Through the spirit of Juan Diego, Mater Dei reaches out to Hispanics

Staff Writer

Alejandro Avalos and his wife, Gabriela De La Cruz, both immigrated from Mexico as young adults. They met in the United States. After they were married, they settled in Albers, where they live with their two children, Ana, a freshman at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese, and Alejandra, a 5th grade student at Albers Elementary School.

“When Ana was younger, it was a dream to send her to Mater Dei,” Avalos says. “With the help of scholarships, Ana has the opportunity to attend Mater Dei and learn the Catholic values my wife and I want her to grow up with.

“We appreciate the help we have received and are really, really grateful to everyone who donates,” Avalos adds. “I believe more Hispanic families will take advantage of this opportunity when they learn of the Juan Diego Helping Hands Scholarship and the other scholarships available through the school.”

The Juan Diego Helping Hands Scholarship is a new scholarship offered at Mater Dei. This scholarship was established to offer the opportunity to Latino and Hispanic families to have their children attend a Catholic secondary high school.

As Juan Diego was charged by the Blessed Mother to go out and promote the Good News of Jesus Christ to his fellow countrymen, the Mater Dei school community is challenged to offer that opportunity, through the Spirit of Juan Diego, to all their brothers and sisters in Christ.

“As our communities become more diverse and we reach out to all of God’s children,” says Dennis Litteken, principal at Mater Dei, “the Juan Diego Helping Hands Scholarship has been established to help our neighbors who desire a Catholic secondary education for their children.

“The acceptance of all of God’s children is part of our mission at Mater Dei Catholic High School: ‘respecting individual differences, to foster faith and develop Gospel Values.’”

Maria Zurliene, director of enrollment at Mater Dei, says that the school is continually blessed with support from alumni and friends of Mater Dei, whose “generosity is exceptional.”

Zurliene adds, “As a result, we are able to offer numerous scholarships, as well as tuition assistance, to ensure all students, regardless of family finances, are able to attend Mater Dei.”

The Avalos family are members of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Albers, but they often attend the Spanish Mass offered at St. Damian Catholic Church in Damiansville.

The school has connected with Sister Ellen Orf, CPPS, who works with Hispanic families in Catholic parishes in Clinton County.

Mater Dei is also working with the Office of Hispanic Ministries of the Diocese of Belleville. The staff coordinates and collaborates with parishes and diocesan agencies in their efforts to provide sacramental ministry, and to wholeheartedly welcome and involve Hispanics in the life of the local church.

The school had their informational brochure translated into Spanish and distributed at St. Damian as one way to connect with the Hispanic community. Currently, three freshmen girls and one sophomore boy have enrolled through this outreach.

Sister Ellen and the school’s Spanish teachers, Joe McNamara and Amparo Wolden, have served as translators during discussions with families.

“Maybe one day in the future, Ana can help families by serving as a translator when they want their children to attend Mater Dei,” Ana’s father says.

Ana is in the class of 2024. Asked why it was important for her to attend Mater Dei, she says, “My education is important to me because it will open doors and provide more opportunities for me in the future.
“Mater Dei also gives me a chance to develop my faith, which is important to me and my family.

“Everyone at Mater Dei is friendly—the students and the faculty. There is always someone here for me to talk to and to offer help if needed,” she adds.

Office of Hispanic Ministry
The Diocese of Belleville invites Hispanic sisters and brothers to full participation in the Church. The Office of Hispanic Ministry assists in fostering the diocesan commitment to be a welcoming church for Hispanics and in coordinating the ministry efforts to attain this vision. The office helps in networking for Latino people in need; sponsors special events for Hispanic youth; and holds leadership gatherings for Hispanic Ministry development.

The staff stay alert, educate and advocate for just immigration reform, a position that is strongly supported by the United States Catholic Bishops.

For more information on the Office of Hispanic Ministry:
Juan Diego Helping Hands Scholarship at Mater Dei Catholic High School

• The student must be of Latino or Hispanic descent
• The student must be living in the Clinton County area
• The student must have graduated from 8th grade
• Recommendation by the student’s grade school principal
• The student must submit an essay on why they want to attend Mater Dei Catholic High School
• The parents of the student desire for their child a Catholic secondary education.

Applications accepted February 20 through May 1. This scholarship is renewable from year to year if the student stays in good standing and is on the road toward graduation. The scholarship is worth half the total cost of tuition.

For more information about Mater Dei Catholic High School: