By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Faith, family and community.
Lola Rodriguez credits those three aspects of her life with inspiring her to answer the call to become a Catholic school teacher. Rodriguez, a 2018 graduate of Bishop Dunne Catholic School and May 2022 graduate of the University of Dallas, will teach 3-year-olds as part of the pre-kindergarten program at St. Cecilia Catholic School this year.
“I’m so excited to see how this year goes,” Rodriguez said. “This is the first year these students will ever go to school. It’s such a blessing to have this opportunity to really bring to the classroom what I know and what I’ve learned.”
For Rodriguez, who grew up in the nearby St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic parish and school, the role also provides her a chance to serve in a community she calls home.
“I just love the community here. They are so willing to serve. They are so willing to grow in their faith,” she explained. “It’s a ministry in a way. What teaching brings to the child, it not only gives them an opportunity to learn and grow, but it also allows them to grow in their faith. To me, that’s the most important part.”
A special connection
In working at St. Cecilia, Rodriguez said she appreciated the opportunity to give back to her Hispanic community as well.
“I love my Hispanic community – that’s who I am,” she said. “I love how willing they are to always give, and that’s exactly what I’ve found here at St. Cecilia. The community is very giving.”
Rodriguez hopes her experiences growing up will help her make a special connection with her students.
“Some of their families are much like my family,” she said. “I feel such a strong connection with this community.”
Rodriguez said St. Cecilia, though, is a diverse, welcoming community. She credits that to the school’s principal, Lydia Torrez.
“She’s created a very welcoming environment,” said Rodriguez, who first got to know Torrez when she served as director of advancement for Bishop Dunne when Rodriguez was a student there.
“She’s always been a big supporter of mine, throughout my time at Dunne and beyond.”
Torrez said she expects Rodriguez to thrive at St. Cecilia.
“It’s so special to see one of our ‘own’ students go full circle and step back inside our schools to give to children what she received — nurturing care and compassion, curiosity to learn, and a love of God,” Torrez said. “She’s the next generation of teachers to carry the mantle.”
Torrez added that she thinks Rodriguez brings a fresh perspective and eagerness to learn from others as well as a desire to share her own experiences.
“She is appreciative of all that has been shared and given to her and she wants to continue the cycle of giving back to other students,” she said.
Family and faith
Rodriguez said she has been blessed in her life with tremendous support and is thankful for her grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and classmates, and her boyfriend, Sebastian Herrera, who all championed her dream to become a teacher. With all that, though, Rodriguez admits she draws much of her inspiration from her mother, Virginia Aranda, a single mother of three who for years has served as a teacher’s aide at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic School.
“My mom has always been my No. 1 supporter…she is my rock,” said Rodriguez, adding that growing up in a single-parent household wasn’t easy. “My mom was always there for me, though. I don’t know where I’d be without my mom.”
Aranda believes her daughter has been on an “amazing, amazing journey.”
“She’s an incredible person. She’s an incredible daughter – a shining star that continues to shine brightly through ups and downs,” Aranda said. “She has overcome so much in her life. We have been super blessed.”
Through it all, Aranda said she has advised Rodriguez to cling to her faith.
“I always tell her to turn to God and do not leave your faith. Talk to God, and He will answer you,” Aranda said. “I’ve also told her to have faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe because she is a miracle worker. We both have a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. She has opened so many doors for both of us.”
Both mother and daughter credit Rodriguez’s grandparents, Gloria and George Cruz, for instilling a love of their faith and appreciation for a Catholic school education in them.
“They’ve always been big supporters,” Rodriguez said. “They have always continued to have such strong faith, which has inspired my own Catholic faith.”
That combination of faith and family support helped Rodriguez achieve her dream of graduating from college. An email, though, may have put her on her path to teaching.
“I initially went to UD to study biology, but by the second week of school, I had switched to education,” said Rodriguez, who attended the Catholic university on the Paul Wood Scholarship, which is named for a retired Diocese of Dallas deacon and former Bishop Dunne educator. “I just felt like biology wasn’t for me. I went to pray about it, and I ended up getting an email about joining the school’s education program.”
Rodriguez answered that call, taking her first education class, computer problem-solving.
“I loved it,” she said.
Her professor for that course, Barbara Khirallah, recalls a determined young woman with a strong work ethic and “an incredible amount of empathy.”
“A good teacher needs to know what it is like to struggle so that they can understand why their students may struggle,” said Khirallah, who taught Rodriguez in numerous classes while also serving as her advisor at the University of Dallas. “As a first-generation college student, Lola has known her fair of struggles, but she would never let those stop her. She has a lot of personal initiative.”
Khirallah said that as a student Rodriguez was always asking questions, seeking ways to improve her ability to teach and understand.
“She would never stop asking questions…never stop trying until she understood the subject matter and how she could teach it to others,” Khirallah said. “It’s for that reason, I think she’ll be an absolutely outstanding teacher.”
As the doors open at St. Cecilia for the new school year, Rodriguez knows that the foundation of faith rooted in her family, friends and community will continue to guide her.
“I know that God is going to be here in my classroom. I know that he will be guiding me and my students every single day.”