Student abandoned at birth flourishes at Catholic school

Annunciation student earns Seeds of Hope scholarship

Kiara Johnson discovered her love for reading and writing at Annunciation School.

“It’s just a fun thing to do, maybe because I have such a big imagination and I am able to express myself through writing,” she said from her home in Denver.

The 13-year-old is graduating eighth grade and will attend Arrupe Jesuit High School next year.

She shared her love for books and gave a snapshot of her life last week at the annual Hope Springs Eternal Luncheon hosted by Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust, a nonprofit that serves disadvantaged, inner-city children by providing tuition assistance to attend Catholic schools.

Kiara, who was adopted as a child, was selected to receive this year’s Journey of Hope Scholarship. She spoke to the crowd at the DoubleTree hotel in Greenwood Village about her gratitude for attending Catholic school.

“During my time at Annunciation, my faith has been strengthened because we go to Mass and I have time to spend with God,” she said. “This is important to me because it makes me feel at ease and I am happy and calm in his presence.”

She said the school feels safe and the teachers willingly give their time and talent to help with questions.

Her adoptive mother, Debra Johnson, needed assistance paying for tuition at the school after suffering a coma and left unable to work.

“As a result of that we had to sell our house and move in with a friend of ours,” Kiara said. “Just last week we were able to get our own place again.”

Debra, who was unable to have children, now works part time at Annunciation. She’s cared for Johnson since the child was 3-weeks old and adopted her at age 3. Her biological mother was unable to care for her.

“She had a drug addiction,” Kiara told the Denver Catholic Register. “(Debra) watched me over a weekend. After she watched me that weekend, (my biological mom) never came back. She had other children; I was just one of them but she gave me away.”

Kiara said she thinks she has a better life with Debra who she respects and considers her best friend.

“We always love to go to the movies together, and I know she will always be there for me,” Kiara said. “That is our special connection.”

Kiara has attended Annunciation for 10 years. She wouldn’t have attended without a scholarship from Seeds of Hope. This year she was accepted into Arrupe, a Catholic Jesuit school in northwest Denver that serves inner-city, low-income students.

Debra said she’s impressed with her daughter. Her speech during the luncheon “was moving” and she heard many compliments about her.

“I am very proud of her,” Debra said.

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.