‘Nun’ better: Mullen celebrates Sister Brendan

The way Sister Brendan Jordan saw it, kids growing up surrounded by poverty, gangs and violence in impoverished ghettos of inner-city Denver had two ways out: education or drugs. Years ago, while serving as assistant principal of Denver’s Mullen High School, God put a message on her heart: she should help these children by educating them.

“It was something that had to be done,” said Sister Jordan. “Some of these youngsters came in and we knew they weren’t ready for the challenges of college prep school.”

To meet the challenges, she proposed a program revolving around smaller classes and a progressive curriculum of study skills to the Christian Brothers running the Lasallian prep school. Since 1988, her De LaSalle program has addressed the needs of students who, while deficient in certain basic skills, had the potential to succeed at Mullen.

Sister Jordan is proud of the students and alumni of the program. Many have continued their education with multiple degrees and become doctors, lawyers, educators and other respected professionals.

“That was my passion … I wanted these youngsters to succeed,” she said. “When they come back and thank me, I say: ‘Don’t thank me, thank yourself.’”

Nearly 100 members of the school community gathered Jan. 6 for a Mass and reception to celebrate her life and ministry. Sister Jordan, a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, turned 90 on Jan. 3. She has served at Mullen since 1976, following several years teaching in Ohio and Arizona.

“Sister Brendan … personifies the values and virtues of Lasallian education,” said principal Janell Kloosterman. “This includes the De La Salle program she founded.”

One of the students that originally inspired the program: Tommy Watson, class of 1992, flew in from Charlotte, N.C., to surprise her at the celebration.

“Before I started attending Mullen, I was living in a 10-by-6-foot motel room with eight other people,” he said. “Six of the adults in the room were drug addicts; my two younger siblings and I had to basically take care of ourselves.”

Growing up in that chaos in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, the place he went to for peace was the basketball court. Success in sports was how he ultimately met Mullen football coach Peter Levine when he was in eighth grade.

“When I arrived, my comrades and I from the inner-city were not on par with the entering ninth-graders regarding our academics,” said Watson, who took three different busses to get to the school at 3601 S. Lowell Blvd.

That’s when Sister Jordan and her De La Salle program stepped in.

“Sister Brendan became our homeroom teacher,” Watson said. “She is an amazing teacher and person.”

A former school principal and today, a motivational speaker, coach and consultant, Watson holds a doctorate of education. He has also authored a book “A Face of Courage” about overcoming the odds of growing up with physical abuse, abandonment and heroin-addicted parents.

Nine of the original 15 students in the De La Salle program hold Ph.Ds., according to Sister Jordan. Some of the alumni have children who are entering high school and applying to Mullen.

“I feel the circle is complete when those men bring their children in for an interview,” Sister Jordan said.

Well past a typical retirement age, she continues to work at Mullen as an academic advisor. “I just keep going, I’ve always loved school,” said the educator who holds three advanced degrees.

That love for education is reflected in her students.

“Sister Brendan has meant the world to me,” Watson said. “And she has played a significant role in me being Dr. Tommy A. Watson from the Five Points area of Denver, Colorado.”

Mardi Gras Gala 2014

Sister Brendan Jordan will also be honored at Mullen High School’s annual gala.

When: March 1, starts at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Grand Hyatt Denver, 1750 Welton St., Denver
Registration: $150
Register or questions: www.mullenhigh.com

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.