Soccer coach Ernie Garcia is using the sport as a vehicle for fostering Catholic virtues in his players.

Garcia started a soccer program La Purísima Catholic School in Orange, where about 15 students participate in the free program one day per week.

“We go through the fundamentals of soccer … passing, shooting, dribbling,” said Garcia, who is the director of finance for parishes and schools for the Diocese of Orange, along with his volunteer position as soccer coach.

“Halfway through the session, we stop and then we share our faith.”

Character traits such as kindness, courage, teamwork and humility are discussed during the sessions, the coach said. Garcia cited an example of the willingness of the experienced players on the team to encourage the kids who are playing organized soccer for the first time.

“Seeing their response, it’s been amazing,” Garcia, who plans to expand the program to other diocesan schools and have school teams compete against each other. La Purísima administrators and teachers want the community to be aware of other programs available to middle school students in which the school’s mission is to shape hearts and minds and bring them closer to Christ.

Students in Bryan Aldape’s music class sing every Friday for school Masses and one Sunday per month for 10 a.m. Mass at La Purísima Catholic Church.

“We don’t just try to learn the song and not know what we’re singing about,” Aldape said. “We try to know what we’re singing about, why we’re singing it and who we’re singing it to. I try to teach them that the choir’s purpose is not just to do a performance in church. It’s just to lead people in worship so we can all worship together.”

Valeria Perry, who teaches science, math and STEM to students in grades 6 through 8, said seeing her students grow within the Catholic faith is among the most rewarding aspects of her job.

As their faith becomes stronger, students look forward to saying prayers attending church on Sundays, according to Perry.

“It’s just amazing,” she said. “And honestly, it’s just a gift that keeps on giving to me as a teacher. All of these kids are just so kind and caring.”

La Purísima principal Rosa Ramirez said administrators are in the process of unifying the middle school, rather than keeping sixth, seventh and eighth graders separated.

“There’s a lot of combined activities that they do,” said Ramirez, whose roots have been implanted in the local community for close to 70 years.

Ramirez attended the school as a child and sent her two children there as well.

“They’re learning from each other,” Ramirez said. “They’re really building that camaraderie amongst each other.”

Eighth graders aren’t looking down on sixth graders, the principal said, but instead are serving as guides and mentors.

“Even though the maturity of a sixth grader is so different from an eighth grader, the eighth grader has all of these gifts that they can then share with the sixth grader,” Ramirez said.

For the past few years, about 80% of La Purísima graduates have gone on to attend Catholic high schools, the principal added.