Juan Diego sees a miracle. (Cultura Catolica)
The students at St. Rose of Lima School in Southwest Denver come from some of the city's poorest families. Eighty percent of the kids at the kindergarten through eighth grade school come from families living at or below the poverty level. Many are raised by single parents. Ninety-five percent of the students are Hispanic. Children matching that profile aren't given much of a chance. The high school graduation rate for Hispanics in Denver Public Schools is forty-one percent, but among those who graduate from St. Rose of Lima School ninety-eight percent go on to graduate from high school and many go on to college.
The success of St. Rose of Lima School got the attention of the University of Notre Dame task force on the participation of Latino children and families in Catholic Schools that issued a report on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, entitled "To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity." The Notre Dame report considers St. Rose school to be a miracle.
...the school community of St. Rose suggests that the school is a miracle, and in some ways, it is. Parish resources are scarce; the parish itself is, at 300 families, very small, and even with financial assistance from the archdiocesan foundation, Seeds of Hope, most school families must make tremendous financial sacrifices to educate their children at St. Rose.
The Notre Dame report speaks of the "uniquely American Catholic tradition of providing high quality educational opportunity to all, with special emphasis on those who are marginalized by their racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds." St. Rose of Lima School is used as an example of how this tradition can work to deliver education to America's growing Latino population. But there are obstacles. 1,400 Catholic schools have closed across the country in recent years and there are nearly 700,000 empty seats in remaining schools.
Schools that educated Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have closed or are in danger of closing. In spite of this, Notre Dame proposes tripling the number of Latino students in Catholic schools over the next ten years to one-million students and opening 600 new schools across the country.
After generations of failure for so many Latinos in traditional schools and a decade that has witnessed widespread closures of Catholic schools amid severe economic turbulence, the goal of increasing Latino enrollment threefold and opening 600 schools in the coming decade may, at first glance, seem more quixotic than audacious.
If it can create more miracles like St. Rose of Lima School, it would be worth trying.
Meanwhile at St. Rose, the students will be putting on a play at a December 12 Mass depicting the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego in Mexico 478 years ago.
Those kids know a lot about miracles.