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 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.

What am I supposed to do for Lent?

Recently, one of our faculty pointed Verbum Dei’s faculty and staff to a blog by the Jesuits which focused on a central question about this special season…

What am I supposed to do for Lent?

Do you give up things…like chocolate…or sodas? Do you give up alcohol? Do you pray a little more? Do you go to daily mass? … There is a sense in which these are all good things, but there is a definite temptation that can appear when preparing for Lent: It’s easy to make Lent a sort of “Catholic New Year’s Resolution.”

I have to admit that I tend to let Lent be that sort of experience where I want to simply let Lent be a period of denial…because it helps me be different from my normal routine, but in a much simpler form than I probably should venture into.

You should know that I recently decided to join Weight Watchers, which I have decided is a less religious form of Lent.  But clearly, it can be a life changing experience because it helps you change your body in a positive way.  And along that path, you tend to become more positive about yourself, your health and other goals you seek for your life.  But it really is about me…not necessarily about others.

I guess what I want to challenge each of us to do is to experience Lent in a much more positive way.  Verbum Dei’s Campus Ministry team offered up their Lenten Challenge, which I would suggest is a wonderful option for all of us:

Week 1:      Do one good thing each day when no one is watching.

Week 2:      Give up something you love and donate the money you would have spent on that item to a group you want to support for their social justice work.

Week 3:      Read about one justice related current event and tell someone about it.

Week 4:      Write a thank you note or e-mail to someone every day this week.

Week 5:      Pray for someone daily – or pray with someone each day.

Week 6:      Give up one social media platform for one week!  OR post something related to Lent for the week #Lentenchallenge.

Week 7:      Tell a different family member or friend how much they mean to you each day.

Consider what things in your life keep you in the tomb instead of experiencing the resurrection.  I pray that you may find these challenges a more positive approach to Lent, hopefully helping you to encounter Christ within the mystery of the Resurrection—and the little resurrections that renew your life each day.

Advent Season

As this Advent season begins, I look backward at this past year’s experiences, as well as look forward to new and exciting adventures that are waiting to be born.  I can’t help but pause at the loving influence that Fr. Mike Mandala had on my life.  December 7th would have been Fr. Mike’s 72nd birthday.  I still see his joyful face, eager for life, even as he continued to slow down due to the illness that ultimately claimed him. 

About a month after Fr. Mike’s funeral, I received his set of keys to Verbum Dei and was asked to close down his Verbum Dei cell phone account.  But before I did, I thought I should call whomever might have his phone to warn them that phone service was about to end.  When I called Fr. Mike’s cell phone, I was immediately greeted by the jovial and welcoming voice of Fr. Mike’s message, still alive with his enthusiastic and uplifting manner.  I was compelled to call multiple times because I needed to hear his voice and didn’t want to be the one to finally silence my friend.  When I struggle with the loss of a loved one, I often want to hang on to those things that remind me of their goodness and inspire me to be a better man.  Fr. Mike was that kind of person.  May this Advent season connect you to your faith, your friends and your family the way that Fr. Mike did for so many of us.

 

Connecting Verbum Dei’s Past and Present

It is with great pleasure that I get to interact with alumni from time to time. The history and tradition of Verbum Dei High School is fascinating…and often heart-warming.  Please enjoy the recent interaction between the son of Claude Child, a Chemistry & Physics teacher from 1963 – 1979, and Steve Wellington, one of Claude’s students from the Class of 1972:

Dear Verbum Dei,

It is with great fondness that I recall Fr. Francis visiting our home after Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary in Paramount, California during the sixties.  He did so often, creating a strong friendship with my dad, Claude H. Child.

In those days my Dad worked as a staff scientist with North American Aviation in Downey, California.  Fr. Francis had plans for an all-boys high school in Watts.  He would talk about these plans with my Dad, asking if he would teach Chemistry and Physics when the campus was built.  To my recollection, the campus was completed mid-summer 1963 with its first classes starting in the Fall of 1963.   I know this because I helped my dad set up Verbum Dei’s Chemistry class room.   I must have been 10 or 11 years of age. 

Bishop Francis, my Dad and many years have since passed away. I read the legacy of Bishop Francis. It warms my heart.  Like any son, I wonder if my Dad’s efforts made a difference.  I read on your web site that Verbum Dei has gained recognition for its sports program.  Did any of Verbum Dei’s students from the sixties go on to careers in the science fields? 

The men my dad taught would be in their mid-sixties to seventy years of age by now.   Like me, they’d probably have grandchildren, possibly even grandchildren soon to be attending Verbum Dei.

It would be a blessing to know this legacy story, so that I may pass along a more complete history to my grandchildren.  Does Verbum Dei’s Alumni have active members that might remember my Dad?

Having written to you about a year ago, and receiving no reply, I had given up hope of following up on these legacy thoughts.  This evening, at a fund raiser for Mother Teresa Maternity Home here in Placerville, a chance conversation with a priest named Fr. James sparked a renewed interest.  Fr. James taught at Verbum Dei before leaving to teach in China.  He is now a pastor here in Eldorado County.  I was encouraged to try contacting you again.

May God Bless You,  

John J. Child

Response…

123

Hello John,

I was one of your father’s physics student’s during the 1971 – 72 school year. He was a great influence on me as I pursued a biology degree from UCSD and a Master’s degree in Business Administration and Technology from the University of Phoenix. I spent most of my career in science and seven years ago I managed a state-accredited laboratory, which supported a major utility, nuclear and non-nuclear, water plant operations.

I am grateful he devoted his time and knowledge of physics to students wanting to realize their full potential in life. Some of us held to the sciences while others led fulfilling and meaningful lives elsewhere.

Thank you for reaching out; your father was a great teacher and wonderful person to have known.

Steve Wellington

(Verbum Dei Class of 1972)

What’s New at Verbum Dei in 2016?

The end of the 1st Quarter is just around the corner and yet school really has just started.  Here’s what you might have missed in the last several weeks.

Office Furniture Donation 

A major tax and audit firm, KPMG, consolidated their Beverly Hills Office to downtown LA.  Thanks to their generosity, Verb was the recipient of three truckloads of desks, chairs, modular offices and other furniture valued anywhere from $10 – 20 K.  This equipment helped us to upgrade 10 office spaces and renovate our faculty/staff lounge.

Film Project

From August 27 – 30, the Divide & Conquer Production Company rented the Verb Gym and Team Room to film a short basketball movie.  While over 50 members of their cast and crew, including former Laker Rick Fox, walked the allowed halls of Verb, the school earned an unexpected $12,000.

New Food Service on Campus

Looking to the needs of a growing campus, Bevaris Alliance was selected as the new food service vendor at Verbum Dei.  Bevaris serves 40 schools around the Archdiocese and coincidentally, is also starting at our sister school, St. Mary’s, this year as well.  Junior McFarland and team served the school for 15 years and we wish him well in his new adventures.  Key elements involved in the decision include legal and insurance requirements, proof of “worker’s comp” for vendor employees, variety of food selections and pre-purchase, card-based payment methods.  In October, you will be able to purchase gift cards that your son can use to purchase food at the Verb Café

New Marquee and Digital Signage 

By the middle of October, a new full color digital Marquee will replace the outdoor sign posted by the vehicle entrance into Verbum Dei.  Soon you will be able to get up to the minute information as you drive into or by the campus.  On top of that, a scrolling digital sign will be installed in senior square so that students and guests can enjoy the latest news or stay informed on clubs and activities, sporting events and schedule changes.

As the Operations team continues to create a friendly, safe, and clean environment that inspires creativity and learning, we hope your son finds academic achievement and excellence in all his endeavors.

 

Lenten Challenge

During this past Ash Wednesday mass, Deacon George Teodoro had a simple, yet effective message: 

Remember when you were little during soccer…how the little kids just follow the ball like a flock of bees?  Deacon George said he was about five years old during a soccer match and at some point, the ball popped out and landed at his feet.  He was so excited that he had a free lane to the goal and he drilled it for a score.  But his teammates weren’t so excited…and suddenly he realized that he had put the ball in his own net.  In his excitement, he didn’t hear the coach yelling at him to, “Stop…turn around…go the other way!”

He used this story to remind us about all the little things we do that practice us to be less than we are called to be.  So why not practice to be the best we can be?  After each example of things we all struggle with, like being messy, or addictive, or eating too much, or procrastinating…he would exclaim the admonition, “Stop…turn around…go the other way!” 

The rest of the day, I found myself repeating this simple, yet amazing “meaning of Lent” story to folks that I bumped into.  I guess it was so profound that it is now my mantra for the rest of Lent.  But it also served as a reminder to me of the wisdom and insight that my colleagues at Verbum Dei offer every day to the young men of this community.  So, please share this story with those you meet to help them find their direction if they lose their way.

 

GOD’S HOUSE

I recently attended the Archdiocesan Catholic Prayer Breakfast at the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral.  Lou Holtz, former head coach of Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship football team relayed the following story:

As Lou drove up to his home, he remarked to his wife of over 50 years, “Did you ever imagine we would live in such a beautiful house.”  She responded humbly, “Well…it isn’t our house…it is God’s house.”  Fast forward to August of 2015, when the Holtz family home was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  Coach Holtz turned to his wife and said, “You think God would take better care of his house!”

Like the Holtz family, Verbum Dei High School is God’s house, and we are just temporary stewards.  Figuratively speaking, sometimes lightning strikes here as well.  Even though this 50 year old institution undergoes continuous upgrades and renovations to provide a safe and comfortable environment conducive to learning and achievement, there are challenges presented to us almost on a daily basis.  Roofs leak after getting sunbaked in the Los Angeles summer heat.  Our fleet of 12 vans require regular maintenance to safely transport Verbum Dei gentlemen to their CWSP worksites, field trips, Christian Service and athletic contests. On occasion, we have to rescue students whose van’s transmission has failed or the battery has died.  Sometimes, we battle fire alarms that mysteriously go off for no apparent reason or discover that a power outage has disabled the air conditioning that keeps the school’s information technology infrastructure from collapsing.

These challenges, daunting as they sometime seem, are an opportunity to serve the gentlemen of Verb and its tremendously gifted faculty and staff.  We are truly grateful to all who work and volunteer to make Verbum Dei High School…God’s House…a home for our community.