Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

Students transition with the help
of God’s grace

By Kristin Peterson
Staff writer

In many ways, God’s grace can work to transform people. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago, both Angelica Medina and José Gonzalez went through rebellious periods in their young lives. Faced with difficult situations at home and outside temptations, they chose to neglect their school work.

For Angelica and Joe, God’s grace and a lot of support from teachers and staff at San Miguel School helped them to get back on track. Both students are now high school graduates preparing to enter their first year of college.

When he was in 7th grade, José Gonzalez began to attend San Miguel School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Founded by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, the two San Miguel schools provide a Catholic education for inner-city students in grades 5-8.

Before San Miguel, Joe went to public school.

“I wasn’t doing too good in school. I was getting into trouble,” he said. Joe has lived with his aunt since his mother passed away when he was in second grade, and it was his aunt who found out about San Miguel from their parish priest.

The positive atmosphere at San Miguel had an immediate effect on Joe. “Ever since I walked into San Miguel, the teachers were so much nicer,” he said. “There was a lot of encouragement, that was something that I wouldn’t find anywhere else.”

At San Miguel, Joe was encouraged not only to do well in his academics but also to be more involved in his community. “After coming to San Miguel, I started to see that the world does not revolve around me,” he said.

A teacher at San Miguel told him about a soup kitchen, and he started to volunteer there on his own. Joe attended De La Salle Institute, where he was involved in LaSallian Youth, an afterschool program. The participants do community service and help prepare for the daily Mass. Joe became the group’s president.

Joe mentioned two male teachers, one from San Miguel and one from De La Salle, who have been role models. “They grew up just like me, in the same neighborhood,” Joe said. “I see that they made it and that gives me hope.”

In the fall Joe will begin studying education at Lewis University, Romeoville, where he received a fulltuition scholarship.

He hopes that he can pass on the importance of education to his students just as he has learned from his teachers.

Joe recognizes how important God’s grace has been in his accomplishments. “I experienced God’s grace when I was graduating from San Miguel and my aunt was there and she started crying,” he said. “My mom always wanted to see me graduate.”

Angelica Medina describes herself during the teenage years as “rebellious.” She entered San Miguel when she was in 6th grade but she says she did not “brighten up” until her sophomore year at Maria High School.

Even though she may have rebelled, Angelica remembers the encouragement of the teachers. “What really helped me at San Miguel were the teachers—their support and their faith in me,” she said.

Angelica often had trouble motivating herself to do her homework. She lives with her grandmother and says that it was hard for her not having parents to motivate her. Also, her grandmother could not help her with her homework since she does not speak English. At San Miguel, Angelica was able to attend an after-school tutoring program.

Angelica hopes to motivate her little brother to be successful.

“The teachers had used different ways to motivate me and I passed them on to my little brother who just graduated from San Miguel,” she said.

Angelica admits that she did not start to work hard at school until she was a sophomore in high school. She does not remember a specific moment when she decided to change for the better. “I think there was a talk at my school, probably about college, and I realized on my own that I needed to change,” she said.

At Maria High School, Angelica attended retreats, joined the dance team and was a member of the Spanish club.

Next year, Angelica will attend the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. She is considering majoring in English and history and possibly becoming a teacher.

Angelica does not know what would have happened if she would not have had some of the opportunities in her life.

“If I wouldn’t have gone [to San Miguel], I would have gone to public school,” she said. “It’s pretty scary to think of that.”