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.