By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
A few weeks ago, Father Cruz Calderón stood in front of the eighth-graders at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School, talking to them about a variety of topics, but mostly sharing with them his vocational journey.
Many of them may have heard it before, but they listened intently, hanging on his words and asking him numerous questions. He answered them, taking up the entire period.
Father Calderón, the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, says it is important for him not only to share his vocational journey, but to demonstrate to the students, teachers and staff that his frequent presence shows that the OLPH parish and school is one community and that the success of one depends upon and is celebrated by the other.
“We are not two different entities,” he likes to reiterate. “The school is part of the church and so we work together. When we have the spring festival, it is to raise funds for the school and the church ministries help. In the fall, when we have a festival, it is to raise funds for the church and the school helps, too.
“During Catholic Schools Week, the school children get involved in the Masses by being altar servers, lectors, ushers, and singing in the choir and this helps the church community see the involvement of the school children in the church.”
Father Calderón was assigned to OLPH as pastor a little more than three years ago. Not long after, the school started a campaign to build a much-needed gymnasium and multipurpose facility. In a predominantly and economically challenged area, Father Calderón said the effort was successful because of the community’s hard work and because of its many angels.
“We know that it is very expensive to sustain a Catholic school, but we are blessed that we have many, many benefactors and generous people who have come to support us,” said Father Calderón, who was ordained in 2008. “This is a beautiful community and the people are pretty active.
“They always want to learn, to grow in their faith,” he said. “We have regular monthly meetings with our
ministries and I tell them that if they don’t get tired of working, I won’t get tired of working either and we will do it together.”
The school’s enrollment this year is 162, up slightly from the past several years when numerous factors, including a new charter school in the area, impacted its enrollment.
“That school looks very much like ours,” Principal Dan Quill said. “The kids wear practically the same uniforms, but the difference is that they don’t teach religion.
“Also, we have very high expectations for our children, even if some don’t have the same academic preparedness of others because of a variety of reasons,” he said. “Regardless, our teachers do all that they can to make these children successful.”
Quill, a longtime principal at the school, said that he notices a change in the students’ demeanor not only in church during the school Mass on Wednesdays, but especially when Father Calderón strolls the hallways or enters the classrooms.
“When Father walks in and says, ‘Good Morning’ to everybody, they sit up and pay pretty close attention because Father will have something to say to them, particularly when he comes in for a particular group, like that 8th grade class,” Quill said. “This is a faith formation center. That’s our main focus and the academics follow that immediately. If we don’t have a strong faith formation then it becomes just another school.”
Father Calderón said he easily remembers names of the children and it makes them feel special when he calls on them during Mass or greets them in the classroom. He also said that one student recently asked if the priest could hear his confession immediately after Mass, which Father Calderón said he obliged.
“Obviously, they are getting a very good education here, but it is also important to teach them about the sacraments and the importance of the sacraments in their everyday lives,” he said.
“When I hear their confessions, I not only give them a penance,” he said, “but I also find ways to encourage them to have faith so that they can continue to improve their lives.”