Amanda Vega-Mavec, Ed.D. is the Principal of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Kansas City, Kansas.
This month, Catholic school students across the country are donning their uniforms and starting a new school year. But at one school the doors are closed: St. Leo Catholic School in San Antonio, TX. I imagine that name doesn’t mean much to you, but it means a great deal to me. It is, was, my Catholic school. St. Leo closed this summer after serving children on the Southside of San Antonio for 100 years. It was just like my current school, Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School on the Boulevard. When people back home ask me about where I work I tell them, “at St. Leo, just the Kansas City version.” I attended St. Leo from K-8th, as did my sister and five cousins.
Given the opportunity, I could talk about St. Leo for hours - the life-long friends I made, the races I ran (and won) across the parking lot, the Frito-pie and Mexican candies we devoured at CYO games, and how we didn’t have air conditioners, not even window units, but we toughed it out in that South Texas heat. I would also tell you about the young teachers from across the country who came to us as part of the Volunteers for Educational and Social Services program (VESS) and how I challenged them with my sometimes less than Christ-like behavior, but also about the librarian who let me shelve books as a reward when I was appropriate. I know now that the adults at St. Leo lived out their faith with me every day. I learned about service, love, grace, and forgiveness from them. I realize now I carry those lessons with me every day not only as an educator, but also as a mother, wife, sister, and friend.
If there was still time to talk, I would tell you about my parents and how hard they worked and how much they sacrificed to send my sister and me to St. Leo. My parents didn’t receive help of any kind. They made it work. We, as a family, made it work. But, over the years the families at St. Leo found it harder and harder to make it work. There isn’t any one single reason the school closed, but it continued to lose families who wanted to be there, but simply could not afford it and were drawn away by tuition-free options.
When the closing of the school was announced I was surprised by how hard I took it, but realized it was my place at Holy Name that made it so much more personal and difficult. I wanted nothing more than be in those halls, the cafeteria, that library again surrounded by the teachers and friends who made me who I am today. During the last days St. Leo was open, my parents were able to bring home a few items that will go in my office at Holy Name, a constant reminder of what my Catholic education was for me and what I am trying to do at Holy Name. As I saw the news reports and social media posts about the closing, I was overcome by memories and sadness. Then I would think about Holy Name and the scholarships it receives through the Catholic Education Foundation, and be filled with gratefulness and relief knowing that this month Holy Name students will be able to walk through open doors into classrooms and hallways filled with teachers and staff ready to teach, guide, and love - hopefully for years to come.
P.S. Years ago, I joined Facebook in the hopes of connecting with Mr. Bartels, my 4th and 5th grade VESS teacher. I wanted him to know that after all those detentions and that one in-school suspension, I turned out ok. I never found him, but I hope he somehow knows.