When one imagines the daily tasks of an archbishop in the Catholic Church, turning his head like a penguin, bending it like a giraffe or raising his shoulders like a lion probably does not come to mind.
Yet that is exactly what the Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, found himself doing on Tuesday, Oct. 3, surrounded by eager prekindergarten and kindergarten students at Holy Cross School, South Bend, as he read “De la cabeza a los pies” (“From Head to Toe”) by Eric Carle.
The purpose of Archbishop Gomez’s visit to the school was to celebrate its dual-language immersion track. Students who opt into the program begin with a 90/10 Spanish-to-English ratio and will be fluent in both languages by the time they complete elementary school. For those who prefer a traditional track, the school also continues to offer the usual English-dominant education.
The dual-language immersion track is in its inaugural year, with prekindergarten and kindergarten classes participating. Each year, the program will be implemented in a higher grades as students move up.
The program is the result of a collaboration with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and Institute for Latino Studies.
Archbishop Gomez can relate to learning another language at the elementary level. As a young boy born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1951, his mother insisted he learn English. “And I wasn’t too happy about that. I didn’t want to spend more time going to school,” he remembered.
He did as his mother asked, and now Archbishop Gomez is now proficient in English. He says he learned two things along the way. First and foremost, mothers are always right. Second, knowing multiple languages is an incredible blessing to be used in the world.
Now vice-president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Gomez also shepherds the largest diocese in the country, in which offers Mass in 42 languages. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is also a pioneer in bringing dual-language immersion programs, like that offered by Holy Cross School, to the Catholic School system. The archdiocese currently has six dual-language programs in its schools: five are Spanish-English programs and one is a Spanish-Mandarin program. Archbishop Gomez was proud to share the news that 14 more schools are also preparing to launch dual-language programs.
“I think the opportunity to teach languages is a great invitation because we are helping each other understand our cultures and how to work together,” the archbishop shared. “We are all from different cultures: This is the reality of our country.”
It was “an amazing honor” that Archbishop Gomez would take time to come visit Holy Cross School, said Principal Angela Budzinski.
Archbishop Gomez began his visit with Mass. “It is very important for all folks to understand God is with each one of us all the time… He gave us the gift of life and is with us every second of it,” he said.
“He loves you and will always be there for you,” he continued. “Never forget that.”
Following Mass, the school presented Archbishop Gomez with a T-shirt reading “Yo (amo) las escuelas católicas” [“I (love) Catholic Schools”]. The staff and students also gave him English and Spanish copies of “De la cabeza a los pies,” (“From Head to Toe”) by Eric Carle, to read to the young budding bilinguals.
His visit then took him to both the dual-language and traditional track students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, who they sang for him a trilingual song in English, Spanish and sign language. The students asked questions, particularly about Archbishop Gomez’s pectoral cross, and they smothered him in hugs before he left.
For more information about the Holy Cross School dual-language immersion program visit www.holycrosscrusaders.org.
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