Coming from a family of many teachers, it would seem fairly routine for me to be in a teaching program. However, until my experience as a Gateway Vincentian Volunteer (’09-’10), education was never something I had considered. I initially joined GVV looking to do social work, work with children (not in an education capacity), and use my Spanish. The only placement available where I would be able to do these things was working part-time at Hosea House as a case worker and part time as a 2nd grade aide at St. Frances Cabrini Academy. I agreed because social work is what I wanted to do, education just gave me the means to do it. In the end I had to meet God where He needed me to be.
Before moving to St. Louis, I was looking forward to getting involved in the Non-profit world and learning more about social work. As the year went on, however, my days at school proved to be the most life-giving for me. While it was a challenging experience, my time at school was fulfilling in a way that I had not anticipated. Through working with my students, my patience increased more than I ever thought possible. While it took a few more years for me to grow in my confidence as an educator, the students and staff at St. Frances Cabrini planted the seed. Entering GVV, teaching was a career choice so far from the forefront of my mind, but by the end of the year it was a calling I could not ignore.
Returning home, I still had doubts that I would be a good teacher despite what many had told me. I did not want to be a teacher just because others thought I should, or even worse just because I could. I dreaded being a bad teacher. Their confidence in me stuck with me though and pushed me to explore it more. I spent two-and-a-half years working at a wonderful public school back home in Denver. Once again, it was an extremely challenging experience. I began as a 4th grade paraprofessional, began working more and more with literacy Interventions, and eventually worked with the Gifted and Talented students. I really wanted to make sure that teaching was something I was ready for, and I did not enter into it lightly. As more and more people at work told me I was good at what I was doing and encouraged me to teach, I finally began to believe what the teachers in St. Louis had already told me years before: I could be a good teacher.
When I first started looking at teaching programs, there were many to choose from in Denver, but I remember one of my GVV roommates, Christine, telling me about a Catholic teaching program, The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) she had considered. I started thinking about how much I missed going to Mass with my students, talking freely with them about God, preparing them for the Sacraments, and simply living and working in a Catholic community. I felt God was missing in a lot of ways from my work experience since GVV had ended, and I needed to bring Him back into it. I felt the call to serve God through my work, not just to work and then serve God in my spare time. ACE has helped me to fulfill this. I am again living in a Catholic community, working to prepare my 2nd graders for Reconciliation.
I am confident that the calling I heard at the end of my time as a GVV, I am now living out today as my vocation. At the outset of my GVV year what I felt was an unexpected placement for me, I now realize was exactly where God needed me to be. ACE is a two year service program committed to revitalizing Catholic schools. Through the program, we receive a M.Ed. from The University of Notre Dame. We take classes on campus over two summers, then serve as teachers in Catholic schools around the country while taking courses online during the school year, all while living in intentional Christian communities. I am at the start of my final semester in the program, and I know that without my experience as a Vincentian Volunteer, I would not have allowed God to guide me here. Vincentian spirituality taught me the importance of living my faith through my work, which led me to become an ACE teacher. My year as a GVV has shaped who I am and helped me discover who God is calling me to be in so many ways, and it will continue do so as I live out my faith as a teacher.
by Maria Martinez Hernandez (GVV 09-10)
Source: Vincentian Mission Corps
The Vincentian Mission Corps is a yearlong volunteer program for young adults, ages 21-30. (The Gateway Vincentian Volunteers Program and the Vincentian Service Corps merged to create one new Vincentian volunteer program.) Volunteers live in community and serve the poor in the spirit of St. Vincent DePaul and St. Louise de Marillac.