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. 

A New Dei

In the last book of the Bible, God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rv. 21,15).  This echoes an earlier assertion of God urging the people not to “dwell on days gone by” because God is doing “a new thing” (Is. 43,19).  Both of these passage came to mind when I looked back on the first weeks of Verb’s 2019-2010 school year and realized how accurately “new” captures so much of Verbum Dei today.

In late August, Verb received a large batch of new students, a sizeable cohort of new faculty, and several new Jesuits. Verb is not pining over “days gone by,” but enthusiastically welcoming new people, new programs and new possibilities.  Over 100 freshman have settled into campus life and some of them are participating in a new course designed to equip them with keyboard skills, excel mastery and basic web competence—all skills that our corporate partners highly value and have long desired in prospective employees.

Six new faculty members—3 from LMU’s credential program—will be teaching math, science, writing, and Spanish.  We warmly embrace new faculty, not simply because they fill teaching positions, but because they also bring new energy, different perspectives and fresh ideas.  Among our new staff members is Melanie Guerrero, who will be the face and voice of the front office.  Jesuit Bro. Frederico Gianelli is also new to Verb Dei, where he serves as director of faith formation programs and working with campus ministry.  Another new Jesuit at Verbum Dei is Fr. Roger De la Rosa, who comes from the Provincial Office in Portland to teach physics and chemistry.  Verb hit a new Jesuit high with four among its faculty/staff.   Brittany Bradley, formerly of is our new College.  Verb enthusiastically welcomed Brittany Bradley as its new Director of College Counselling.  Ms. Bradley hit the ground running with an engaging presentation to faculty on the college selection and application process.

Those of us who were part of the crowd at the opening of the football season on Friday, August 23 at Pius-Mathias’ new field saw new coach Marquis Bowling’s energized Verb squad in their new uniforms turn in a stellar team performance to defeat  Firebaugh 34-16.  Aug. 31, 1pm at Pius Mathias is your opportunity to see Verb’s football team in action against St Monica’s.

This year we introduced a new curriculum for Freshman that includes two English courses, one devoted exclusively to writing skills and the other to literature and reading.  We are confident that this intensive language arts focus will better prepare students for college, where writing is critically important for success.  The Principal, Dr. Odom, has introduced a new administrative team structure to provide strong support for teachers and a data-based approach to learning that will  chart the progress of each student in verbal and quantitative areas as well as identify areas where students need additional instruction. Verb is putting all the pieces in place to make sure it lives up to its new vision of being “most successful at preparing young men of color to graduate from college and lead Spirit-filled lives of purpose and meaning.”

“New” occurs at least 20 times in the above reflection.  It may be overused but it certainly gives you a sense of how much has changed here and how enthusiastically and confidently Verb embraces a future rich with promise for its  students, their families and the communities  they will ultimately serve.

The Verb

I’ll take this opportunity to introduce myself, as I hope many of you will introduce yourselves to me over the next few months.  I am a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola High.  I entered the Jesuits right out of high school in 1960 and have never looked back. During my fifty-eight years as a Jesuit, I have served as Principal of Bellarmine College Prep, Provost and Academic Vice President of Santa Clara University and, most recently, as President of the University of San Francisco.  For thirty years I was at the receiving end of Jesuit secondary education and now, at Verbum Dei, I find myself on “production” side of the house, and it’s a great place to be.

As a reader of this blog, you know that 100% of our graduates are accepted into college and that is part of a story that I can only touch on here.  Verb’s academic focus is clear and sharp but it is broader than academics.  Jesuit education aims to develop every aspect of a students—intellectual, spiritual, physical, social.  The Verb offers a full range of competitive athletic teams at the Varsity and JV levels.  Monthly liturgies, students retreats, daily prayer, immersion experiences are woven into the fabric of Verb life.  The menu of student activities and clubs is rich and varied and offers every student the opportunity to explore interests and socialize with classmates.  As a Cristo Rey school, Verbum Dei further develops every students’ professional capacities through a highly structured work experience placement at a local business.  Verbum Dei accomplishes a great deal with its students in a limited amount of time.  Your understanding and support of a Verbum Dei education is key to our success and that of our students.