I was privileged to speak at the Spiritus Donorum dinner at Juan Diego Catholic High Schoo on Dec. 1st of last year, and
I’d like to share in this column the comments I made there. The motto of Juan Diego
Catholic High School is Spiritus Donorum, which translates to “The Spirit of
Giving.” As a graduate of Juan Diego, this motto often comes back to me,
especially during the holiday season.
As I was reflecting
on these words and my life, I came up with a symbol of what Spiritus Donorum
means to me. It is a sock full of coins!
I’ll get to that at the
end of my story, but back to my reflections.
I realized that giving
has been a beautiful cycle in my life, in which I have been both the recipient
and the giver.
I have been blessed to
receive lots of love, support, and opportunities in my life, but three special
gifts have led me to continually live out the Spirit of Giving.
The first gift I received
was the opportunity to be a student at Juan Diego. Without the generosity of
the scholarship fund that Mr. Skaggs provided, I would not have been able to
attend school there because my family could not have afforded it.
Before going to Juan
Diego, I attended a public school and was accustomed to being one of the few
Catholics in the whole student body.
It was as a student at
Juan Diego that I began to learn more intimately the beauty of my faith and
truly feel what it was like to be part of a community driven by a common
Every day of high school,
I was surrounded by teachers who truly cared about me, friends who understood
me, and coaches who challenged me to realize my potential.
The Juan Diego community
made me fall in love with Catholic education and motivated me to study
education so that I could be a teacher and give my students encouragement and
support, just like my teachers had given me.
This decision led me to
attending a tiny Catholic university in Memphis, Tenn. called Christian
Brothers University. There, I received my second gift, which was forming a
relationship with the De La Salle Christian Brothers. The Brothers commit their
lives to providing a Christian education to all, especially the poor.
from their example that I discovered that teaching is not just a profession, it
is a way of life.
I learned from them that
a great education does not start with the right books or the fanciest lesson
plans; it starts with first knowing your students and forming a real connection
with them. I was so inspired by the many life lessons I received from the
Brothers that after graduation I decided to give two years of my life as a
volunteer teacher at one of their all boys middle schools in Rhode Island.
And that decision led me
to my third gift, which was the time that I had with my students at The San
Miguel School in Providence, R.I. I taught 6th grade math and 7th and 8th grade
science to boys who were high-risk and from the most dangerous and
poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the state.
Every day was definitely
a challenge, but every day was worth it because I was able to witness students
who were referred to our school for behavior, financial, and academic reasons
grow into young men who were excited about school, respectful of themselves and
each other, and determined to be successful in life.
And this is where this
sock comes into the story.
Each year during Lent our
school would raise money for a fellow Christian Brothers school in Eritrea,
which is in eastern Africa. The boys would host bake sales and certain days
were designated as dress down days for a $2 donation. For 40 days the students
would do all they could to raise $900, which would pay the tuition of three
students for one school year.
My second year in
Providence, we were still short of reaching our goal with a few days to go. A
fifth grader excitedly walked in one morning and came to me with something he
was hiding up his coat arm. I greeted him and asked what he was hiding. He
proudly pulled out a sock that was jingling with coins, and told me he had been
saving up his money for the past few weeks so that he could help other kids go
to a school like the one he goes to.
He told me, “Ms. Almanza,
I just want those students to get a chance like I am getting here.”
I will never forget how
this fifth-grader worked so hard at saving his money, and although it wasn’t a
lot, he was proud and enthusiastic to give what he was able to.
That really is Spiritus Donorum
for me – being appreciative of the many gifts I have received and eagerly
giving back what I am able to.
Samantha Almanza (2009) is a graduate of Christian Brothers University. She currently serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
This article originally appeared in Intermountain Catholic
The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.