Centro San Juan Diego honors 1st graduate of program with Mexican university

Three years ago, Monica Chavez didn’t even know how to turn on a computer. But this Dec. 6, she was the first student to graduate with a bachelor’s degree through a program made possible by a partnership between the Centro San Juan Diego and a university in central Mexico, the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP).

Chavez chose to pursue a degree in social work. She bought her computer, and with the assistance of technical support and video tutorials, she learned how to use it. She studied even as she continued to care for her children, the oldest of whom has special needs.

“She is the tip of the arrow,” said Luis Alvarez, director of Hispanic Ministry and Centro San Juan Diego, during her graduation ceremony. Also present at the ceremony were Archbishop Samuel Aquila, the Mexican consul, Jeremías Guzmán Barrera, and 11 staff and directors from UPAEP who came from Puebla.

“It was 13 years ago that the Centro San Juan Diego was established to serve the immigrant Hispanic community — aware of this community’s great potential,” said Archbishop Aquila, speaking in Spanish. “As archbishop of Denver, it gives me tremendous joy to be a witness to the great capacity and effort of the Hispanic community. It brings me joy that as a Church, we walk with Centro San Juan Diego and UPAEP.”

In addition to Chavez, husband and wife team Norma Moreno and Esteban Palafox obtained diplomas in law. They both live in Phoenix, Arizona, and from there, they did their course work as they continued to work at a hair salon.

“Finally all of these years of effort have come to an end!” Moreno said, as Palafox described his graduation as “the best Christmas present.”

Opening doors

In the United States, only 15% of the Hispanic population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Centro San Juan Diego aims to address this need through agreements that enable the Hispanic population of Colorado to gain college degrees. Thus, in 2012, Centro entered into a partnership with UPAEP that is allowing many to enroll in various bachelor’s programs online. Today there are 46 students following in the footsteps of the first graduate.

For Juan Carlos Reyes, director of family services for Hispanic Ministry and director of the UPAEP partnership, the experience of accompanying the students is “a delight.”

“To see their enthusiasm and their determination is for us a motor that simply pushes us forward,” he said.

monica-2

Monica Chavez, far left, and Norma Moreno and Esteban Palafox made up the first graduating class from Centro San Juan Diego (CSJD). The bachelor’s degree program is made possible through a partnership between CSJD and Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). (Photo by Nissa LaPoint)

“Usually, when Hispanics come to the United States as adults, they don’t have going to school on their Plan A list or on their Plan B list,” Reyes explained. “Opportunities like this one remind them that they can reach goals that perhaps they never imagined. This is potential. It’s dynamite.”

Reyes said that thanks to his role accompanying the students at UPAEP, he has “met the best members of the Hispanic community of Denver.”

Effort and perseverance

Chavez has lived in Colorado for 19 years. She always wanted to go to college, but it had never been possible in her home country. In fact, she hadn’t been able to finish high school. Five years ago, she saw an ad in a newspaper that enabled her to get a step closer to her dream, and nothing has stopped her since. She got her high school studies completed, bought a computer and started studying. She chose to take extra courses each quarter so as to finish her studies ahead of her class (two and a half years).

“I worked day and night to do my homework,” she recalled.

Today she dreams of putting her degree at the service of the needy, working in a charity or in a non-profit organization.

Chavez dedicated her degree to her mother, Martha, who died 19 years ago, and her niece, Kendra, who died two years ago.

“I am sure that both of them are celebrating this triumph from heaven,” she said, her voice choked with emotion during her address at her graduation ceremony. “This is an amazing accomplishment, not just for me but for my family. It was everybody’s effort.”

For Móinca Cortiglia, director of academic innovation at the UPAEP, now for the new professionals, a new challenge arises: “to carry out your profession in the world, to give testimony of what has been forged in you, to help the world with learning and dedication.”

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.