David Card and his goals for Regis Jesuit High School

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For David Card, sending his children to a Catholic school was an easy decision.

“I think there’s something fundamental and holistic about bringing your faith and your spirituality into your full development process,” he said. “I’ve never considered anything else for my kids.”

In August, Card began to serve as the first lay president of Regis Jesuit High School, and second alumnus in the role (Class of 1987). In his new role, Card says he hopes he can make the possibility of an education at Regis a “real option” for qualified students with little financial resources.

Card replaces Rick Sullivan, who served as interim president of Regis Jesuit since Father Paul Sheridan resigned from the post due to health issues at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.

Card worked as Director of Development at the school from 1999 to 2003, and has served on Regis’ board of trustees for the past year.

Most recently, he served as president of Escuela de Guadalupe, a dual-language Catholic elementary school in Denver. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado Denver and a bachelor’s degree from Regis University in Denver.

Denver Catholic sat down with Card, to speak with him about his new role, the school, and his philosophy on Catholic education.

Denver Catholic: What are the emotions that come to mind in coming back to your alma-mater to serve as its President?

David Card:  I’m excited for sure. Through Ignatian spirituality, the spirituality given to us by our founder, St. Ignatius, one of the things that’s really been internalized by me is this idea of indifference. That it’s not really what I want, but “Where is it that I am to be?” I’ve had that feeling about Regis for a long time. So there’s a contentedness with that. Certainly, in reality I know it’s a big job, so I’m excited, and there’s also some anxiousness, but the support I’ve received from the community has been enormous.

Denver Catholic: Would you mind elaborating on the foundational pillars that a student at Regis Jesuit will be formed in upon graduation?

David Card: I think (the pillars) really reflect the kind of inquiry that we want our students to engage in. This is all in the foundational spirituality of our Catholic Church and our Ignatian tradition. One of the things Regis really excels at, and Jesuit education excels at, is it provides wonderful pathways, especially for adolescents, to develop an authentic relationship with God.

Also, through the process of discernment what we’re trying to develop is a listening skill in our students. . . This way, they can listen for the signs and ways in which God is calling them to be and to serve. They have many opportunities to explore their gifts and talents, to be really cognoscente of the larger community and the world they live in. Also, they have the opportunity to have real practice in service so they can animate their lives with that service.

Denver Catholic: What are your future goals for Regis Jesuit?

David Card: We adopted a strategic plan on the board a little over a year ago. Excellence, which pertains to our students, to our faculty, and our facilities is one of the pillars. We really want to focus on the inclusiveness of Regis in terms of its diversity. . .We constantly have work to do in maintaining and developing infrastructure for the school, strengthening our financial resources, and get better at marketing who we are and what we do.

I think in general I want to imagine a school that any family who desires especially a faith-formative, rigorous education and thinks “I want my kid to go there” also feels like that’s a real possibility. I’m not sure that’s true right now. So, I really want to work on that. . . I think the most important thing is to continue what we’re doing here and ensuring that our people are exposed to our Jesuit Catholic tradition and that they’re preparing to bring that forth into the world.”

Denver Catholic: Speaking through your experience, what is necessary to propel Catholic education as we continue into the 21st century?

David Card: I think we have to be intentional about our mission. I think we have to be ever more creative in the way that we convey that. I think our culture can be challenging for that. At the same time, we have to continue to recognize that God is present in our culture.

I think on a practical level, the biggest challenge facing Catholic education is financial accessibility. We wrestle with that here (at Regis) and we’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure that really any student who’s academically qualified, along with the parents of that student, feel like this is a real option for them. We do a lot to support that but certainly, we have to do more. There’s always a constant tension between having a quality faculty and putting the resources in place for that to occur, and then having a tuition rate and a financial aid program that can really be accessible to every family.

Denver Catholic: With so many options that parents have in educating their children, why Catholic education?

David Card: I think there’s something fundamental and holistic about bringing your faith and your spirituality into your full development process. To me it is, I’ve never considered anything else for my kids. So I do think that more and more families are hungering for that. Even if they don’t have a faith tradition, they’re concerned about the lack of boundaries for the development for their child.

We’ve always been strong academically. Kids get an excellent college prep education at Regis but if it were just that, we wouldn’t be all that distinctive. I think it really is engaging kids in service, having them really look at themselves and try to figure out “How is it that I am and is there really an opportunity for me to hear where I’m called to be?”

COMING UP: From Columbine to Christ: “Not only did God lead me out of Columbine, he was leading me to himself.”

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Every school day for almost two years, Jenica Thornby would spend her lunch hour in the library at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Every day, except April 20, 1999.

“I was sitting in my art class when all of the sudden I had this urge to leave school. I remember thinking, there is no way I am going to be talked into staying.”

Thornby found her friend that she always studied with and talked her into leaving too. As they drove away in a car her father had bought her just a week earlier, behind them they saw hundreds of other students running out of the school. Thinking it was maybe a fire drill, Thornby kept driving.

Back inside the school, two students had entered with guns, where they would kill 12 students and a teacher, and wound over 20 more people before taking their own lives.

In the days that followed, Thornby would learn that many of the casualties took place in the library, where on any other day she would have been sitting.

“I remember thinking, I always went to the library, and the only reason I wasn’t there was because I had this urge to leave. That was really hard to wrap my mind around, and so I really wondered, ‘What gave me that urge, why wasn’t I there?’”

Two decades later, Thornby is now Sister Mary Gianna, a religious sister of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the 20th Anniversary of the Columbine massacre, she shared her story with the Denver Catholic of how God led her out of her high school that day, and through a series of events, led her into a deep relationship with Christ.

Sr. Mary Gianna DLJC poses for a portrait at the Columbine Memorial on April 18, 2019, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

SEARCHING FOR FULFILMENT

Sister Mary Gianna said growing up in Texas, California and then Colorado, she had loving parents, but as a family they did not practice any religion or faith.

After the school shooting, like many of her classmates, Sister Mary Gianna struggled coming to grips with what had happened. Coupled with emotional scars from bullying in her teenage years and other insecurities, she said she tried desperately just to fit in.

“I started drinking and going to parties, thinking if I was in a relationship, then I’ll be happy,” Sister Mary Gianna recalled. “I was searching for fulfilment.”

But near the end of her junior year a classmate of hers who seemingly had everything going for him committed suicide, and Sister Mary Gianna said her senior year she hit rock bottom.

“If he was in so much pain and suffering and took his life, what do I do with all my suffering and all my pain?” Sister Mary Gianna said she asked herself. “I thought I was going to take my own life by my 18th birthday.”

It was that year that a friend invited her to come to a youth group at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, where Sister Mary would meet a youth minister named Kate.

“I remember seeing something different in (Kate),” said Sister Mary Gianna. “She was so bright, so full of life. I could tell that she had something in her life that was missing in mine.”

Sister Mary Gianna said Kate and the youth group introduced her to a God that loved her, and that had a plan for her life.

“I felt like I was junk to be thrown away, and (Kate) would tell me you are made in God’s image and his likeness, and if God created you, how can you call yourself junk?” recalled Sister Mary Gianna. “I realized God did have a plan, and I love the words of St. Augustine: ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” and I realized not only did God lead me out of Columbine, he was leading me to himself.”

RCIA, NET and DLJC

After high school graduation, with the support of her parents Sister Mary Gianna chose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville, where her freshman year she went through RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 2002.

After college, she spent a year with NET (National Evangelization Team), sharing her testimony with teenagers across the country. At the same time, through the encouragement of others, she began to consider religious life.

“I felt God wanted to use me to lead others to Christ as my youth minister had led me to Christ,” said Sister Mary Gianna. “And I felt God was calling me to share how he had worked in my life, my personal testimony.”

Sister Mary Gianna said words in a book by Father Benedict Groeschel really impacted her.

“He wrote, ‘Instead of asking God why something happened, ask him, what would you have me do?’” Sister Mary Gianna said. “So instead of reflecting on my life and why did this happen or that happen, I began to ask God, ‘What would you have me do?’”

In 2010, Jenica Thornby entered religious life as a member of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, was given the name Sister Mary Gianna, and last year on August 4, 2018, took her final vows. She now serves at The Ark and The Dove retreat center in Pittsburgh.

CHAIN REACTIONS

Standing in the center of the Columbine Memorial at Clement Park, Sister Mary Gianna is drawn to the plaque that remembers Rachel Joy Scott.

Sr. Mary Gianna DLJC poses for a portrait at the Columbine Memorial on April 18, 2019, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Rachel was one of the first students shot on April 20, 1999, and after being wounded, one of the gunmen reportedly asked her if she still believed in God, to which Rachel replied, “You know I do,” before the gunman shot her in the head.

“Unfortunately the two boys talked about how they wanted to start a chain reaction of death and violence and destruction,” Sister Mary Gianna said. “However, Rachel had a theory that if one person could go out of their way and show compassion and kindness, we would never know how far it would go, it just might start its own chain reaction.”

Sister Mary Gianna said Rachel’s story has become an inspiration to her, and coincidently, Rachel’s family played a role in her own conversion. Sister Mary Gianna said the day after the shooting she was at a friend’s house and her friend’s mom told Rachel’s aunt about how she had left just before the shooting began. Sister Mary Gianna said Rachel’s aunt replied, “God must have a plan for your life.”

It was one of the first seeds planted in Sister Mary Gianna’s heart, that started to grow, and as Sister Mary Gianna continued to say ‘yes’ to God, led her to the life she has today.

“Even when I didn’t know God that day at Columbine, he led me out of school, he protected me,” said Sister Mary Gianna. “He loved me so much that he drew near to me and has shown me this path of life.”

“Even in the midst of tragedy, God can bring good, God could bring life out of death. The worst tragedy was Jesus being put to death on the Cross, and it led to our salvation. And even in the midst of this tragedy of Columbine, God could bring good.”