Young adult event seeks to bridge English and Spanish-speaking communities

Makena Clawson

More than half of the Archdiocese of Denver is Hispanic, but the reality is that many young adult Catholic events in Denver do not reflect this statistic.

A committee of representatives led by Mary McGeehan and Alejandra Bravo of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Evangelization wanted to bridge this gap and host a young adult event where the English and Spanish-speaking communities both felt welcome.

On Sunday, Oct. 20, Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez celebrated a bilingual Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with a time of adoration and confessions before, followed by a time of food, fellowship and salsa dancing.

Both the pews and the dance floor were full. The event was well attended by both communities and was a start at bridging this gap and making each community more aware of the other.

“I hope that young adults see the Church more holistically and greater than what they just see at their own parish,” said Mary McGeehan, Young Adult Ministry Specialist at the Archdiocese of Denver.

Bishop Jorge H. Rodriguez celebrated a young adult Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on October 20, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Although the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking young adults may have different strengths and weaknesses, they have a lot in common, McGeehan said.

“Young adults don’t like anything forced,” she said. So, the committee tried to create an event that was an organic and natural way to build community.

“Dancing and sharing a meal and prayer can go beyond the nuances of language,” McGeehan said.

“Our needs are often more similar,” she said. “We want to feel welcomed, we want community, we want to be invited into leadership.”

Each community possesses strengths that the other can learn from, like the Spanish-speaking community’s emphasis on family values, having a relational mentality, and being generous in giving of their time, McGeehan said.

The English-speaking crowd possesses strengths of being creative in evangelization, McGeehan and Bravo agreed. Apostolates like Catholic Young Adult Sports, Young Catholic Professionals, Catholic Beer Club and more are fruits of the community placing their resources in service of the Church for evangelization, they said.

Alejandra Bravo, the Associate Director of Hispanic Evangelization for the Archdiocese, was pleased with the fruits of the event.

“Yesterday we were able to see beyond differences and see more similarities,” she said. “We’re all young adults and we’re all one Church.”

Many of the Hispanic young adults Bravo works with are bilingual, but some have recently come from Latin America to study and then return to their home country. McGeehan and Bravo wanted the Mass to include both Spanish and English so that both communities felt welcome.

“The Hispanic community is all about relationships,” Bravo said. “They need to feel part of the Church, part of the community.”

The Mass was followed by a time of fellowship and salsa dancing. The event was meant to help bridge the English- and Spanish-speaking young adult communities in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Once these relationships are formed, she said, they bring the whole family to events.

David Cardoza-Rodriguez, a young adult from Annunciation parish, was part of the committee that helped Bravo and McGeehan plan the event. He was pleased with how well attended the event was and saw both communities engaging with each other.

One of the needs the Hispanic community faces is “seeing other Spanish-speaking people who are giving their life to God,” he said. This event gave both communities the opportunity to see other young adults doing just that.

Bravo hopes to continue planning “similar events to this one, to bring all of the young adults together,” she said.

COMING UP: Working to make our schools safer

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By Carol Nesbitt

The issue of school safety is always on the minds of parents. Parents want to know that schools have a plan in place for all types of emergencies, from fires to intruders to staff or students feeling unsafe for various reasons.
The Archdiocese of Denver is excited to share that they now have someone directly supporting the safety preparedness and plans of the 37 Catholic schools under its watch and care.

Matt Montgomery is a former police officer and award-winning school resource officer (SRO). He’s also a chemistry and forensic science teacher as well as Director of Security and Safety at Holy Family High School. And, as of Nov. 13, he is the new Interim Director of Schools Security and Safety for the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. The position is new and the first of its kind for the Archdiocese of Denver, but important.

“As a Catholic school community we believe the safety and wellbeing of our students comes first. Time and again we hear our parents rate school safety as one of the top reasons why they entrust the care and formation of their children to our schools. As such, we believe we have a duty and moral obligation in our schools to ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure our children are safe from any type of harm,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “Historically, each of our schools has had to take on the crucial task of defining and implementing their own safety and security plans and systems. While our schools have certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of their school community, we believe it is critical in our current reality that we provide our schools with the expertise and qualifications of someone like Matt to support them in really analyzing their plans and assisting them in ensuring best practices are being implemented. It’s the least we can do for our school communities.”

“My role is really to lead a task force with the intention of identifying needs around school safety,” said Montgomery. He says there are a number of great models for school safety around the area, so it’s more about bringing it all together. “All public schools have someone overseeing safety and security, usually with staff members doing threat assessments, suicide assessments and emergency drills, building security, fire drills, and those kinds of things, but there really isn’t a position like this in other dioceses that we are aware of.”

Montgomery says that his job will be taking the variety of practices at schools and helping to bring consistency in efforts across the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic School community. He also says that the term ‘school safety’ is more broad than people realize. “When people think about school safety, they always gravitate to school shootings, but I think we really have to step away from that and realize that school safety and security is an umbrella. It encompasses everything from events prior to an incident all the way through recovery (post-incident).”

The five areas Montgomery is focusing on include:

Prevention
What do we do to create a loving and responsive Catholic community where students and staff feel safe and are empowered and given resources to report any behaviors or activity that is unsafe and counter to our values?

Protection
What systems and proceses do we have to vigilantly monitor for behavior or activity that is harmful to our Catholic community?

Mitigation
What procedures and policies are in place to mitigate issues?

Response
If an incident occurs, how do we respond to that incident? How do we support that school from an archdiocesan perspective? What tools are we able to provide to that school? What relationships do we have with law enforcement and first responders in that community?

Recovery
Recovery begins the second an incident occurs. How do we reunite students with families, provide counseling support and address staff issues in the case of a crisis?

Montgomery says his work will also help establish a plan for the archdiocese in the case of a larger emergency.

“What is our incident command structure going to look like so that we can respond to an incident, while also keeping in mind the unique structure of the various schools beneath the Office of Catholic Schools?”

He’d like to see the Standard Response Protocol — created by the I Love You Guys Foundation — used throughout the school system.

“One of the issues I noticed is that there are a lot of different agencies who respond to various incidents and they don’t know what the other ones are doing,” Montgomery said. “The crisis plan needs to be uniform, created for a specific age group. We need to standardize our crisis plans throughout the AoD and work with the schools to create private plans for each school that is specific to that school, simple plans that outline for administration on how they implement the plan at the moment of crisis.”

One of the biggest things Montgomery will be doing is identifying policies and procedures and training. “This is uniformly saying ‘This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it, and these are the amount of times we will practice it each year.’” This also includes training of staff on mandatory reporting, the importance of documenting things, and threat assessments that ask the right questions to get a non-biased, vetted approach to assessing threats. “There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the chance of someone being hurt at a school. That’s by good training, good policies and procedures, and hardening our targets, meaning the physical security of our school buildings,” said Montgomery.

As a teacher, Montgomery says he has a unique perspective. “I’m not just some cop or just an SRO. My heart is in the classroom. I’m a Catholic educator who used to be a cop. My goal is to make sure kids can focus on being a kid and learning, not having to worry about being hurt at school or being bullied or having thoughts of suicide. I want them to feel that school is a safe place. That’s why I do it. I really love doing school safety.”