Guided by the Strake Jesuit tradition

November 22, 2011

HOUSTON — The newly appointed principal of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory never imagined himself leading the school that made such a profound impression on him as a high school student, much less taking the place of the much loved and long time principal Richard Nevle, who passed away in July.

Ken Lojo was appointed interim principal soon after and was named principal in October.

A graduate of the class of 1991, Lojo, who grew up just a few blocks from Strake Jesuit, returned to his alma mater in 2002 to teach government, economics and algebra. In 2003, he became director of admissions, a position he held until stepping into the office of principal. As a member of Nevle’s staff, Lojo developed a deep understanding of the various areas of academic life at Strake Jesuit and the role of principal.

The 11th principal in the school’s 50-year history, Lojo said he plans to build on the school’s success and reputation and incorporate more spiritual development and leadership opportunities through the school’s new Retreat and Spiritual Center, a 62-acre campus in Leon County, less than a two-hour drive north of Houston.

Prior to coming to Strake, Lojo, 39, was a civil litigator with the law firm Dunn Kacal Adams Pappas & Law. He graduated in 1998 from the University of Texas Law School, having earned a degree with a major in political science and minor in philosophy from Texas A&M University.

Lojo is married to Wendi and they have two young children. They live in Sugar Land and are parishioners at St. Laurence Catholic Church.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Lojo answered questions from the Texas Catholic Herald about his journey back to Strake Jesuit, the impact Richard Nevle, his mentor and friend, had on him, and where he wants to take the school.

Texas Catholic Herald: You were a successful attorney in a mid-size law firm presumably doing quite well for yourself, what possessed you to take a job teaching?

Lojo: One day, I got a phone call from Richard Nevle — there’s a long history between my family and his family. (Lojo’s father and Nevle were friends growing up, attending St. Thomas High School and the University of St. Thomas together. The families remained friends, and when Lojo was a student at Strake Jesuit, Lojo said Nevle was a like a father figure to him.) He told me they had a position open teaching government and economics and Algebra II. After much prayer and consideration, I felt it was God calling me back to Jesuit. It was a call I couldn’t refuse. 

TCH: How did Nevle know to call you?

Lojo: That was the wisdom of Richard Nevle. He knew I was interested in teaching; though my plan was to have a long and distinguished career in law, then teach college. I hadn’t considered teaching high school, and I certainly never imagined being in his office. He dropped it on me. 

TCH: Did you talk to Nevle about you taking over as principal?

Lojo: We had a lot of conversations about what the principal’s job is like and what he did. I hadn’t really thought about it. I thought I would continue in the admissions office. I would say any number of people here would have done a good job as principal.

TCH: What was it about Strake Jesuit that brought you back?

Lojo: I really feel like God wanted me to be part of a mission. Other than my Catholic faith and my family, nothing has had a greater impact on me than my time at Strake Jesuit as a student. It helped me develop as a person, and most important it’s where the seeds of my faith started to grow. I felt loved here. I also felt prepared academically for college.

TCH: How do your education, your legal experience and experience at Strake Jesuit qualify you to lead the school?

Lojo: I had the nuts and bolts of education classes in college, and since I came to Strake I have taken education classes. At law school they teach you a different way of thinking — of methodically working through things. That certainly helped. As an attorney, I counseled people all the time. And as I said before it goes back to a calling. I was really following God’s calling.

TCH: Where do you see Strake Jesuit headed in the future?

Lojo: Jesuit has strong roots and is on very solid ground. I want to continue to build on the excellence it has had for many years — in academics, extracurriculars and most importantly in the spiritual arena. The opening of the new Retreat and Leadership Center will have an immense impact on what we do, especially in the pastoral ministry and on the leadership side. Right now we are trying to figure out how to institutionalize leadership development in our students. There’s being Catholic, then there’s being a Catholic Christian leader. 

TCH: What do you see as your biggest challenge?

Lojo: The biggest challenge for me personally is losing Richard Nevle. Richard Nevle was Strake Jesuit. There’s no way I can live up to who he was. I pray to “Saint Richard” often. He had so many pearls of wisdom. 

TCH: Like what?

Lojo: Boy, there are so many. I guess one of the more important pieces of advice was, ‘Never forget our students are the reason why we’re here.’ We are here primarily for their spiritual development. We are a Catholic school, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be a Catholic school.

TCH: What about challenges of the job?

Lojo: There’s the challenge of integrating the Retreat and Leadership Center into the school and lives of the students and community. I think it will help our students find time to step out of their busy, connected lives to contemplate their faith. It’s not that we want to them to run away from the world; we want to teach them to live in the world with God in their everyday life – in algebra class, on the football field, in the car on the way to school. As the Jesuits put it, ‘The sole purpose in life is to love and serve God.’ Boy what a challenge that is. †