Verbum Dei’s Supporters are the Best in the World!

Verbum Dei was the fundraising darling of the Cristo Rey Network last year—all 37 schools. We began the year with normal goals that quickly turned lofty and then to very lofty—we went from $3M to $5M and then from $5M to $7M. During a normal year, we raise about $3M.

We did this for five reasons:

  1. Our students were directly impacted by COVID-19…more so than most other communities because of their parents’ employment positions—mostly service and blue collar—forcing them to break quarantine exposing them to greater risk
  2. Our students and their families are often directly affected by social injustices. Once, I asked individual students in an assembly to raise their hands if they’ve witnessed a family member or friend being shot by a gun. The number of hands raised was appalling—it was half.
  3. Our students’ families were directly impacted by the economic downturn because of their employment—many were fired
  4. We had the sense our Corporate Work Student Program (CWSP) would underperform due to the pandemic
  5. We knew our donors would stand behind us

Through all of this, it was demonstrated once again that Verbum Dei High School has the most amazing supporters of any organization—they give to us during prosperous times and in times when the economy is not doing well.

Last year, during the pandemic, our donors showed their steadfast support for our mission like never before—they gave upwards of $7M!! And, it couldn’t have been timelier, as CWSP, as predicted, came in well short of their typical year of $1.8M goal—they raised a little over $400K.

So, even with COVID-19, social injustice, economic downturn, and the CWSP shortfall, we were able to cover it all with a bit over to add to our reserves.

However, we are facing another shortfall in CWSP so we will need you all again. And, we are confident you will be here to support us again because we have the most dedicated donors to a most noble mission. Thank you for a very successful fundraising year and for your impending support this year.

Sincerely,

Paul Hosch

Senior Vice President

Vince McGuinness 1943-2021

P.S. Verbum Dei, on Thanksgiving, lost one of its greatest supporters in Vince McGuinness. He was one of the most committed and loyal benefactors to the school. Vince and Joy, his wife, were always looking for ways to further our mission. Whether it was being the cede donors to a new program; sponsoring an entire event; supporting the Adopt-A-Student Program; and, hosting an event in their lovely home in Newport Beach. More than that, Vince took me under his wing and taught me many things. Among them was how to work with people with different political views who yet want the same ultimate goal—a better and more just world. Simply put, Vince McGuinness was a great man, and the entire Verbum Dei community celebrates his life and contributions to this com

Sweet Spirit…of Verbum Dei

I remember the first time I stepped onto Verbum Dei’s campus. Despite growing up not too far from Verb, I had no idea this beautiful community existed. I instantly fell in love with the Jesuits and their way of living out the love of God.

The Verbum Dei Community is my family. We encourage, uplift, support, and love each other professionally and personally. We are all blessed to carry out our vocations in community with these amazing people. However, the many amazing qualities that make up Verbum Dei does not make us immune to the societal ills present in the American culture.

Many of us received an education that did not provide a complete history of America and severely limited the voices of diverse experiences.

Most of us have been inundated with media messages that have portrayed certain races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and religions in a negative manner.

Many of us have been socialized to be fearful of people based on their skin tone, the neighborhood they live in, or their socioeconomic status.

Many of us have been taught, either directly or indirectly, that human dignity is earned and not given.

As I continue my journey towards gaining a true understanding of the histories and experiences of my own culture and the cultures of others while preparing my own children for the lives their futures, I am faced with the ways I am complicit in espousing anti-blackness (or anti-darkness) beliefs. I have been reflecting on those times I supported racial uplift but not social justice; the times I perpetuated the values of the model minority; the times I placed value judgments on a student’s way of being. This work has not been easy but is extremely necessary.

Karen Chambers and I were given the opportunity to discuss the ways in which racism can appear in Catholic schools. More importantly we offer steps schools can take to ensure the values of freedom and equity are present in all aspect of the school’s culture. I have included the article below.

I am committed to ensuring Verbum Dei consistently works toward the goal of educational equity. Verbum Dei must be as passionate about equity as we are about educating our students. We must be as committed to being anti-racist as we are about being impactful in our job duties. We must be as dedicated to the work of social justice in our individuals’ classrooms/ offices as we are to the collective work of social justice embedded in our mission.

As we move forward to do this work as a community, let us remember these agreements provided to us in the text Courageous Conversations About Race by Glen Singleton:

Stay Engaged

Experience discomfort

Speak your truth

Expect and accept non-closure

Fail foward

Always,

Brandi

Two Cents Worth

Most weekends I celebrate two masses at St. Cecilia’s at 42nd and Normandy, the parish where my mother spent her early childhood.  When I stand at the altar looking out at the congregation in this beautiful Byzantine style church, I am struck with the realization that I am at the altar where my mother was baptized, received her first communion and was confirmed over 100 years ago. 

Last Sunday we heard the familiar Gospel story of the desperately poor widow, who gave her last two pennies to help support the work of her temple/church.  Jesus contrasts her quiet, self-sacrificing generosity with the arrogant, well-off, ostentatiously religious types who make a great public show of their piety and almsgiving, but evidence no concern for those less fortunate than they.  It brought to mind the equally unheralded efforts of countless individuals upon whose work, often for a less than adequate minimum wage, we all depend to pick the beans for our coffee and butcher and package meat for our meals, stock our grocery shelves and clerk our drug stores, cut our hair and clean our buildings, coach our children and tend our sick, staff our schools and churches and homeless shelters.  One of the advantages of serving as President of Verbum Dei is being able to see how much our school community depends on the unsung generosity of faculty, staff, students and their families, board members, corporate partners, donors and friends.

As Thanksgiving rolls around this year, I will make an effort to be more mindful of all those whose unnamed contributions are so essential but generally unnoticed and even taken for granted. I will thank God, whose goodness is manifested in their continued hard work, by gratefully acknowledging the “widows” who serve as a compass for our common journey home. 

One More Day

Each day is a gift. It may not always feel like it when we immerse ourselves in the hectic LA traffic or the minute details of our daily work and family demands. But when we step back and reflect on it, we really do have the choice to respond to life as a gift. In front of a family member’s home is a stone etched with the following quote:

“Don’t complain about getting old. Not everyone gets to do it.”

I am reminded of this quote because two friends passed away recently. One was Fr. Pat Cahallan, the former President of Loyola High School and the other was a life-long educator, Pam Rector, most recently with Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Service and Action. These two amazing people spent their lives shaping and transforming the spirit of so many young adults to be Men and Women with and for Others. I wonder if both of them, even in the illness that gripped them in their final moments, would have hoped for one more day to continue their mission of service to others. Maybe not with the pain-filled, limited bodies that they had put so much mileage on, but their carefree, youthful selves…the one that we see in our mind’s eye, even when the mirror betrays that memory.

Since we are in a Leap Year, we actually get one more day this year. Maybe, in honor of all the Pat’s and Pam’s that we all are so grateful to have in our lives, we use this coming February 29th to do one act of kindness in gratitude for the gift of one more day.

The Death of Kobe Bryant

I am from Chicago, Illinois.  Michael Jordan will forever be loved in Chicago.  From my first day in Los Angeles, I knew one thing –  well maybe two things: The weather was loved, and the City of Los Angeles loved Kobe Bryant.

When I first learned the news of Kobe Bryant’s death, I was in the grocery store and I received a text saying TMZ has reported that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. I called the person that sent me the text and said that’s not true because no one in the store acted like anything happened. Moments later I received an alert from ESPN concerning the news. At that moment, a lady standing near me dropped a carton of eggs and tears began to flow in the store. At that moment, I knew it was true.

Shortly after receiving that news, they said five people were dead in the crash. I called my father who is a die hard Lakers fan to ask him if he had heard the news.  He was quiet. Then I asked him if Kobe’s family was in the helicopter as well, he said he didn’t know. Later we learned that his 13-year-old daughter was in the helicopter and they were headed to her basketball game.

Kobe & Gigi still had so much to give to the world and it just didn’t seem fair. Kobe had transitioned well from the game of basketball and was settling in on his life after the game. Gigi was just getting started.

The quiet hush in the store felt like everyone lost a family member. I’ve never seen or heard a store that quiet before. For a moment, race & gender didn’t make a difference.  I saw everyone talking, crying, and hugging each other. Then I called my brother who is also a Lakers fan and asked him his thoughts on why a death of someone great brings us together. Why can’t we be that way with each other on a daily basis? Why can’t we appreciate each other while we are alive? Why can’t we settle differences while we are alive? And why can’t we love while we are alive?

Kobe Bryant’s death taught us that it doesn’t make a difference how old, how much money, how talented you are. When God says its time, its time. We often act like we have forever on this earth, when, in fact, we don’t. We need to live life now and not wait, because tomorrow isn’t promised.

Nippy Hussle & Kobe Bryant’s deaths both rocked Los Angeles, but in very different ways. Both incidents placed attention on Life itself. Vanessa Bryant and her children lost a husband, dad and sister all in one day. How unfair is that? How must they go on? How many times have Kobe & Gigi gone to the gym or a game and came back home? Who would have thought on that foggy Sunday morning they wouldn’t make it back home?

I am so thankful that I woke up and was able to help someone, encourage someone, mentor, and make someone laugh or just listen to them. Tomorrow isn’t promise for any of us. What are you going to do with your life, if given the opportunity to wake up each day? Think about Gigi, she was only 13, and the other lives that were lost on that Sunday Morning. That Sunday Morning made me so appreciative of life and the opportunities that are given to me.  I will never again take anything for granted. Coach is out……..

Lost and Found

I recently gave my freshman Spanish class a quiz on the vocabulary from our current chapter: En la ciudad (“In the city”).  One of the questions asked students to fill in the blanks: Si un amigo está perdido, tu tienes que ______   _______   ________. “If a friend is lost, you have to ____  _____ _____.”  While I was looking for a specific answer from our vocabulary, indicar como llegar (indicate how to get there/arrive), one student answered in a very matter-of-fact way, “buscarlo.” (look for him, find him).  While we took a moment as a class to share in a laugh of appreciation for that response, I could not help but appreciate the sincerity in this student’s response.

Si un amigo está perdido, tienes que buscarlo.  “If a friend is lost, you have to find him.”

High school is not an easy time, especially for young freshmen who are still figuring out how to navigate this new world and new chapter in their lives.  It is very easy to get lost — lost in the challenges of rigorous academics, lost in the competition of sports and extracurriculars, lost amongst your friend groups, new and old.

However, on any given day here on campus, you will see a Verbum Dei student looking out for or seeking his lost brother.  An arm over their shoulder, a shared lunch, a borrowed pen, or even a shoulder to cry on…A Verbum Dei gentleman looks out for his brother.  Often times, concerns or issues with students are brought to our attention through their friends.  Creating a culture of solidarity, accountability, and love is not a simple task, but it is made easier when the students are leading the way.  I am proud of the leaders that have come through our campus, and I look forward to the ones that will continue to shine their light on our community.

Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves.
Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.

-St. Ignatius of Loyola

Student received full credit for his response, buscarlo.

Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

This time of the year marks a very special time for Catholics as we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. Advent is a time of preparation of our whole selves for the celebration of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus the Christ. This is a special event as it reminds us that God chose to experience every bit of our fragile and joyous human experience in order to be as close to us as possible.  Often time, this season of the liturgical year gets over looked because most of our nation is already in full Christmas, elves, presents, and shopping mode. While this is all wonderful, advent teaches us that before we can celebrate, we must prepare. Broadly speaking, we are called to take a step back, simplify our lives, and focus on bringing wholeness of life to our families, communities, and to be sure we are taking care of ourselves. How do we do this? Below is a simple but effective approach adapted from how Jesus lived his life.

  1. Take time for prayer, even if only for a few minutes. Jesus is depicted as praying in the midst of his busy ministry in order to help him rest and rejuvenate. Prayer, some quiet reflection time, is a good way to care for yourself in order to care for others. Check out Sacred Space online. This cite is run by the Jesuits and guides you through short prayers you can do during your lunch break or when you have downtime at home.
  2. Acts of Shalom. This semester the senior class learned about the concept of Shalom, which Dr. Elizabeth A. Johnson equates to, “an absence of war and fullness of life.” This is, in essence, what the kingdom of God is. We are called to work towards bringing about the kingdom of God, to do acts that bring about peace and fullness of life. Find ways every day to bring goodness and peace to the lives of those around you. It can be as simple and smiling at a stranger, telling those loved ones how much they mean to you, forgoing that large almond milk vanilla latte and instead donating that money to a cause that brings life to others. It can also mean reaching out to those you’ve wronged and asking for forgiveness, forgiving others who have wronged you, praying for those who cut you off while on the 405/10/101/5/110 freeways, or taking part in the sacrament of reconciliation at your local parish.
  3. Get to know your community of faith. We all know that Church isn’t necessarily the most exciting part of our weekends, especially with brunch, football, and sleeping in as other options to Sunday mornings. That being said, being part of your community of faith is an important part of being Catholic. While praying alone is very much part of our tradition, being in community is just as important. We see Jesus pray, eat, and travel with his friends all throughout the Gospels. We are called to build a strong community of faith to help us grow as individuals and as a Church. Moreover, the incarnation itself shows us that God desires us to be in community with each other since God chose to be in communion with us through Jesus.

As we celebrate Advent/Christmas/that time of the year when all the parking lots are full, let us remember to prepare for the party by praying, doing acts of shalom, and spending some time with our communities of faith. By doing this, we are preparing for a celebration that calls us to be our best selves, which is a gift we can keep giving to baby Jesus all year round.

HERO

This year I was given the opportunity to become part of Verb’s Instructional Leadership Team with the role of Academic Lead for Student Support. With this came the task of re-organizing the HERO period. The HERO period is a time within the day in which student can receive time to do their homework, study and receive re-engagement in a course they are taking. HERO has become a resource to address student needs outside the classroom and has become a way in which students are receiving target academic support from their teacher at any given day. Efforts in student support are essential for our boys to master skills. Consistent re-engagement sessions help teachers track who needs extra support in a given unit. Teachers are doing this in the 9th and 10th grade classes and their efforts are coming to fruition.

The HERO space has become an important piece to ensuring students are receiving the support needed in order to pass their classes. Teachers, students and staff have all played a helping hand in supporting the HERO space.

The Silver Tongued Jesuit

Br. Frederico Gianelli has been assigned to Verbum Dei for the next several years.  Although he is trained in palliative care and serves as a campus minister, he also comes to Verbum Dei with a passion for landscaping and facility improvement that is amazing to see.  Like the Pied Piper of beautification, Br. Fred draws others into his magical transformation of the Verbum Dei campus with his charm and enthusiasm.

Br. Fred and Cristina Cuellar

Already, he has cleared out old vegetation and replaced it with bark dust that makes the campus look fresh and clean.  You will find new tress in three of the planters where old dead ones once stood.  He has also cut out overgrown areas of the 300 corridor where there used to be cactus and palm trees that looked like they were from Skull Island in a King Kong movie.  But what is most amazing is the fact that Br. Fred wants to put a statue of Saint Ignatius in front of the chapel.  To do it, he has persuaded a number of donors to help fund the creation of the statue, as well as move the old Eagle statue to a new location to make room for Saint Ignatius.

In order to move the old statue, Br. Fred needed a forklift.  Not one to let anything stand in his way, Br. Fred asked a local recycling center if he could “borrow” their forklift.  When he told them it was for Verbum Dei, they offered to share the lift for free because they said, “Verbum Dei makes such a wonderful difference in this community.”  We are truly grateful for the spark of inspiration that Br. Fred brings to Verbum Dei.

Gratitude

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I want to take a moment to reflect on the importance of gratitude in living a spiritually healthy life. Sometimes we get caught up in the daily struggles of life and we forget to take the time to pause and remember for whom and for what we are grateful. In Catholic theology, though, gratitude holds a place of special importance. After all, we celebrate Eucharist at each Mass, and Eucharist translates to “thanksgiving.” Each time we celebrate Mass, we give thanks to God for the many blessings in our lives.

As mentioned, though, we sometimes get overwhelmed with our days and have a hard time seeing those blessings. For me, those blessings usually come in the form of people: people who love me, people who support me, people who make me laugh, or sometimes the person with the cart full of items at the grocery store who let me cut in front when she saw I only had 2 items to purchase. I believe that I focus my gratitude on people instead of things because our relationships with others are so much a part of who we are. We might want to deny it at times, but the reality is that, for better or worse, we are who we are based on our relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, creation, and God.

We held our Freshman Retreat in the beginning of October this year with the theme “I GOT U.” It works not only as an acronym for how to enter into a retreat (Intentional, God in all things, Open, Timely transitions, U get out what you put in), but also as a reminder of the type of community we want to build here at Verb. We are not just classmates, students, teachers, and colleagues. We are family. We know we can rely on each other and on God. And when we see someone else in our Verb family who needs us, we are quick to respond with “I got you!”

To help me focus on who and what I am grateful for each day, I keep a gratitude journal on my laptop. Each night before I go to bed, I jot down at least three moments during that day for which I am grateful. It helps me remember my blessings. Not surprisingly, my three “things” that I typically jot down are people: students, colleagues, family – people who I had a positive moment with that day. They are people who showed me through actions that they “got me” and people who allowed me to say to them, “I got you.” And, of course, I am always grateful for God continually saying “I got you!” to each of us every day.