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Bishop Machebeuf High School: Creating Vibrant Student Life

This article is the fifth of a 10-part series that seeks to shed light on these and other tremendous things happening at Bishop Machebeuf High School. With the many rumors surrounding what Bishop Machebeuf is and isn’t, it’s essential to set the record straight. For more information about Bishop Machebeuf High School or if you are interested in applying, please visit machebeuf.org.

Part 1: Honoring the Past. Celebrating the Present. Engaging the Future. 

Part 2: Forming Disciples of Christ

Part 3: A transformative education through Catholic Liberal Arts

Part 4: Dr. Bonta announces departure from Bishop Machebeuf High School; new president named 

Part 6: Continuing a Legacy of Athletic Excellence

Bishop Machebeuf High School’s first graduating class was the class of 1962, which means this year’s class (’22) will be the 60th graduating class. That’s 60 years of rich tradition and formation of the hearts, minds and souls of its students in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the living tradition of the Catholic Church. Sixty years of vibrant student life, despite changes in location, leadership, curriculum and the lingering challenges of COVID-19. Through it all, one thing is constant: beautiful things continue to happen every day in students’ lives at Bishop Machebeuf High School. As President-Principal Dr. Tony Bonta put it, “Bishop Machebeuf is bigger than any one person or one situation. These are great kids, doing fantastic things. We are proud of them! We have been through a number of transitions, but we keep going because the students and the graduates— they are Bishop Machebeuf.”

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Student life is a high priority for Bishop Machebeuf, taking its place as the third of the school’s four pillars, following Faith and Academics. Jim Schoepflin serves as Assistant Principal for Student Life. “Obviously, academics are a huge part of student life, but high school is as much a social learning environment as it is an academic learning environment. For as small as we are, we have a lot to offer,” says Schoepflin.

These activities include everything from spiritual retreats and theatre to clubs, dances, and athletics (Yes, athletics continue to be offered at Bishop Machebeuf High School and will be the sole focus of an upcoming story). Schoepflin added, “Student life is where they learn how to live out their faith and learn how to be Catholic in a secular world. Student life is about integrating the formation of the mind with the formation of the spirit. It’s important that we teach kids how to function in the world that we live in because it’s not easy.”

Robert Farris is the Dean of Students at Bishop Machebeuf. He reflected on the paradox that rules and boundaries don’t restrict the students but instead give them freedom. The students are free to live a common student life rooted in the same purpose and united in a shared mission because the standards are high and much is expected of them. “I think the reason student life is so important at Machebeuf is because that is where true community is built and where family is built. Early in my teaching career, I discovered that students are happiest when the boundaries are clear, and they know what is expected, whereas when they are not clear, you can’t develop that sense of community or that sense of unity.”

Junior Cecilia Montoya loves that she can be involved in so many different activities, which isn’t always possible at larger schools. “What made it so attractive to me for me to go here was because I was like, ‘oh my goodness — there are so many opportunities that I can do as a freshman that I don’t have to wait to do until my junior or senior years!’ As a freshman, I made varsity volleyball, and I also played basketball and soccer.” She also began to pursue a growing interest in photography thanks to the encouragement of an upperclassman and is now on the school’s yearbook staff. She expressed great passion for the school’s spirit. “No one is really ‘me’ oriented here. It’s always, ‘What can I do for the class above me? Or my class? Or the class under me?’ We all want Machebeuf to be a great, fun school. That’s a family. We’re completely inclusive. That’s just how it is. I can go sit and eat lunch with the seniors or the freshmen. It’s just a very open and loving environment.”

A Community That Puts Faith In Action

There are many clubs offered at Bishop Machebeuf, including Spanish Club, Pro-life Club, Star Wars Club, Poetry Club, and young men’s and women’s pre-vocational groups. Mr. Schoepflin explained that the great thing about how clubs are structured at Bishop Machebeuf is that as long as the subject matter is appropriate, all a student (or group of students) needs to do is find an adult moderator to help them and they can start any club they want.

Sister Rachel Marie Boyd, O.P., teaches freshman biology, AP biology, and anatomy and physiology at Bishop Machebeuf and is the Pro-Life Club’s moderator. She and a group of 38 students — nearly a quarter of the student body at Bishop Machebeuf — went to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. last month. “I loved this trip because it was completely student-driven. I was not actually involved in the Pro-Life Club at that point, and three junior girls approached us looking for help to get to D.C. ”

Sister Boyd articulated that the goal of the trip was to create an opportunity in which the students could discover and experience a deeper understanding of the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. “I teach anatomy and physiology, so the first unit I teach in that class is embryology. Even a student raised in a Catholic household who has been taught from the beginning of their reasoning age that we honor life from conception to natural death, at this age, they’re going to have questions about it. So there is room on the trip to have those conversations. Some of the fruits of the trip were hearing the students reflect on the way their experiences, including the March itself, impacted them. Seeing their reaction to the speakers and to the things that speak to their hearts is a life-giving thing. In a culture that’s so loud, to see them be able to pick up on these true refrains of life and truth and beauty was really, really powerful.”

Bishop Machebeuf students had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., last month for the National March for Life, which is just one of the many exciting ways in which the school fosters a robust culture of student life. (Photo provided)

Katherine Harakal is President of the Pro-Life Club, and Caroline Tran is the club’s Vice-President. Their passion for the Pro-Life cause has been enhanced by their humanities curriculum. Tran shared, “One of the Pro-Life Club events was inspired by our humanities teacher because we talked about the human soul and dignity of the human person when we were reading Dante. Everything that’s wrong with abortion and euthanasia or any of those things is because it reduces the human person rather than acknowledging their rationality and dignity. Pro-life Club fits so well with what we learn in school.”

In December, the Pro-Life Club prepared Christmas cards to distribute to people in hospice care. Harakal explained, “We wrote these loving cards to people in their last stages of life at St. Anthony hospice. I talked to some of the people there, and it was so beautiful. That is the mission of the Pro-Life Club — to say, ‘I see you. I love you. You matter.’ and we love that way because God has loved us that way. We love all of these people because God loves them.” Last year, the Pro-Life Club held a diaper drive for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies. Harakal said this upcoming Mother’s Day they plan to host “Sponsor-A-Mom” and gather more items for distribution.

Senior Maria Chavez serves as Student Body President at Bishop Machebeuf. The student body government includes 14 students representing each of the four classes in addition to the overall student body president and vice-president. Chavez oversees the group, organizes meetings once per month, chooses themes for dances, and manages spirit weeks and large all-school rallies for sporting events. She explained that seniors can earn special privileges by serving the greater community. “Last fall, we wanted off-campus lunch, so we had to earn it. We organized a food drive and the whole school helped. We ended up putting together drawstring bags for the homeless. The freshmen brought in socks, and another class brought in granola bars and water bottles, and we put those together. Then we brought them down to Holy Ghost Church because they had a distribution line. That was amazing!”

A Universal Church; A Universal Community

One of the most remarkable things about Bishop Machebeuf High School is its rich diversity and the beauty that comes from that universality. Students come from different countries, different cultures, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and different faiths. Peyton Stark, Dean of Faculty Mentoring and Instruction and Humanities Instructor, said, “I think the diversity at our school is one of our greatest strengths, and it manifests in so many different ways. We have extracurricular opportunities like Spanish club which is always doing amazing things like bringing food or different cultural experiences into our school. I remember there was one day I went to the lunchroom and there was a live mariachi band playing. We’ve also had different community volunteers bring in food to sell, to celebrate different holidays from different cultures. And I love that.”

She added that this rich diversity brings value to the classroom as students from different backgrounds come together to share their experiences. “One of the things I love most about Bishop Machebeuf is, more than most schools I’ve been to, we have a diversity of experience, background, and opinion. And that’s not what you might expect from a Catholic school. We do unite around our faith — we go to Mass weekly and we celebrate together — but I think we’re able to have conversations in the classroom because there’s a respect for each other, but also a lot of different people coming together to engage in conversations.”

Senior Nayla Hernandez appreciates the opportunities this diversity brings to her own faith life. “Diversity is more than just having different cultural backgrounds. It’s the people who might even come from the same religious background as you and have different ways of expressing that or people with different talents. That has opened me up a little bit more to the value of differences and how strong we are because of that. Spanish Club, specifically, has helped our Hispanic community have a larger presence. It shows the school all of the beauty that there is through different celebrations and different takes on religion, even though we come from similar backgrounds. A lot of the Hispanic countries that we try to represent through our events have Catholic backgrounds, but their expressions are different. It’s been really beautiful because it takes you out of your zone a little bit and shows you that God isn’t particular to one people, God isn’t particular to one expression.”

Bishop Machebeuf’s Theatre program is intended for more than just “theater kids, and indeed, students with all sorts of interests participate in the school’s theatre productions. (Photo by Mackenzie Carullo Photography)

Theatre Program Director Katarina Ivancik teaches theatre at Bishop Machebeuf. Right now, the cast and crew are hard at work rehearsing for upcoming performances of West Side Story in April. “It’s a fantastic musical, specifically for our school. We have a very large Hispanic population, so we wanted to have a chance to highlight that. Also, there’s a lot of athleticism and dancing in the show, so incorporating those elements that our school already has with the cheer teams and all of our sports teams brings it all together and shows that those skills could be used in other ways. We want to be inclusive with the theatre program; we don’t want it just to become ‘these are the theatre kids, and all they do is theatre.’ We want it to be ‘the theatre kids are also the basketball kids, and the theatre kids are also in AP Physics.’”

Mr. Farris studied in the seminary for nine years before becoming a teacher and school administrator. One of his favorite things about the places he was able to spend time in was that it gave him an experience of the Catholic Church’s universality. “One thing you see in Rome and Lourdes is what I prefer to call a ‘universal community.’ It’s a community of people from all over the world. You see pilgrims from Africa, India, Asia, North America, and South America, but they’re all doing the same thing. It was the most beautiful experience of the Church. What drew me to Machebeuf was the same experience. And from the student perspective, the benefit is seeing through those differences what they all have in common. We can all cheer at basketball games. We can all struggle on a test. The challenges are the same and the success is the same. Success is for them to learn what it means to be human.”

Bishop Machebeuf Students Possess A Passionate And Positive School Spirit

Junior Gema Hernandez appreciates that there is no animosity between different classes. “The upperclassmen were helpful my freshman year, explaining what’s different from middle school to high school. Sophomores were open to guiding me and answering questions. The freshmen talk to juniors, and sophomores talk to seniors.”

Montoya reflected on this same sense of mutual trust and friendship among the student body. “As high school students, we’re always maturing, we’re always growing spiritually, physically — everything — which is why the books we read in our curriculum create such a strong environment and that allows this student life to grow and flourish, even when there are struggles. Even when things aren’t going great, it creates a new school spirit if when I’m struggling, I can go to one of my senior friends and be like, ‘how did you get through this time of junior year?’ and they help me. Now I can be that person to someone under me. So it’s just continuing that down. Like the senior that helped me get into photography.”

Sports are a staple of any high school culture, and this is no different at Bishop Machebeuf. From basketball to baseball to soccer, students have a wide array of sports to participate in.(Photo by Cecilia Montoya Photography)

Mr. Schoepflin emphasized that student life and all the activities the students participate in need to be rooted in the more profound sense of purpose and the school’s mission. “We’ve tried to figure out the reason we’re doing these activities. Like with dances — we have homecoming and backward dance where girls ask guys, and we’ve got prom. I think you can often get stuck in the ‘Well, we’re a high school, so we have to have a dance,’ and that’s not really the point. It’s really to teach young men and women how to interact with each other in appropriate ways and help them discover an appropriate way to have fun. We’re trying to be intentional and form young people to be whom God asks them to be.”

Mr. Farris has had the chance to interact with students discerning which high school to choose after graduating from eighth grade. He encourages them to pay attention to the joy present at Bishop Machebeuf when they visit for a shadow day. “I tell them, ‘At lunch, when you take a look at the students, they’ll be happy. That’s what you want from the school you’re going to go to.’ When you go to lunch in many schools, you see students moping, on their phones, or broken off into different groups. But when you go to Bishop Machebeuf, you’re going to hear sounds and see images of joy. I think that’s the most attractive. Students don’t always say they’re happy, but when they are happy, they can’t hide it.”

John Wojtasek
John Wojtasek
John loves walking alongside brands and causes he believes in. Using proven storytelling and marketing frameworks, he develops clear messaging and communication that helps them serve more people with their life-changing solutions. A lifelong Catholic, John has served as a FOCUS Missionary from 2013-2016 and is passionate about building up the Kingdom and Family of God. John is a freelance contributor to the Denver Catholic.
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