As a young girl, Gardenia Montero took for granted that her Catholic school friends knew how to pray.
After all, her parents Irma and Isidro integrated their faith into everything the family did, from saying the Rosary together every week to helping with the parish fiesta, attending Sunday Mass, and everything in between. Didn’t other parochial school kids enjoy that same commitment to Catholicism at home?
It wasn’t until Montero began volunteering as an altar server when she was 9 years-old that she began to notice that her classmates didn’t understand the Mass, pray daily or know much about the sacraments.
It was a realization that has guided her life, both personally and professionally; she wants to ensure that the Catholic faith is instilled strongly in the youth she now teaches at Fullerton’s St. Mary’s Church as a volunteer catechist.
“I was very blessed to have parents who were very nurturing about the faith and were good about exposing us to our religion,” Montero says of her and her twin brother, Max. “We got to know our faith and really grow in it because faith was a priority in our family. I want to be part of that process for youth, to talk to them and teach them about their faith and formation, and make sure they receive the guidance and have the role model they need,” she continued. “Church isn’t just for older adults. Being involved and present helps me inspire the new generation to ensure new blood for the Church.”
Today, Montero, 29, is an attorney specializing in employment law at Schell Nuelle, a firm that specializes in business law. She assists companies in becoming labor compliant and relishes her work assisting employees in the workplace.
Monteria recently received the Rising Star Award from the Woman’s Club of Fullerton. The award notes that “Gardenia aspires to impact other young Latinas from Fullerton to pursue higher education and become involved in their local community.”
Mary Shaw, St. Mary’s youth coordinator, has known Montero for eight years since the young woman began volunteering to teach confirmation classes to young parishioners. “Gardenia is a regular go-getter,” Shaw noted. “She is a self-starter who has a stop-whining-you-can- do-it attitude.”
As a Fullerton High School graduate and an alumnus of both UCLA, where she double majored in anthropology and international development studies, and Western State College of Law in Irvine, Montero remains committed to community service. She is motivated specially to provide guidance to other first-generation college students.
“Being nominated for the award caught me off guard,” she admitted, adding that it has particular meaning because the Woman’s Club was founded by her former kindergarten teachers, Sharon Quirk Silva and Pam Keller.
“I don’t think about the recognition,” she noted. “I do what I do, and I’m involved in what I’m involved in because I’m truly interested in helping the community. As a bilingual woman I’m part of both the English- and Spanish-speaking communities, and I know that I can help others succeed as well.”
The honor shocked Montero into recognizing that she is a leader.
“It made me reflect that leaders come in different shapes and sizes,” she explained, adding that her parents were the first leaders who influenced her. “My Dad can entertain a big crowd and my Mom is a soft-spoken organizer. I now realize that anyone can be a leader – and the award was a personal affirmation that I’m doing the right thing in the world.”
Her future plans include continuing to help low-income individuals and families with their legal needs. She aims to one day create a program to mentor Latinas.
“I was part of a group like that and in Fullerton it’s crucial to see successful Latinas that can support others in higher education and beyond,” she said. “It makes them realize they can do it, too.”
Being Catholic is important to Montero, who declares that she would be lost without her faith.
“My faith has provided guidance and structure throughout my life and career,” she said. “Whenever traveling the world for school, work or pleasure, I always know that wherever I travel, I’m part of the Catholic community.”
“Anywhere in the world, if I stepped into a Catholic church, I was part of one body,” she added. “I have that same feeling of belonging, being one body with Christ. It’s a beautiful feeling knowing that we believe in one God and are united in His love.” Love, in fact, is Montero’s guiding light.
“Do everything with love,” from the first book of Paul to the Corinthians, is her favorite Bible passage, she said. “That’s a big motivator for me. I try to do everything with love – community work, any project – I do it with love.
“It all comes down to love.”