By MIKE ZINN     1/27/2023

The American Catholic educational system has a rich history of developing leadership. Inspiration can be drawn from such famed leaders as former president John F. Kennedy who attended Catholic grammar school and current Bishop of Sacramento, Jamie Soto, who also attended local parochial schools. Bishop Soto attended St. Polycarp School and Mater Dei High School.

Our own Bishop Kevin Vann attended St. Agnes Catholic School in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

In April of 2022, OC Catholic launched a series highlighting strong leadership in Orange County Catholic grammar schools. With Catholic Schools Week upon us, there is a visible opportunity to showcase these schools to potential students and their families. Masses, assemblies and campus tours offer an opportunity to demonstrate the schools’ mission of providing a strong foundation that instills moral character, faith formation and leadership skills. The leadership series began by contacting school principals for student recommendations.

The principals and teaching staffs were tasked with the difficult job of naming only one student. This was difficult because each school had many positive leaders among their eighth-grade students. When one student was named and the interview process began, many wonderful and uplifting stories came to the forefront.

These stories would not have become known were it not for the teachers, staff members, fellow students, parents and families being such great role models and beacons of leadership in the selected student’s
life. This article made it possible to re-connect with some of the principals and teachers at the schools that were initially featured. When asked about the effect of having one of their schools eighth graders highlighted in the leadership series, St. Angela Merici School teacher, Jennifer Valencia commented on the how the article featuring Bridget Santana positively impacted many students at this school.

“We posted the article in our classroom and Bridget’s confidence soared!” exclaimed Valencia. “She continues to be a strong leader in our classroom, on the basketball court and in our church.”

Valencia said the article was also inspirational to other eighth grade students at St. Angela Merici.

“Learning something new about someone not only helps strengthen our classroom community, but opens the door to building classroom relationships,” she said.

Individual schools are the driving force for leadership development among their students, but others are involved as well.

The Diocese of Orange Department of Catholic Schools sets the overall tone for all educational and moral direction for the diocesan schools.

“Leadership is a passion of mine and I think Catholic schools have always been a natural place to form leaders,” said Dr. Erin Barisano, Superintendent of Orange County Catholic Schools. “Our schools offer a variety of opportunities for students to experience leadership from the classroom to the athletic field and beyond through community and parish service projects. Our world needs leaders who have a strong moral compass, good work ethic and are committed to the common good. Catholic schools develop such leaders.”

In honor of Catholic Schools Week, we salute our diocesan principals, staff members and parents. It truly takes a village to educate, mold and form positive, faith-filled and leadership-oriented students.

Visit Orange County Catholic schools over the next seven days to experience the magic of a Catholic school education.

To nominate an Orange County Catholic schools leader to be featured in an upcoming issue of OC Catholic, contact Mike Zinn at [email protected]