Gabe Moreno: Creating Transformational Change in the Diocese of Dallas
“I hated it.”
“I had ‘joined the workforce,’” says Gabe Moreno. “The story that you’re told you’re supposed to do. You go to college, you get your degree, you join a company . . . and it was awful. It was not where I wanted to be. I dreaded going into work every day.”
After a particularly long day selling ads for the Dallas Morning News, Gabe was talking to an old mentor, Jon Buchanan, Director of Advancement and Mission at All Saints Catholic School, and learned his alma mater, Bishop Dunne High School in Dallas, was looking for a baseball coach. Shrugging the suggestion off, Gabe said, “Look, that’s not gonna happen. I thought of every reason to say no.” Weeks passed and his fiancé, now wife, Becca, challenged him, “Why don’t you just make a phone call? Send an email? Something. You’re miserable and it can’t get any worse.”
Gabe reached out. Much to his surprise, Kate Dailey, president of Bishop Dunne, and then principal, Patrick O’Sullivan (ACE 2, Charleston and RLP 8), invited him for an interview right away. They essentially offered him not one, but two jobs, on the spot, as they thought Gabe would be good fit as a baseball coach and math teacher. “I was ecstatic. I didn’t think I was going to be a teacher, but it felt like this was what I was being called to do,” Gabe says. “It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun… and I haven’t looked back since.”
In 2017, Gabe, a graduate of the 12th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, was honored with the Scott C. Malpass Founders Prize, which recognizes individuals’ embodiment of ACE’s three pillars—forming professional educators, building community, and growing spiritually—leading to entrepreneurial, high-impact contributions in their communities.
“I was really surprised and humbled to be chosen,” he remarked. Gabe is the Director of Advancement and Mission at All Saints Catholic School, and his commitment to the Diocese of Dallas and his work with the Dallas Leadership Investment Club in finding and fostering current and future leaders is laying a foundation for those who strive to see the big picture and create a passion around their institution.
“The only reason I’m here today is because my parents really took pride in what they did and they knew a good education, a good Catholic education, was going to be the key to their children’s success,” Gabe says. The middle of five children, Gabe was born and raised in Dallas. “Catholic education was only made possible (for me) through scholarships and financial aid. That was the only way we were going to be able to do it. Luckily for me, there were people looking out for me and my siblings and my family that made it happen. It was only through the hard work of my parents, wanting to make sure that was going to happen that it actually did.”
Gabe began benefitting from ACE while attending St. Mary of Carmel Catholic School, an ACE school in Dallas. “The ACE teachers were some of the most passionate,” Gabe says. “I think that’s very important when you’re trying to inspire kids to learn. You have to have a passion for what you’re teaching, and you also have to have a passion for kids. The ACE program does a good job of finding people who can do that. They were great people who cared so much that they were going to be successful. They were going to find a way.”
Years later, when Gabe found himself in the teacher role, the administration took notice. Kate Daley saw what leadership potential he had and encouraged him to nourish it. The Remick Leadership Program wasn’t the only leadership program to accept him, but choosing it was easy for Gabe. “It was a no-brainer,” he says. “I knew I wanted to spend my career in Catholic schools, and Notre Dame provides for that.”
The Remick Leadership Program seeks educators who desire to become transformational leaders in their Catholic school communities. Gabe took that challenge to heart. “One of the big takeaways is intentionality. The way the program is designed, and the questions they lead you to ask, really show that you have to be able to see the big picture and make sure that everything you’re doing is aligned with that big picture,” Gabe says. He learned to take a hard look at the status quo. “It forces you to question some of the things you’ve been doing, want to do, some things that may be in and out of your control about your institution. It creates a passion around your institution. It forces you to ask, ‘Is that the best way to do it?’”
While serving as interim principal at Bishop Dunne, Gabe worked with Max Wernick, who is the current Chairman of the Board of Directors at Bishop Dunne. Max’s commitment to Catholic education is clear. “The Catholic identity piece is critical in developing students who are going to be not only strong supporters and leaders of their church, but of our society itself,” he says. “That religious component is a very important piece in helping round out a student as they grow into adulthood and take their place. It works.”
Max was concerned that the school have a succession plan for when administrators move on to other opportunities. He explains, “Here was our reality. The nuns moved out about 25 years ago. Then a good teacher got the principal’s job and learned on the job the best they could. Then those folks were nearing retirement age too, and there wasn’t anybody waiting in the wings. There had been no succession planning for that eventuality.”
Gabe says that he and Max worked together “to create, promote, and foster this idea of building our future leaders, and do it specifically for the diocese of Dallas.” Max says, “We wanted to find ways to support the growth that needed to occur, but we needed to be much more intentional about it and use the principles that the Remick program was advancing as a model.” They felt if they could get it right, then they could share it with other dioceses. The Dallas Leadership Investment Club was born.
“Being a change agent for the better is what being a good leader is all about,” Gabe insists. So, he and Max developed a program with a three-pronged attack. According to its mission statement, “The Club is intended to offer focused and organized opportunities for those who desire to directly support and encourage transformational school leaders, specifically in and for the Diocese of Dallas.” Gabe says their first goal is to identify young, passionate talent who care deeply for Catholic schools and their communities so that they can then be that change agent to make their communities better. Next, they introduce and integrate them with the current Remick leaders, inviting them to join and be a part of the network. Lastly, Gabe explains they seek to provide a powerful network “or almost a support group for our current and former leaders.” “Lead with zeal” is the saying that embodies the three pillars of the Remick program, which Gabe sums up as “leaders who believe in community and are passionate about what they do.”
Does leading with zeal leave room for moments of doubt? “I think it’s human nature to wonder, ‘Are we on the right path? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?’” Gabe says.
Max thinks so. He says education leadership is a passion, “Service is good for the soul. I’ve received more than I’ve given. This is a supportive process and the good news is we have Gabe. He’s got the biggest smile in the world. He’s ambitious, but kind and pleasant. He wants to get things done, but in a way where people are encouraged to embrace change instead of having it imposed on them. He’s committed, trustworthy . . . he’s a guy you can count on.”
Gabe says that a heavy reliance on prayer, his relationship with God, and moments of silence help him center himself. He believes “the only way that we can make a transformational change in our diocese and in our Catholic schools is to make sure that the leaders there are well trained, have a great relationship with God, and are passionate about what they do. That’s exactly what the Remick program provides.”
Are you ready to Lead with Zeal? Visit ace.nd.edu/leadership and request more information on the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program.