By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
Jennifer King was reared in a Protestant family in Farmers Branch during the 1980s, but her parents enrolled her at a nearby Catholic grade school, Mary Immaculate Catholic School, to begin the sixth grade in autumn 1990 because of concerns at her public school.
Today, Jennifer Daniels has been a Catholic for more than 20 years and fights for Catholic schools in her position as associate director for public policy with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.
“Catholic education creates people who live social justice in their careers and live it throughout their lives and see how strong and important it is,” Daniels said, citing recent and current high office holders in federal government.
Debby King, Jennifer’s mother, called the experience at Mary Immaculate “such a blessing we did not ever know.”
“At Mary Immaculate School, we seek to foster each student’s gifts of nature and grace so that each may grow and flourish, reaching their God-given potential,” said Sister Mary Anne Zuberbueler, the school’s principal the past two years. “Providing opportunities for students to encounter the person of Christ in the Sacraments, through their studies and in one another, is a valued endeavor for all at Mary Immaculate School each day.”
Enrolling Jennifer in a private school initially proved to be financially challenging for the Kings; father Kyle was a deputy fire chief in Farmers Branch (and a Baptist deacon) and Debby was a stay-at-home mother with Jennifer and younger sister Jordan. At a dinner for the local fire department held by Mary Immaculate’s Knights of Columbus council, Debby learned the school sought a new after-school coordinator. She was hired and able to cover the educational costs.
“I felt like God intended for her to be there and made a way for the tuition,” said Debby, who’s now the school’s drama teacher and has been there 31 years.
In the unfamiliar religious environment, Jennifer initially found comfort as a member of the junior high choir that performed during the Friday morning Masses.
Jennifer moved back to public school following two years at Mary Immaculate, graduated from Carrollton’s R.L. Turner High School and then from Texas A&M in 2000. While at A&M, she and boyfriend Gavin Daniels were “church hopping” and found a home at St. Mary’s Catholic Center in College Station. She particularly enjoyed the smaller, weekday Masses.
“It was like you and Jesus were there together by yourself,” she said.
They both went through St. Mary’s RCIA program and were married in 2000. Her career took her to Washington in 2004 in politics. But following the birth of the first of three daughters, she left government work for a more “family friendly schedule” and went to work for the Archdiocese of Washington in 2010. After five years, she joined the bishops’ organization.
She currently works with the committee on Catholic education and Bishop Michael Barber of the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. The committee’s two-fold mission is to get access to federal education programs for Catholic schools and to grow and enhance school choice. She was pleased to see that the $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package passed by Congress in late December included $2.75 billion for private schools.
“I truly enjoy going to work every day,” Jennifer said. “Working for the church is a pretty strong mission.”
Linda Coffin, Mary Immaculate Catholic School’s current vice principal, was Jennifer’s history teacher.
Coffin looks at Jennifer’s achievements today and cites the “roots and wings theory.”
“Take what you got here and share it,” Coffin said. “We want you to fly and do good things.”