Happy New Year!

This season is a one of surprises and hope for the future.  A light shines in the darkness. A child is born and laid in a manger. God surprises those whose hearts are open to receive and share the light. 

At Verbum Dei graduates and corporate sponsors join faculty and staff and students to shine God’s light on a world much in need of it.   Thank each and every one of you for your support and for the light that you share with the young men of Verbum Dei.

Many blessings in the New Year.

 

Welcome Back!

Welcome back Faculty, Staff, Parents, Supporters and Corporate Partners to a new school year full of promise and high expectations.

At Verbum Dei, the theme for the year can be summed up by the word “Family.” Both in church circles and in the public forum today, there is much talk about family. Yet, as we all know, a family can take on my different shapes and sizes. So how is the Verb family composed?

The Verb family consists of a network of caring and challenging relationships centered on the Verb student. Faculty, staff, and parents all come to Verbum Dei because of the students. Donors, corporate partners and board members are all involved for the same reason. We all want what is best for our young Verb gentlemen.  The students come together in mutual support to help each other to navigate the Verb and to prepare for life and career. The effectiveness of these family networks depends on how well they are aligned with one another and how the students take advantage of them. In the family network is strength and resilience.

The political and social climate in which we live requires that the Verb family today exert even more strength and resilience than ever before. The tone of the presidential campaigns has been discouraging and disrespectful at best. The suspicion around police use of lethal force in some communities has left us all feeling less secure in our homes and neighborhoods.  The retaliation on police – many of whom heroically protect our communities – is a threat to the safety of all of us. How do we prepare our young men to face the social and moral questions of the day?

It is precisely the strength and resilience of the Verb family network that is most needed today. It is the openness of the Verb family that allows the students to be able to express their fears and their concerns without prejudice.  It is the care of the Verb family which will challenge the students to dig deep into themselves to find the just and loving response to the issues of the day. It is the encouragement of the Verb family that will motivate the students to make a difference in the world in which we live.

Thank each and every one of you for the role you play in making the Verb family strong and resilient and true. May God bless us and lead us as we move through the 2016/2017 school year.

Most gratefully,

Michael J. Mandala, S. J.

President

 

 

End of School Year

On June 9th, we sent the graduates off in glory.  Graduation was not an end for them, but rather the beginning of the next step in their lives.  We will miss them, but we know that they are well prepared for the future.  We are proud of them, and we hope they are proud of themselves. 

We are preparing our students at Verbum Dei to go into a sometimes very scary world – witness the devastating terror attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando.  With God’s help and their self-confidence, resilience and hard work they will do well.

The work of Verbum Dei would not be successful without the care and hard work of the faculty and staff, without the support of our corporate sponsors and benefactors, and without the cooperation and collaboration of the families of the students.  We are all in this effort together.

In a world that at times can be divisive and mean, we at Verbum Dei come together as a community from many walks of life to make miracles happen.

On behalf of the young gentlemen of the Verb, thank each and every one of you.  Have a relaxing and blessed summer.

Fr. Mike

 

How is Verbum Dei a Catholic School?

On May 17, a committee from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will be visiting Verbum Dei to help us assess the school’s Catholic Identity. This review is carried out in every school to aid the administration in a self-reflection on faith.

As an academic institution, Verbum Dei has all types of regular evaluations. We just passed with flying colors the WASC/WCEA accreditation – a year long process. Next year we will be reviewed by the Cristo Rey Network and assessed by the Society of Jesus. While all this introspection and goal setting seems normal for a Jesuit college prep. high school,  the Catholic Identity assessment causes me to pause.

How are we Catholic? A large percentage of our students and their families are Catholic, but definitely not all.  Our faculty and staff are faith filled people, but not all are Catholic even though they support Verbum Dei as a Jesuit Catholic school.

At Verbum Dei we do have some very traditional Catholic aspects. For example, we have Catholic images and symbols such as crucifixes and statues around the campus to help all of us realize that God constantly touches our world. However, these symbols do not make us a Catholic school.  We have a monthly student led Mass at which it is obvious that all are welcome to participate. This liturgy begins to get at how we are Catholic. We have reconciliation services during Advent and Lent at which students are welcome to talk to a priest for confession or a faculty member for advice.  Again, this open arms approach is getting at something of what it is to be a Catholic school.  In the center of the Verbum Dei campus is a chapel with open doors for all to enter to take a moment to catch their breath during the day.  It is the most prominent symbol of our Catholic school status, and all classroom activity happens all around it – a nice touch. We all need to center ourselves from time to time.

Maybe, at the end of the day, our Catholic Identity is best manifest in the spirit of Pope Francis. We have chosen to get our shoes dirty by striving to educate young men, of whom we demand and expect a great deal, but who do not come from family situations that general society would ever describe as easy or privileged. We as faculty and staff work together as a team, alongside parents and relative to offer the young men of the school a leg up in life if they have faith in themselves and are willing to work for it.  God is present in that effort because in order to be successful we need God’s help. If we carry out our mission, we need to be welcoming to all, respectful of everyone, embracing, inclusive and supportive of all God’s people. As Pope Francis might say, we are people who tear down walls between people and build bridges to connect them.

Our Catholic Identity might not be traditional, but it is certainly faith filled.

The Story of the Magi

As we enter 2016, and we reflect upon our past and plan for the future, I decided to share my homily with you from Epiphany Sunday which fell on January 3. The story of the Magi (Wise Men) is our story at Verbum Dei as we try to follow the light in the midst of so much darkness in the world today. We follow the light because we are a people of faith – a hopeful people. Happy New Year.

We have done a good job of making the Magi story suitable for Greeting Cards, yet the real story is much more personal. It is a story of our lives. Is there any doubt that we, like the magi, are on a journey?

The Gospel of Jesus always challenges us to expand our horizons:

Last Sunday, at the Feast of the Holy Family, we were challenged to broaden our understanding of “family” to include the wide variety of loving and committed relationships that exist in our society today. Today, Epiphany Sunday, the Magi challenge us to broaden our understanding of the definition of “God’s people”. With whom do we travel on our life’s journey? Where is God leading us as individuals and as a people?

Along with the Journey motif, Light and Darkness are themes that appear often in the Scripture: In today’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah (60:1-6): “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”

“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines.” In the Gospel from Matthew (2:1-12) – The Magi follow the light of a star that stopped over the place where the child of light lay. The Magi did not go back to Herod but took another way home because Herod represented the darkness that would try to snuff out the light. The interplay of themes of light and darkness is continuous in the words of Scripture, and in our life’s journey. Often we experience moments of light that tell of God’s guiding presence. Just as often, we experience moments of darkness that try to snuff out a personal God from our lives.

The message of the Magi takes on new meaning for us in the context of world events:

Matthew makes it clear that the Messiah has not been born solely for the sake of the Chosen People. The Gentiles – the Pagans – were seen as part of God’s People as well.

Paul states it well in the Letter to the Ephesians (3:2-6), “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body”

What Paul describes theologically, Matthew tells in story form: The first people who come to recognize and worship Jesus are not his own people—not the Jewish King, Herod; not the learned chief priests and scribes who can accurately quote the Scriptures and have all the requisite knowledge but none of the necessary faith.

God sent the Wise Men a message that caused them to ride camels half way across the known world. These foreigners, these outsiders, followed God’s light through the darkness to arrive at Salvation.

In the midst of the darkness that can obscure our world, we have come to see that God’s light can shine through all our fellow travelers, whether they are Christians, Jews, Muslims (Sunni or Shiite), or Undocumented Workers – they are our brothers and sisters.

In our journey through life, God’s light shines through the darkness to show us a new way of seeing the human community: Can we respond as the Magi did to this new light and see Jesus in the face of the innocent child and the helpless travelers? Can we see the light in the faces of all of God’s people here in South Los Angeles, in the United States and around the world?

Let us open our hearts to see God’s light shine through the darkness that we ourselves often create in this world.

Let us follow the light!

Invocation at the Reopening of the Martin Luther King Hospital

On August 7, I was invited by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to give the introductory invocation at the reopening of the Martin Luther King Hospital.  Besides the Supervisor, in attendance were Mayor Garcetti, Congress Member Janice Hahn, other dignitaries as well as hundreds of community participants.  I wanted to share my invocation comments with the Verbum Dei community:

  • Verbum Dei
    • Founded in 1962 as a School of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, run by the Society of the Divine Word
    • The Jesuits were asked to assume the leadership of the school in 2000, to build on its proud history and to devise a new model of education:
      • We are a College Prep School for the young men of the Greater Watts Community
      • Every student works one day a week in a corporate office which provides career training and scholarship money.
      • The Verb offers a full range of sports and club activities
      • 100 % of those that graduate are accepted into college.
    • We are dedicated to the students of Watts, and the Verb provides a special education for any young man who has the grit and determination to be successful
    • We are also dedicated to the community of Watts and support every effort that makes life better for all members of the community.
  • Because Verbum Dei is dedicated to the community, I am delighted that Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has asked us to participate in this event today.  The reopening of MLK hospital speaks of a New Day for the hospital and for South Los Angeles.
  • These days especially, we recall the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s
  • This year we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Riots/Revolution that occurred in 1965.
  • Whatever we call it, there was some movement forward in civil rights at that time, but there were lots of people hurt in the mayhem.
  • Today, we are experiencing another Civil Rights Moment in this country.
    • What we are celebrating here today is what can happen when people come together not for the destruction of an old order, but the for the building of a New Day
  • The words that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize come to mind on this occasion of the reopening of MLK Hospital.
  • Dr. King stated:
  • “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”
    • (December 11, 1964 upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize at which he acknowledged all those who non-violently work for justice)
  • Today is such a moment. So let us pray together as a community:
  • Loving God, bless our efforts today;
    • Bless the doctors and nurses and staff who will work in this facility;
    • Bless the administrators with the wisdom to direct the hospital for the good of all;
    • Bless our civic leaders with compassion and continuing support for these efforts;
    • Bless the community with insight and patience as we move forward together to a New Day.
    • We ask this all in your holy name.
  • Amen

Congratulations & Thank You

I write these comments in the aftermath of the horrible massacre of 9 people of faith participating in a Bible Study in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.  I write also in the light of the encyclical letter, Lberato Si, of Pope Francis warning that we human beings are degrading the planet with pollution and putting future generations at risk. Given the challenges that humanity faces, I look for signs of hope.

One such sign of hope took place at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angeles in Los Angeles on June 11, when the Senior Class of Verbum Dei High School graduated and stepped into the future. These young men from South Los Angeles have beaten the odds and mastered their fate.  They have proven themselves worthy, and they are now ready for the next step on their life’s path.  They prepared themselves not only academically, but also morally and spiritually.  Besides completing their course work, they recognize injustice in the world and want to take prophetic action to address it.  They have felt the love of God shown to them by their families, classmates and mentors, and they want to share that care for people and creation with the world. These young graduates of Verbum Dei are not our future, they are our present.  The will make a difference by making the world a more just and loving place for all to live.

I want to congratulate our graduates and to thank them for their hard work.  Congratulations also to the dedicated faculty and staff of the Verb and to the families of our graduates.  In addition, on behalf of the graduates, I want to thank the Benefactors and Corporate Sponsors of Verbum Dei High School.  Without you, these young graduates would not be where they are today.  We are all grateful.

 

Rev. Michael J. Mandala, S. J.

President

Happy Easter

As we enter Holy Week which begins with Palm (Passion) Sunday, we come to the culmination of our self-reflective Lenten journey.  The scripture readings during this period have asked us to check our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters around us. As we move to the celebration of the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday), we are called to witness with gratitude to what God has done for us in the past, and what God continues to do for us daily. One can compare the sentiments of Holy Week with the Grad at Grad values of being Spiritual and Open to Growth.  We ask ourselves about God working in our lives, and about our attentiveness to God’s call to be the best people we can be.

This week, I experienced two very practical examples of how God is inviting growth in my life and in the lives of our students.  On Friday, Mr. Travis Russell and I traveled to Xavier Jesuit Prep in Palm Desert.  Xavier and Verbum Dei work closely with our student interchange programs.  On Friday, Travis and I were asked to celebrate a Mass which ended a week of reflection for Xavier students on Gender Inequality. It was obvious that the students were drained by the work of the week.  However, it was also obvious that these students had profited from the information that they had learned and from the sharing that they had done.  Open to Growth.   Coming back to Verbum Dei that afternoon, I was invited to participate in the sending off ceremony for 11 Verb students and 4 faculty/staff that would be spending a week on a Navajo reservation in Utah.  All knew that they were about to confront the unknown.  All knew that they were going to be living very simply in tents and sleeping bags.  However, each person was anxious to learn about a culture of which they had very little experience. Open to Growth.

My experience of the openness to growth that Jesuit education provides our young people coincides well with the celebration of Holy Week.  The world is alive with the grandeur of God, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.  My prayer for each of us is that we can open ourselves to see the Glory of God in our multi-cultural city and world, and that we can grow to appreciate God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of all whom we meet.

Happy Easter

Fr. Mike

Happy Thanksgiving

     It is Thanksgiving week, and we are all getting ready to eat too much and to feel guilty about it afterward. We say that we will start a diet soon to lose the pounds that we put on during the holidays, and we tell ourselves that we will begin an exercise program as well. We are grateful for the friends and family we have, for the good times we have shared, and we are a little embarrassed that at times we have messed up. We are also grateful for the possibility of new beginnings. Such is the spirit of the times.

     As it turns out, in this liturgical year, Thanksgiving falls between the Feast of Christ the King and the First Sunday of Advent. In the liturgy for Christ the King we think about our lives – both the good and the bad parts of them. Even more, we recognize God’s unconditional love of each of us. After Thanksgiving on the First Sunday of Advent, we realize that with God there is always the possibility of starting again with a clearer focus and a better future.

     This liturgical period is a fine metaphor for what we desire for ourselves and for our students at Verbum Dei. We are all grateful for the lives that we lead and for the goodness that we experience all around us. We all realize that sometimes we fall short in our appreciation of the gifts that we have been given. Yet students especially come to realize that the “Verb” is a place where there is always the possibility of finding the help they need to begin again and to meet the challenge to succeed and to have a bright future.

     To the family of Verbum Dei: students, faculty, staff, donors, corporate partners and friends, Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings for the future.

New Beginnings

NEW BEGINNINGS –

Greetings Verbum Dei Family,

On September 18, I was given the honor and the responsibility of being inaugurated as President of Verbum Dei High School.  What follows are the thoughts that I expressed at the installation ceremony.

I have great appreciation for the community of the Verb, and I hope my words can help you understand the reason that I am committed to the success of the school.

Thank you.

    Friends, Benefactors, Corporate Partners, Students, and the most wonderful faculty and staff with whom anyone could hope to work – Thank you for coming this morning.

    I want to especially thank Mr. Rick Caruso (brilliant entrepreneur, and a focused philanthropist) and Mayor Garcetti (represented by his Chief of Staff, Ana Guerrero), who are the principal supporters of this event.  It was actually Mayor Garcetti’s idea to have some event that would focus on Verbum Dei and the wealth of untapped potential that exists is South Los Angeles. I want to thank Fr. Michael Gilson, Assistant to the Jesuit Provincial for Pre-secondary and Secondary Education for being here for this installation.

    I could not be a prouder than to be the fourth Jesuit president of this amazing high school. I would like to briefly reflect on the history of Verbum Dei High School and then offer a few comments about my vision for the future.

    1962 – The Society of the Divine Word (Societatis Verbum Dei) was given permission by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to found a high school in Watts. They did a tremendous job to educate generations of fine young men – surviving a number of challenges including the riots in both 1965 and 1992.

    Same book, different chapter.

    2000 – The Divine Word fathers and brothers had to withdraw from the school because of lack of personnel and because the financial picture had changed. That year, Cardinal Mahony offered the school to the Society of Jesus and suggested that the Jesuits explore the new Work-Study, College Prep model of Catholic School that had been founded by the Jesuits in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

    Verbum Dei became the third school in what is today known as the Cristo Rey Network which is made up of 28 secondary schools across the country.  These schools are staffed by a variety of religious orders of men and women, and all operate on the same model of education. It took some years to implement the model completely at the Verb, but under the leadership of Fr. Bill Muller for the last six years – 100% of the graduates of Verbum Dei have had both corporate work experience and have been accepted to college.  Amazing!

    With the advent of the Jesuits, Verbum Dei continued as a school of the Archdiocese with the addition of Two Key Networks:

    First, Cristo Rey Network (28 schools growing at the rate of two a year) – It provides our model of education:

    Serving the underserved – if the student and his guardian want to be here, we will find a way to make it happen

    College Prep – academically rigorous to prepare young men for post-secondary education

    Work Study – professionally focused to prepare young men to take their place in future careers.

    Accountability – requiring all students to perform to the absolute best of their ability

Second, The Jesuit Network – an international family which has various institutions in the Los Angeles area that include:

    Loyola High School

    Loyola Marymount University

    Blessed Sacrament Parish

    Dolores Mission Parishes

    Proyecto Pastoral

    Homeboy Industries,

    The Novitiate of the Three Companions

    The Loyola Institute for Spirituality

    The Jesuit effort with its many distinct but mutually supportive ministries provides the guiding values for Verbum Dei High School

    What do we hope to accomplish?

    For the School:

    We want to be not only a safe harbor for our students, but also a good neighbor in the Watts community,

    Partnering with Urban Compass, LAPD, Operation Progress, the office of Council Member Buscaino, and with the many civic and non-profit organizations in the community – to create a better future for all our children and all our people

    In addition, we want all Los Angeles to see the Verb as the most unique and innovative secondary educational institution in Southern California.

    For the Students:

    Guided by the Jesuit vision for the Graduate at Graduation we challenge the students to be:

    Open to Growth (open and reflective to a variety of perspectives and experiences)

    Spiritual (aware of God’s unconditional love, who feels free to profess that faith in his own religious tradition)

    Intellectually motivated (a life-long learner)

    Loving (committed to being a man “with and for others”)

    Work Experienced (who has learned the value and importance of being dependable and responsible in the work place.)

    Committed to doing Justice (confident that he can make a difference in the world through his life)

    In a word – to be all that we know that he can be

    Bottom line: What is my vision for Verbum Dei and our students:

    In 10 to 12 years I want the students that are seated in the bleachers today to join with the friends, benefactors and corporate sponsors that are sitting in the chairs in this gym.

    I want them to be the civic leaders, the business people, the clergy, the teachers, the police officers, the corporate sponsors and benefactors for future generations of Verbum Dei Students.

    I want these students to join with you – our valued guests – to make a difference in this world; that is,

    People who take seriously the prophetic words of Fredrick Douglass, former slave turned orator, statesman and abolitionist, who said that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

    People who instead of complaining about the problems with the youth of today are insightful and committed to challenge and support our youth to live up to their full potential

    That is my vision for the school, for the students, and for our partnering community.

Many Blessings to the readers of these words and to all the members of the wonderful community of Verbum Dei.