Q&A: Fostering ‘wonder and awe’ at Blessed Miguel Pro Academy

Archdiocese of Denver launches new regional Catholic school

Aaron Lambert

The mission of Catholic education extends far beyond academic formation. With a foundation rooted firmly in the truth of the Gospel, Catholic schools are tasked with forming the hearts, bodies, minds and souls of their students.

The Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Denver are fervent carriers of this mission, and a brand-new regional Catholic school in Denver is joining the cause. Blessed Miguel Pro Academy started its first week of school Aug. 24.

Named for Blessed Father Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest who courageously spread the Catholic faith in Mexico, this new Catholic Academy seeks to form its students using his witness of faith and discipleship as a guide. Educating students through the lens of a Catholic worldview is at the heart of the school’s mission.

“Blessed Miguel Pro is such a fitting patron for our school for so many reasons,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Denver’s Catholic Schools. “He is a modern saint who gave a strong and joyful witness to his great love for Christ and for the Church in the face of so many challenges. His life beautifully captures the spirit we have embraced for our newest school.”

Blessed Miguel Pro Catholic Academy is a new regional school in the Archdiocese of Denver. (Photos by Carol Nesbitt)

Embracing that spirit of Blessed Miguel Pro, Dr. Ann Zeches will serve as the new school’s principal.

The faculty and staff are excited about infusing the Catholic worldview into their daily lessons and student’s lives,” said Dr. Zeches. “All want the students to graduate knowing the truth of our faith that will guide students to greater things in life…heaven!”

We spoke to Dr. Zeches about the launch of Blessed Miguel Pro and her vision for the Archdiocese of Denver’s newest Catholic school.

Denver Catholic: How did Blessed Miguel Pro Academy come to be?
Dr. Ann Zeches: Catholic education is very important in this turbulent world.  Catholic education has suffered a decrease in enrollment throughout the country.  As enrollment decreases, hard decisions have to be made.  Many schools in the Archdiocese of Denver were located near each other with the same opportunities for students but seeing enrollment numbers decreasing.  Superintendent Elias Moo had the vision to create a regional school.  To create a strong educational environment for our students, it was decided to merge St. Catherine of Siena School and Holy Trinity.  This allows resources to be used more wisely for students in fulfilling the mission of Catholic Schools.

DC: What sets Blessed Miguel Pro apart from other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Denver?
Dr. Zeches
: Blessed Miguel Catholic Academy elects to imitate and model the life of Miguel Pro.  With that in mind, we have developed our “Pro Habits.”  These “habits” will be infused throughout our campus through strong academics and a supportive community. Our students will strive to be faithful, joyful, temperate, humble, pious, courageous, and loving.

Dr. Ann Zeches, Blessed Miguel Pro’s principal, hopes to foster a learning environment filled with “wonder and awe” for its students.

DC: As the school’s principal, what is your vision for Blessed Miguel Pro?
Dr. Zeches:
The school’s mission statement guides my vision for the school.  Each child is born with the gift of wonder and awe.  My vision for students is never to lose that wonder and awe while opening the students’ lives to wisdom, virtue, and truth – the Catholic Worldview.

DC: What would your message be to parents who are on the fence about sending their children to Catholic school but have Bl. Miguel Pro as a new option for their child?
Dr. Zeches:
In this turbulent world, students need to be given the time to develop deep skills to think critically, reason logically, and articulate clearly. Blessed Miguel Pro creates an atmosphere of learning as opposed to test-taking, which is found in many schools.  We want to give our students the time to develop these skills which will lead them to the “truth” of our lives.

Learn more at miguelpro.org.

COMING UP: Q&A: New Bishop Machebeuf principal ‘excited and grateful’ to lead beloved high school

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After an extensive search for the right person to lead Bishop Machebeuf High School, a few weeks ago the school finally announced the hiring of its new principal, Mr. William Perales.

For the past two years, Mr. Perales has been a Principal at a Catholic high school in Fort Worth, Texas, where he led the implementation of a classical education curriculum, both with academic content and instructional strategies. He brings extensive experience in Catholic education to his new role and said he is “excited and grateful” to lead Bishop Machebeuf High School.

Just a few days before school starting, Mr. Perales sat down with the Denver Catholic to introduce himself to the community, and share some of his accomplishments and plans for the future of BMHS.

Denver Catholic: What sort of background do you come from?

Mr. Perales: Raised Catholic by wonderful Catholic parents, I have been blessed to work in Catholic schools for over 20 years. I have taught English language arts, religion, math, and science at the elementary school level and then English, history, sociology, and theology at the high school level. For four years, I was also an adjunct instructor in philosophy and religious studies at a small liberal arts college.

After working on the Fort Worth diocesan curriculum committee with K-12 academics, I became principal of an elementary school where we developed a classical curriculum and enriched the Catholic presence of the school throughout the academics and student activities. I then returned to high school as a principal to help lead the school with developing a more classical, liberal arts curriculum. During these last four years, I have continued to work with developing curriculum for K-12, assisted other schools in implementing a classical curriculum, and helped develop the curriculum for a New Teacher Formation Institute, a program that introduces teachers to the vision of Catholic education, guides them in instructional practices, and models key aspects of classical education.

My education has been influenced by the Catholic liberal arts tradition, as I attended the St. Ignatius Institute, a Catholic Great Books Program at the University of San Francisco where we studied many of the classics in literature, philosophy, theology, history, and art of Western Civilization. I continued my studies and earned additional degrees in philosophy (M.A.), theology (M.A.), and educational leadership and policy studies (M.Ed.).

DC: What does it mean for you to be the new Principal for Bishop Machebeuf High School?

Mr. Perales: It is a blessing and a privilege to be appointed the new Principal. I have been blessed to work in faith-filled and mission-focused dioceses and schools. Bishop Machebeuf and the Archdiocese of Denver are places where this can continue as there is such as strong understanding of the connection and integration of evangelization and education. For that I am very excited and grateful.

DC: What are your goals as the new principal for BMHS?

Mr. Perales: Our goals are to assist the Archdiocese in its mission of forming disciples. This is the Church’s mission and as a Catholic high school it is at the core of our mission. We will do so by forming and educating students to grow in faith, virtue, and wisdom. We will help our students to know Truth, choose Goodness, and love Beauty. We will do so by ensuring our students have deep and rich Christ-centered faith experience, excellent academics, and formative student activities that allow them to discover and develop their gifts and talents. In the end, it is our goal that our students are Disciples of Christ in the Catholic Church who are prepared and ready to respond to God’s call. In doing this, they will be prepared for not only what comes next in their life but have the foundations for faithful and joyful living their whole lives.

DC: What are you most grateful for in this opportunity in your life and career? And how has your faith help you through this journey?

Mr. Perales: I am most grateful to be “working” in the Catholic Church, especially in a place that is so focused on forming disciples. I owe so much to the Church. Along with my parents, the Church is how I know Christ and His love and His mercy and His consolation and most especially how I know and have joy in my life. For all this, I am grateful. Therefore, I try to give what I can offer to the Church and her mission. To be able to have a job that serves the Church is a blessing and gift to me. That is why I say “working” in quotes. This is my job, but it is really a vocation and a calling I am blessed and humbled to have.

DC: What are the greatest joys and challenges that you face as the new principal?

Mr. Perales: The greatest joys have been to get to know the wonderful faculty and staff. They are so Christ-centered and committed to the Church’s mission of making disciples. It is very inspiring and reassuring to come to work and be with them. The greatest challenges are making sure we have and continue to grow a strong community of staff, families, and the broader school and local community. This takes time, but it is key to the school’s fulfillment of its mission.

DC: As a principal, what message do you want to send to students and parents who are about to start a new school year during these uncertain times?

Mr. Perales: While there are many uncertainties in these times, there is one thing that is certain: Christ. One thing these times have reminded us is stay focused on Christ and to give all our concerns, uncertainties, troubles, and all to Him. Staying rooted in Christ will provide us the necessary strength and wisdom to navigate these times. The year ahead will have some uncertainties, which may increase or decrease as the year goes on, but what will remain throughout is Christ and the love, mercy, courage, and joy that comes with staying focused on and rooted in Him.