By Dr. Samuel Torres
Over the last few years, I have communicated to you the value of our local and national Catholic Schools. Day in and day out, our staff is devoted to imprinting the love of Jesus on the hearts of our students. The vocation of our teachers is very simple: to teach as Jesus taught and to exemplify his virtues. The acceptance of this vocation requires a “yes” from the soul; an inner longing to serve our Lord. Fully recognizing that none of us is fully equipped for the journey, we trust that our gifts, when combined with that of others, will complete the will of God. Celebrating Catholic Schools Week, which took place last month, is one such reminder of our collective gifts and an opportunity to honor successful leaders throughout our schools.
When looking back on successful leaders who have imprinted the love of Jesus on my heart, I thank God for beloved Bishop David O’Connell. I had the honor and privilege to work with Bishop O’Connell, a very generous man. Shortly after “Bishop Dave” was appointed Auxiliary Bishop in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, he made a point of getting to know all the entities assigned to him in his new region. Having been a former parish priest who was known for speaking Spanish with an Irish accent and working in dangerous and impoverished areas of Los Angeles, he set out to bring the love of Jesus into some dark places.
During the Rodney King riots he sat with gangsters, families with convicts and immigrants. He became more involved with social care of the marginalized and vulnerable, fearlessly walking the streets and knocking on doors to encourage faith among the people. I will always remember his bravery. His deep love for all people. His willingness to take time, and in so doing, reminded us that we all matter to God. His incredible example lives in our hearts, an authentic example of how much difference one person can make when they live for God.
Bishop Dave’s style was warm and riddled with Irish jokes and fun. People who knew him didn’t just like him, they often remarked at how he was their friend. He had the gift of recognizing the best in every individual. He had a way of empowering many to be better.
As a mentor, as a friend, as an example of true love for our Lord, we are challenged by his legacy. Though his life ended prematurely, and our hearts are heavy, we are left to ask ourselves, if not me, then who? When a beautiful and giving soul leaves us, we grieve and take inventory. We long for the person who can bind us together and teach us to embrace the goodness God placed in each of us. Loving teachers and mentors are students of the greatest teacher, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who longs for our unity, so we can build supportive communities.
I’d like to add one more idea for celebrating our Catholic Schools heritage. Let’s reach out and say thank you to a teacher or mentor who has impacted your faith or inspired you on your journey. Tell this person what they mean to you and how you have benefited from his or her example or support. When we affirm goodness in each other we empower God’s plan and energize our own will to stay on course. Catholic Schools are riddled with examples of children affirming and supporting one another. Safe places where children can celebrate goodness and develop their gratitude for God. It is a heritage they can be proud to advance forward.
Dr. Samuel Torres is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino.