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How a Catholic school in Colorado celebrates its thriving Hispanic community

Earlier this year, the United States bishops released their new National Pastoral Plan for Hispanic Ministry, with evangelization and mission topping the pastoral priorities for the country’s growing population of 30 million Latino Catholics. The rise in the Catholic Hispanic population has not only been seen in churches across the country but also in Catholic schools.

One Catholic school with a thriving Hispanic community is Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver. Roughly 43% of the students who attend the school are Hispanic.

Katherine Candler, the Spanish teacher at Machebeuf, is in her third year teaching at the high school. She is also in charge of the Spanish Club, which works to educate the student body on the lives of Hispanic saints and Marian apparitions while also celebrating these feast days in cultural ways.

Candler told CNA in an interview that the purpose of the club “is to serve the school through educating students on the universality of the Catholic faith as shown through various saints and Marian apparitions.”

“We simultaneously celebrate and educate,” she said. “Each day that we celebrate, we write an announcement to be read over the PA system in the morning that details the life of the saint or the story of the apparition so that the student body knows who we are honoring.”

“Then, we share an aspect of that saint’s culture with the students at lunch via food, teaching dances, bringing coloring sheets, etc.,” she explained.

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Students from Bishop Machebeuf High School practice a traditional Hispanic dance. Credit: Katherine Candler
Students from Bishop Machebeuf High School practice a traditional Hispanic dance. Credit: Katherine Candler

On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for example, Candler shared that the students decorated the hallways with “papel picado,” which is a traditional Mexican decorative craft made by cutting elaborate designs into sheets of tissue paper, and held a Mass in Spanish.

Another example included handing out candy to students after Mass on the feast of Epiphany and giving out Rosca de Reyes, Kings Cake, to students at lunch on Dia de los Reyes — Three Kings Day.

Dia de los Reyes is the traditional way in which Spain and Latin American countries celebrate the feast of Epiphany — the feast commemorating the visit of the three Magi. It is common for children in Hispanic countries to leave their shoes by the door or under the tree for the kings to leave presents for them. On the night of the celebration, families will gather to eat the Rosca de Reyes, a sweet bread that resembles a king’s crown.

Candler explained that in her first year taking part in the Spanish Club, while they did several activities and events for Hispanic Heritage Month, they “struggled to find ways to celebrate culture through the rest of the school year.”

She added: “The administration suggested that we approach culture through the lens of faith, which offers far more opportunity to educate students on Hispanic culture while also bringing a deeper and more meaningful aspect to these celebrations because they are founded in faith. Now, students get to learn about how different Hispanic countries celebrate our universal faith all year long.”

A wall highlighting Latin American heroes at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Credit: Katherine Candler
A wall highlighting Latin American heroes at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Credit: Katherine Candler

In addition to celebrating the feasts of Hispanic saints and Marian apparitions, the school hosts a Culture Day, which includes a talent show where students can perform cultural dances, songs, and more. It’s then followed by sharing foods from around the world.

“Students and teachers sign up in advance to host a food table, and students who share the same culture often work together to bring food from their families’ countries of origin,” Candler shared.

“In the past, we have had food from all over the world — from Ireland and Germany to Mexico and El Salvador to a host of African nations. Every year, students perform Irish and Mexican dances, a teacher plays flamenco guitar, and some years we have even more talented community members get involved!”

Despite not being Hispanic herself, Candler emphasized that each year she wants “nothing more than to help these students foster and grow that part of their identity, ideally in tandem with their faith.”

“That means that in Spanish Club, I support them administratively by helping with the logistics while they educate each other, and me, about various cultural traditions,” she explained. “In AP Spanish, the students teach me about traditions and cultural norms — and some slang — that I have never encountered before while I help them to improve their professional Spanish, particularly their formal writing.”

Hallways decorated with "papel picado" for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Credit: Katherine Candler
Hallways decorated with “papel picado” for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Bishop Machebeuf High School. Credit: Katherine Candler

She pointed out that for many of the students in her AP Spanish class this is the only AP class they will take, which she called “an honor and a privilege.”

“One of my favorite parts of the school year is seeing their faces when they’ve aced an AP practice test — simply because they don’t know their own capability,” she said. “Sometimes, that AP class opens the door for students to discover the richness of their own cultural traditions and inadvertently encourages them to join Spanish Club to help educate others.”

When asked what it is like to be a part of such a thriving Hispanic community, Candler said: “One of Machebeuf’s strengths is its diversity. Having so many students with rich cultural traditions united in faith is an incredible exemplar of the Church’s universality.”

“Every year, I learn about new traditions from my students, which they are excited to share with their classmates via Spanish Club or Culture Day,” she added. “Their classmates are not only open to and respectful about encountering these traditions but are often joyful and energetic in their reception.”

“It is a joy to develop such deep and meaningful relationships with my Hispanic students, and I love working with them to serve the Machebeuf community.”

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