Saturday, May 15, 2021
Priscilla A. Greear - Florida Catholic
HOLLYWOOD | At the 60th anniversary Mass for Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory, alumna Samantha Stokesberry described the scariest words in the Bible: “Do whatever he tells you.” Those words of Mary at Cana inspired the 2009 graduate to minister to prostitutes and battle human trafficking from Uganda to South Africa.
Baking in the Sunday morning sunshine on the school’s football field April 25, Stokesberry received the annual Founder’s Award from Judith Mucheck, Chaminade-Madonna’s head of school since 2015.
Stokesberry’s work started with the nonprofit STOP in South Africa as an educator on human trafficking and sexual abuse awareness.
Jesus “may ask you to love your neighbor — the one that you really don’t like. He may ask you to become a missionary, to move to Africa, which let me tell you that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. And like one of the (Marianist) founders Marie Therese, he may ask you to work even with prostitutes,” Stokesberry told students, alumni and their families seated in the bleachers. “Do it because it’s going to radically change your life and it’s going to radically change the lives of others. When we listen to Jesus’ heart, as scary as it is, amazing things happen.”
Mucheck affirmed her work, telling Stokesberry that Marianist founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade “would call you a founder because you have made it your business to help those who are in the most difficult of circumstances and to help them see a different reality for their life.”
At the Mass, Marianist Brother Jack Ventura recounted the establishment in 1962 of Chaminade High School for boys by the Marianists and Madonna Academy for girls by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Following a nationwide trend, in August 1988 the two schools merged, with former residences for Marianist brothers repurposed.
Brother Ventura, director of mission integration at the high school, gave thanks to those founders and former faculty and staff for laying the foundation for educating young people “to spread the Gospel of Jesus, seeing Mary as their model of discipleship.”
He noted that since its foundation, Chaminade-Madonna has graduated over 12,000 students, “young women and men using their God given talents to work towards a better world.”
“We ask God to give us the courage, insight and grace to continue our mission for another 60 years,” Brother Ventura said.
In his homily, Marianist Father Robert Bouffier, the school’s chaplain, also affirmed that “in the 60 years that the Marianists have been here we have tried constantly — and failed often — to make that love that Jesus speaks of, that he wishes us to share, the foundation of everything we do.”
In an interview, Mucheck said that the school emphasizes hospitality to everyone, from students to FedEx drivers. And with 500 students in grades 9-12, it is “intentionally diverse”: 40 percent Caucasian, 20 percent African American and 40 percent Hispanic.
“The issue of hospitality is huge for us,” said Mucheck. “So is educating in faith. And living a robust communal life is important, providing a place where social justice, peace issues and integrity of creation are always in front of our mind.”
Chaminade-Madonna weathered hardships during the 2008-09 recession, laying off staff and increasing fundraising for student tuition. But it prevailed and has managed COVID with a hybrid model and less than 1% infection rate. “If you got through the ‘80s you might be a little smaller but for the most part you could survive. So we’re doing fine, doing absolutely fine. Our kids are happy, and we have 100 percent graduation rate; 98 percent are going to colleges,” Mucheck said.
She has led the school’s evolution as the first female head of a Marianist school (there are 17 of them from Hawaii to Puerto Rico).
“It was another change that allowed our institution to flourish in these rapidly changing times,” Brother Ventura said. “She is trying to look at the next way of doing Catholic education in the archdiocese and for the Church of the United Statesâ€¦ It’s her vision that’s keeping us going forward.”
English teacher Patrick Heffernan, a veteran of 24 years at the high school, cited Chaminade-Madonna’s small size and the communal nature of the Marianist charism. “Marianist Catholic values insist that I cannot simply assign classic works of literature and traditional forms of composition; rather, I must teach social justice issues and empower my students with the tools to effect change in the future,” he said.
Heffernan has witnessed the cafeteria’s transformation into Zaragoza Center, named after the Spanish city where Blessed Chaminade envisioned the creation of the Marianists during his exile from France. The school grounds have been beautified with a Marian shrine and meditation garden, and the library overhauled. “Former athletes would be jealous of the lights that now adorn the football field,” he added. “But mostly, I suspect that if they were to enter the front office and see Mrs. (Laura) Friscia’s smiling face or visit one of our retreats such as Encounter, they would feel the same spirit that pervades the school across many generations.”
“It’s always been such a powerful spiritual place. You walk on campus and you can just feel it, it’s incredible,” said 10-year board member Nancy Sullivan. “They are very determined to give back to the community and teaching them we are life-long learners.”
Her son found strategies to manage his ADHD in the learning center. “They were so instrumental in his success in college,” she said. “They do a fantastic job.”
Joining Madonna in 1987, Carol LaMont has taught social studies, theology and campus ministry. “Chaminade believes that the Marianist ‘way’ still has a power today even after 200 years of the founding of the Marianist Family in the aftermath of the French Revolution,” she said. “We still believe that faith, Mary as a model, community, inclusivity and a spirit of mission can change the lives of young people and yes, change the world.”
Theology head Rosemary Sierra-Cohen, finishing her 18th year at the school, said the retreats make faith “very real” and enhance religion class. “It builds them up hearing other kids who have survived so much.”
She recalled Stokesberry’s leadership in campus ministry and how, after graduation, she helped with retreats between Africa trips. “I think I may be teaching another Samantha Stokesberry. But even if it’s not, I’m teaching the future and we are grounding them in Marianist and Catholicism. We are giving them a foundation in God and that’s I think how we’ll survive in the future, in centering ourselves in God and doing what he asks us to do.”
Corrected May 18, 2021 to make the percentages of "intentionally diverse" students add up to 100. The correct percentage of Hispanic students is 40, not 20 as noted in the original article.