner school in the Catholic School Advantage campaign, the University of Notre Dame's initiative to increase the number of Latino children enrolled in Catholic school throughout the United States, both Father Nelson and Mr. Serna had the opportunity to participate in the Pastors Institute and the Principals Academy, respectively, at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in July 2011.

Victor Serna describes his experience at the Principals Academy as follows: "The Principals Academy, organized by the University of Notre Dame, opened my eyes to the type of forward thinking we can demonstrate regardless of the adversity we face. I have put the skills I gained at the Academy to good use, by implementing a vertical style of collaboration that allows teachers to examine the needs of our students of all grades. The experience was a God send for me! I was faced with declining enrollment and with limited resources. The practical ideas presented at the Academy helped me to reflect on how I can help guide my school towards excellence. I was also reminded that it is through the grace of God and through the cooperation of the community as a whole—parishioners, parents, students and staff—that we will overcome these trying times and truly impact the lives of our young children."

Over the course of the past year, Mr. Serna and Father Nelson have worked together on the Parish Finance Council, which aims to support the school in its strategic planning. Mr. Serna has also organized an alumni support base via Facebook, and he has identified a group of eight parents to serve in the Catholic School Advantage campaign's "Madrina/Padrino Mentorship Program." This marketing effort mobilizes parents to become parent ambassadors for their respective schools. The parents are trained to promote their school, recruit families, and mentor new families to ensure that they are adapting successfully to the Catholic school environment.

Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill saw an increase in their enrollment this year from 135 students to 151 students. Mr. Serna attributes meeting this goal to the monthly marketing publications that were distributed throughout the community over the past year. Furthermore, he recognizes the importance of his parents being the school's best marketers. However, many of his efforts have also been focused on improving the academic and extra-curricular programs at OLG-Rose Hill. Mr. Serna is constantly providing his faculty and staff with professional development and seeks to offer comprehensive and well-rounded extra-curricular activities for the students.

His school was recently chosen to participate in a qualitative study led by Catapult Learning. Next year, the school hopes to have a fully enrolled Kindergarten. With this goal in mind, the objective is to continue to foster the growth of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Rose Hill Catholic School by way of recruiting aggressively in the early grades, therefore ensuring a natural growth process.

On Monday, December 12, 2011, the parish and school will once again collaborate in what is perhaps the most important date to the Mexican Catholic community, El Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe (The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe). On this day, the parishioners will participate in La Mañanitas to La Virgen at 5:00 a.m., followed by a Menudo breakfast in the parish hall. The students will participate in a special Mass at 9:00 a.m., where the fourth grade will provide a reenactment of the events that took place on the desert hill of El Tepeyac, near modern day Mexico City, from December 9, 1531, to December 12, 1531. During the Mass, the OLG students will also make an offering of "good deeds," written by each one of the students and every student will bring a rose to offer to our Blessed Mother. A reception will be held after Mass for all students and their participating families.

"I believe that Catholic schools reflect what our Virgen de Guadalupe would want for us—a safe, protected, learning environment, formed in our Catholic faith," said Principal Serna. "Furthermore, her apparition to a humble, indigenous peasant is a reminder that we are here to serve the ones who need us the most. The manner in which she manifested herself also reminds us that we must be relatable leaders. Cultural responsiveness is not just about language, it is about the sense of community and family that we need to evoke. We have to be nurturing, loving and inspirational."

Accompanying photo: Grandparents Day is celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe - Rose Hill School (this photo from the 2010 gathering of grandparents and grandchildren).

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