Catholic school students lobby to state officials during Advocacy Day

April 30, 2013

AUSTIN — Dozens of students and other members of Catholic school communities lobbied as official liaisons from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston during Catholic Advocacy Day, April 9. The event was sponsored by the Texas Catholic Conference. (Read more about Advocacy Day on page 5).

The day was highlighted at a rally with Texas bishops, including Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, who addressed the Texas delegates from the steps of the State Capitol.

Father Clint Ressler, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church and School in Houston and head of the Archdiocesan School Council, said Advocacy Day is the "most concrete way" he has participated in the political process outside of voting.

"We were able to meet and interact with Catholics from across the state. In doing so, we got a glimpse of the wider Church, beyond the borders of our parish and our Archdiocese," Father Ressler said. "It was inspiring to see our leaders, our shepherds addressing boldly the social teachings of the Church on the steps of the Capitol Building."

There is no substitute for this brand of hands-on education for Catholic school students, according to Father Ressler.

"This experience showed the students that we have a responsibility to engage in the political process for the betterment of our society," he said. "Christianity is incomplete if it doesn't address the needs of the least, the last and the lost."

Claudia Somerville, assistant director of the Office for Campus Ministry and Justice Education at St. Pius X High School, said Advocacy Day allowed local students the opportunity to talk to state representatives and staff members about issues important to all Catholics in Texas. St. Pius X High School was represented by 16 students.

"It was wonderful to see (the students) come up, in their own words, with examples and reasons for legislators to support the Catholic agenda," Somerville said, who is also the Service Learning Coordinator at St. Pius X. "They opened up to speak in public and to be a witness to their faith ... this is the way people can influence the vote of their representatives. Hopefully, they will continue to have their voice heard by advocating in writing or in person to their own representatives at the state and national level."

Serving as a team leader for the St. Pius X group was Deacon Eddie Stoughton, who came away from Advocacy Day impressed by the young people's presentation of legislative priorities and their continuing desire to understand many of the issues affecting citizens of Texas.

"They learned a lot about how the system works, but they also learned that we have to participate to make a difference and make it work," said Deacon Stoughton, an associate director with Correctional Ministries for the Archdiocese. "When I asked, some of the students even expressed their aspirations and interest in politics as a career."

Deacon Arturo Monterrubio, the director of Family Life Ministry for the Archdiocese, accompanied nine students, the campus minister and other adults from Incarnate Word Academy during Advocacy Day.

"As Catholics we need to look for justice and work every day to make it a reality in our daily lives, and part of that can be done in the public square," he said.

Deacon Monterrubio said the students were reluctant at first to discuss issues with state representatives but grew more confident and comfortable heading into their final office visit.

"By that time, they were already speaking and expressing their desires to the capitol employees freely and fluently," he said. "That experience gave me hope in our youth. I could see how Catholic education can make a difference in our society. Catholic education is full of Catholic teachings and formation in their lives. To see it at work in a non-faith environment was a blessing for me."

Among the other school communities represented at Advocacy Day were St. Pius V School, Pasadena; Queen of Peace School, Houston; True Cross School, Dickinson; Sacred Heart School, Conroe; St. Helen School, Pearland; St. Jerome School, Houston; Holy Ghost School, Houston; St. Martha School, Porter; St. Anne School, Tomball; and St. Laurence School, Sugar Land.

Representatives from Holy Family School, incuding the pastor, Father E.J. Stein, O.M.I., made the trek from Galveston to take part in Advocacy Day. 

Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Richwood brought 23 students and 24 parents and staff members to Austin. The school's student choir performed in the Open Air Rotunda, which proved to be an Advocacy Day highlight for many present.

"We saw people step out into the rotunda from the first, second and ground floor above," said Barbara White, principal of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Richwood. "It was like watching angels sing to the heavens!"

In addition, artwork from Our Lady Queen of Peace first and seventh grade students was displayed in the hallway behind the Rotunda during the day. State Representative Dennis Bonnen escorted school community members on a tour of his office and the Capitol building. Representative Bonnen also introduced the choir to the gallery.

"I believe this day was invaluable to our students," White said. "I wanted my students and parents to know and remember that our Catholic identity is a part of us all throughout our decision making and that we can make a difference. I also wanted them to see the workings of the place where vital decisions are made that influence life and death."

Miguel Perez, an associate superintendent of Catholic schools with the Archdiocese, participated in Advocacy Day and believes the experience indeed proved memorable for the faithful teens representing Galveston-Houston.

"As I spoke with students from several schools, they overwhelmingly stated how proud they were to be part of this historical day for our network of schools and to represent the millions of Catholics statewide," he said.

Perez noted that one of the students expressed to him his eagerness to discuss the experience with friends and teachers back at his school.

"These authentic learning experiences bridge the gap between the curriculum and the relevance of our teachings (and make it) a practical application to the real world that we live in," Perez said. "Additionally, these experiences can propel our students to continue to become productive citizens in society as they put their faith in action. As an educator, this is what our ministry is all about — providing our students with a strong scholastic foundation to allow them to be successful in their personal and professional life."