First eighth grade class graduates from Escuela de Guadalupe

Moira Cullings

Before she passed away in 2012, Sister Susan Swain, one of the founders of Escuela de Guadalupe, gave a video interview where she explained her dreams for the school.

One of her goals was “that there will be a 20th celebration and a 25th celebration and then we’ll go on from there.”

She also stated her hopes that the school would eventually go all the way through eighth grade.

Sister Swain’s goals were not in vain — Escuela’s first eighth-grade class graduated June 7 and the school will celebrate its 20th anniversary this August.

Michelle Galuszka, Development Director at Escuela, said that both Sister Swain and Father Tom Prag, a Jesuit priest who was the school’s primary founder, were “looking down with big smiles on their faces and were there with us on Friday night when we had our eighth-grade graduation.”

Galuszka, who will become Escuela’s president on July 1, just finished her fourth year at the school and has seen first-hand the tremendous growth it has experienced.

When it first opened in north Denver, Escuela was a K-2 school and continually added grades 3-5.

“We opened with the intent that the neighborhood really needed a school that reflected the community around it,” said Galuszka.

The founders decided Escuela would be a dual language Catholic school  (the only one in Denver) because the neighborhood was predominantly Hispanic.

They always hoped to offer a K-8 grade program, so four years ago Escuela moved to the former Presentation School campus to embark on an expansion. Now, it offers grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

“When we left our old school and our K-5 model, we had 124 students,” said Galuszka. “We finished this school year with 214 students. It’s incredible.”

Philip Evans, a middle school math and religion teacher at Escuela, first got involved with the school through his master’s program but is choosing to stay at the school next year.

“Some of the big things that are drawing me here are the community and how invested all of the families are, as well as the bilingual model,” he said.

“It’s something where speaking Spanish is celebrated and there’s a lot of confidence in the students in that. We’re valuing both languages, and the students realize that.”

Evans noticed that this year’s eighth grade class is “mature, independent and had a desire to make a difference.”

They also take their faith seriously — 20 of the 21 graduates are going on to attend Catholic high schools this fall.

When the school staff found out each student that applied to a Catholic high school was accepted, it “was just a huge excitement wave that went through our building,” said Galuszka.

“We were just thrilled that they wanted that for themselves and fought academically to get into the places that they wanted to.”

As Escuela enters its 20th school year this August, Galuszka and her fellow staff members look forward for even more growth to come.

“I’m really excited for what’s to come in the future of this school,” said Galuszka. “We really hope to be a model for future schools in how we have adopted the dual language, faith-based program for our students.”

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

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There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash