Volume 2, 2008-2009

Baccalaureate and Graduation

June 1, 2009

Baccalaureate Mass

The second of three ceremonies honoring the Class of 2009 was the Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Monsignor Kevin Kostelnik on Friday evening, May 22, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.


Faculty, wearing robes and hoods to reflect their academic degrees and institutions, led the procession down the center aisle of the sanctuary, which was filled with family and friends of the graduating class.  Seniors followed, two by two, taking their places behind the altar.


The Scripture readings were by Kenneth Carbajal and Student Body President Dennis Lim. General Intercessions were read in five languages representing (but by no means limiting) the ethnic diversity of the senior class. Jonathan Kim began in Korean, followed by Geomel Brian Bebing in Tagalog.  Carlos Godoy read in English, Jorge Ibarra continued in Spanish, and Wisely Wang finished in Mandarin.  Msgr. Kostelnik led the congregation in the closing in English. After Communion, two seniors addressed the congregation, John Reyes in English and Oscar Palomera in Spanish.


Br. John’s closing comments included his appreciation of the tapestries, especially St. LaSalle, who is depicted on the left in the second panel from the front facing the altar. The Class of 2009, he explained, is a tapestry that was begun by the families, friends, faculty, and administration who made their education possible. Each graduate will add to his tapestry as he continues his education and his life journey.



The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2009 was held Saturday morning, May 23, 2009, in the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena.  The faculty preceded the graduates into the sanctuary, as Dr. Bartel directed some of his students in Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”  Seniors wore their purple caps and gowns, but those who had earned honors also wore medallions from the Academic Decathlon, Math Club, National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, the valedictory and salutatory medals, Archdiocesan Christian Service Awards; gold stoles of the California Scholarship Federation and/or red ones from the National Hispanic Honor Society; silver cords of the Student Senate, gold cords for a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher, white cords for contributions to the Endowment Fund; and distinctive gold tassels for CSF life members.


Senior Class President Brian Barraza delivered the invocation, which was followed by the graduates singing of “America the Beautiful.”  Master of Ceremonies Gary Bertolone then introduced Amar Vanmali, whose 4.38 GPA qualified him as valedictorian.  Principal Br. John Montgomery presented him with the De La Salle Award for Highest Academic Achievement. Then Salutatorian Mark Aumentado addressed the audience and his classmates.


As Mr. Bertolone read the names of the graduates, seniors advanced one by one to receive their diplomas from Br. John and a congratulatory handshake from school president Martin Farfan. Then each one posed, diploma in hand, for a photo taken by Mr. Abel Gutierrez.


In his closing comments President Martin Farfan advised the class, “Choose your wife wisely.  If she isn’t happy, you won’t be happy.” He reminded them that the Christian Brothers tradition of educating the poor makes a difference in the world.  “Not that it makes you better than anyone else,” he explained, “but education opens doors.” He urged them to continue learning so they will continue to have more and better choices.


Br. John led the graduates in turning their tassels, and the faculty led the recessional to Dr. Bartel’s musical accompaniment.  Outside, family and friends congratulated the young men on their accomplishment, the culmination of four years of effort.

Hail and farewell, Class of 2009!


And that’s it for this volume of the Purple Letter.  I hope to return in August with the story of Edgar Beltran, Class of 2004.

Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Senior Presentation

May 25, 2009


The first of three ceremonies honoring the Class of 2009 was held Thursday, May 21, 2009, in the gymnasium.  Wearing their purple caps and gowns, the seniors filed into the gymnasium through the rarely used main entrance to the new building.  Master of Ceremonies, Gary Bertolone, introduced Senior Class President Brian Barraza, who gave the opening prayer.


Mr. Bertolone then announced that valedictorian Amar Vanmali would not be participating in the presentations.  “Because Amar is … an excellent golfer as well as an exemplary student,” explained Mr. Bertolone, “he made the CIF playoffs in golf.” Unfortunately, his playoff match conflicted with the original date for the AP Calculus test, so he was taking the College Board scheduled makeup test instead of participating in the senior awards.


The salutatorian for the senior presentation ceremony was Senior Class Council member Josergio Zaragoza, who celebrated the class as the first to have its junior ring ceremony in the new gym. He recalled for the class both fond memories and pressure learning experiences they will take with them to college.


Academic Awards

The De La Salle Award for Academic Excellence went to Amar Vanmali, whose cumulative GPA of 4.38 set a school record.  With the De La Salle award comes recognition as Valedictorian, but Amar declined to give a valedictory address, at least partly because of the conflict with the AP Calculus makeup exam.  Instead, four students gave salutatory addresses.  Besides Josergio Zaragoza, who spoke at the Senior Presentation, two seniors John Reyes (in English) and Oscar Palomera (in Spanish) spoke at the Baccalaureate Mass on Friday evening, and Mark Aumentado addressed the graduation assembly in Pasadena on Saturday morning.


Next, the Student Senate received their silver cords.  The Student Senate is made up of the ten seniors with the highest GPA at the end of their junior year, plus the Student Body President. These same students also received gold cords, signifying that they had maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher from their freshman year through January of their senior year.  The gold cord recipients had cumulative GPAs ranging from 3.58 to a school record 4.38.


Recognition was also extended to seniors for their achievements in each academic department, with highest honors going to the student with the highest GPA, honors and merit awards to other graduates for excellence and achievement.


Membership in the California Scholarship Federation requires a GPA of 3.5 or above for a semester.  Life members have achieved this honor for four semesters, at least one during the senior year, and they get to wear a gold tassel instead of the usual purple and white one on their mortarboards.  Seniors who have earned 100% membership (eight semesters beginning with associate membership in the freshman year) wear a gold stole as well.


The National Honor Society, which has over 15,000 chapters in high schools across the country, honors not only scholarship, but also leadership, service and character.  Fifteen seniors received the NHS Medallion.


The National Spanish Honor Society (Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica,  SHH) recognized its members with a red stole for maintaining at minimum 3.0 in Spanish for three semesters, beginning in the sophomore year. Five graduates also received the society’s official pin as an additional honor.


The members of the Student Senate (alphabetically) were Mark Aumentado (Certificate in Mathematics, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Christopher Galeano (Highest Honors in Visual and Performing Arts, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Dennis Lim, Student Body President, Merit in History, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Melvin Marroquin (Highest Honors in Spanish,  Certificate in Science, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Anthony Mejia, CSF Life and 100%, NHS); Alexander Nadal (Honors in English, History, and Science, Merit in Mathematics, CSF Life, SHH); James Reyes (Highest Honors in Religion, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH & pin); John Reyes (Certificate in Religion, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH & pin); Francis Sy Su (Honors in Mathematics, Merit in Science, Certificate in Computer Technology, SHH); Amar Vanmali (Highest Honors in Mathematics, Science, and History, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); and Wisely Wang (Highest Honors in Computer Technology, Certificate in English, CSF Life and 100%, NHS).


In addition to the above eleven, the following seniors were also honored with gold cords for maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. They also received Department awards, Bank of America certificates, and honor society recognition as noted:

Lazaro Alba; Kevin Brenes-Melgar (CSF Life, SHH); Brandon Calvero (Honors in Religion, Certificate in Theater Arts); Kenneth Carbajal (CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Antonio Delgado Bautista, (Merit in Spanish, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Jorge Ibarra, (Honors in Spanish, CSF Life, SHH) Rick Lu (Certificate in Television Production, CSF Life and 100%, NHS); Joseph Mendoza; Eric Padilla; Oscar Palomera (Merit in English, CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH & pin); Ronnel Puhawan (CSF Life and 100%, NHS); Byron Ramirez (CSF Life and 100%, NHS, SHH); Jeffrey Ramirez, (Merit in Religion, SHH & pin); Kevin Ramirez; Juan Carlos Sanchez, (Certificate in Spanish, SHH); Maksim Tsybrivskiy, (Highest Honors in English, CSF Life);


In addition to the seniors mentioned above, Department Honors went to Anthony Garcia in Computer Media Design and to Brian Barraza in Visual and Performing Arts; Merit awards went to Sergio Vega in Computer Media Design and Carlos Godoy in Visual and Performing Arts.


Additional Bank of America certificates went to Anthony Garcia in Social Studies; Joseph Guerrero in Art; John Cedric Reyes in Music; Ramon Ortega in Media Graphics, and Matthew Muranaga in Yearbook Publication.


Additional members of the National Hispanic Honor Society (red stole) were Johnathan Canas, Edward Gonzalez, Manuel Labansat, Edwin Leyva, and Jose Sandoval. Receiving the society’s official pin was Jorge Gomez. Two graduates scored in the topmost percentile on a national online Spanish examination:  Jorge Ibarra and Antonio Delgado.


The Tri-M Music Honor Society is an international organization with chapters in almost 5,000 schools around the world. Students are selected on the basis of their musicianship, scholarship, character and service.  This year Music Honor Society medallions were awarded to John Cedric Reyes and Christopher Galeano.

Service Awards

In addition to academic awards, seniors were also acknowledged for their service to the school and the community.  The Archdiocesan Christian Service Awards, given to Brian Barraza and Kenneth Carbajal, were reported earlier (Apr. 20, 2009), but Brian also received the Br. James Meegan Dedication and Service Award. Johnathan Rodriguez received the Vic Balzano Spirit Award and Josergio Zaragoza the Dominic Puglisi Award.  The Br. Bertram Coleman Memorial Award can be given to either a junior or a senior, and this year it went to junior Marquise Harris. This year was the first time for the Br. John Montgomery Principal’s Award, in recognition of Br. John’s tenure as Principal (the longest in the history of the school). Br. John presented the award to Student Body President Dennis Lim.


Athletic Awards

The Scholar Athlete of the year was Student Senate member Anthony Mejia. Sportsman of the Year was Gilbert Brandon Parga, and the Robert Morales Athletic Dedication Award went to lineman Christopher Jimenez.


The Alumni Association this year decided to revive Cathedral’s Sports Hall of Fame.  The criteria included both recognition by CIF and good standing as a student.  The following seniors were inducted this year:  Christopher Jimenez (football); Amar Vanmali (golf); and Gilbert Parga (basketball).


Senior Star Scholars were recognized for excellence and dedication in each of their classes (Apr. 27, 2009), followed by the awarding of white cords to ten seniors whose parents have contributed financially to the Endowment Fund so future Phantoms will be able to afford a Cathedral education.  These students are Francis Sy Su, Jose Sandoval, Jordan Dufelmeier, Daniel Esparza, Frank Montoya, Florentino Monzon, Matthew Muranaga, Steve Salazar, Maksim Tsybrivskiy, and Amar Vanmali.


Scholarships and Grants in Aid

Mr. Bertolone announced that the California Grant Commission on Student Aid has awarded over one-half million dollars in aid to 46 seniors, and a substantial amount had also been awarded to students from private institutions, including $49,000 from the University of Pennsylvania for Christopher Galeano and the same amount for Maksim Tsybrivskiy from the University of Southern California.


The presentation concluded with the announcement of Cathedral Family Scholarships.  These scholarships go to deserving Cathedral seniors and are sponsored by family and friends of Cathedral alumni.  The Manuel Solorzano Scholarship went to Kenneth Carbajal; the Robert Morales ’69 Family Scholarship to Daniel Mercado; the Ernie Barrios ’53 Family Scholarship to Joseph Mendoza; and the Catalina Galaz Scholarship to Sergio Vega.

In his final official act as Student Body President, Dennis Lim administered the oath of office to next year’s student body officers, and the ceremonies closed with the singing of the Alma Mater.


Next week: a short account of Baccalaureate Mass and graduation.

Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Exam Season

Begins with AP

May 18, 2009


The culmination of a year’s preparation began two weeks ago when students across the nation sat down for the first Advanced Placement exam of the season.  Sponsored by the College Board, each exam is a combination of 55 to 60 objective, multiple-choice questions plus a free response section that usually requires written analysis of two or three passages related to the subject area. The exam allows one hour for the multiple-choice (That’s about one minute per question) and two hours for the writing (or 40 minutes per essay topic).  Students do not have much time for daydreaming, dozing, or even careful investigation of the possibilities. They must be well prepared and rested if they are to do their best on these demanding exams.


AP Coordinator Helen Moses, who doubles as Cathedral’s library and information specialist, administered each of the seven tests in the MRH Conference Room as scheduled, beginning half an hour before the first bell for class.


Twenty-five seniors from Cathedral’s AP U.S. Government and Politics class gathered in the MHR Conference Room at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, May 4, to try to qualify for advanced placement in this area of college study.


On Tuesday, 21 students, mostly juniors, sat for the AP Spanish Language exam, which is not usually difficult for native speakers.  Unlike the other exams, Spanish Language includes an oral component as part of the free response.  Wearing a headset, each student responds orally to the prompt he hears, and his words are recorded on tape.


The Calculus exam, given on Wednesday to 23 juniors and seniors, includes problem sets as well as a written component. The multiple-choice section is based on a number of problems with several suggested answers.  Students must work without calculators to determine each response.  The “essay” section permits calculators, but students must show their work to achieve credit for each problem.


Thursday is AP English Literature, considered by some (among them the present instructor) to be the most difficult of all, with essays on a poem and a prose passage that students are seeing for the first time, plus a third on a novel or play of the student’s choice.  “It says ‘English’ literature,” observed Mrs. Price, “but the Open Question can be on any work of fiction or epic poetry that has ever been published, from Homer’s Odyssey to The Cherry Orchard or even The Kite Runner.


Friday was the AP U.S. History exam, taken by 27 of Cathedral’s juniors. The multiple-choice questions are in random (not historical) order, and the three essays include one based on historical documents (including illustrations, maps and excerpts from several contemporary writings) dating from the time in question. Students are expected to read and cite relevant information as they compose an essay in support of their position. The other prompts might name a historical period and ask for an analysis of some aspect of that time, or identify a particular group and ask for a discussion of its influence.


The good news is the exhausted students were excused from regular classes on these days; once the rigorous exam was over, they were free to go home, rest – and prepare for the next one.   The bad news is testing continued the following week.


On Wednesday, May 13, 34 juniors and 3 seniors took the AP English Language exam, some of them for the second time.  This test focused on non-fiction with emphasis on rhetorical techniques and research methods. As with the earlier U.S. History exam, one of the three essays students had to write was a document-based question (“DBQ”) that required them to write a mini-research paper and cite the sources that supported their thesis.


And on Friday, May 15, while the rest of the student body celebrated Founder’s Day, eleven students tried to ignore the carnival on the athletic field and instead concentrated on the AP Spanish Literature exam. It is similar to the English Literature exam, but the essays must be written, of course, in Spanish.


The College Board offers advanced placement exams in many more subjects, but these seven are the ones our Phantoms take. Now that they are completed, a second round of exams begins.

On Monday, May 18, 2009, seniors will begin their semester exams with three finals in periods 1, 2 and 7. They have two more finals on Tuesday and finish with the last two on Wednesday.


The third (and last) series of tests begins after graduation ceremonies and Memorial Day, when juniors, sophomores and freshmen buckle down for their week of final exams.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Band Concert

Coming May 12

May 11, 2009



The tenth annual spring band concert will be this Tuesday, May 12, in the gymnasium.  It is free to the public, including parents and friends of Cathedral, and begins at 7:00 p.m.  For about an hour, students in Band I, II, III, and IV will show off the greater technical dexterity they have achieved since their concert at the end of the first semester.  Besides such standards as “Scarborough  Fair,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Locomotion,” and “The American Spirit March,” their part of the concert also features a composition project – new this year – which is a collaborative piece by four Band I students.


Band I consists of approximately forty first-year musicians from three class sections, and the concert represents the combination of their talents for these pieces for the first time.  By way of explanation, Dr. Brian Bartel points out that during rehearsals in class, not all instruments are represented.  One class, for example, is all clarinets while another class has none. Similarly, one class has five percussionists; another has only two. To cover for the absent instruments, Dr. Bartel says, “I often have to sing the missing line.”


The advanced band is composed of two sections: a class of Band II and a class of Band III and IV. They face a challenge similar to Band I, however, in that the instruments are not evenly divided.  The Band III/IV class has both a baritone and a tenor saxophone, while the Band II class has no bass instruments.


At the dress rehearsal, some are surprised when they hear the music for the first time with all the parts together.  It is less of an issue this year, Dr. Bartel commented, because of his new classroom.  When the Science Department moved to the new building, the band classes took over what had been the biology classroom and lab, and the acoustics are better in the larger space.  The sound is still different in the gym because it is a bigger venue, but that, too, is part of the learning experience.


In the second half of the concert the more advanced students get to shine. As expected, music will be more complex, with a wider variety of composers. Dr. Bartel acknowledges that the spring concert is usually “lighter fare” than the winter one, but that does not mean to imply it is less difficult. The medley from Wicked will be fun, but three others are more serious pieces based on Gregorian chants. In a nod to the Theater Arts Department’s production of Amadeus, the band will play Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus”; moving across eras, twentieth-century composer Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” is based on chant music, and twenty-first century composer Michael Colgrass’ “Old Churches” has chant elements.


“Old Churches,” said Dr. Bartel, “is a musical interpretation of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.” It includes various sound effects, representations of the two sides, somewhat militaristic southern folk tunes, and even Pickett’s Charge.  It is a tradition at Cathedral for every percussionist to play at least three instruments during the concert, and this year one of those “instruments” will be aluminum mixing bowls in “Old Churches.”


According to Dr. Bartel, Michael Colgrass is one of several “great, modern, living composers” who was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to write music specifically for high school bands. “Old Churches” is the third in a series of these pieces presented by Cathedral at its concerts.  The others, you may recall, were Michael Daugherty’s “Alligator Alley” and Libby Larsen’s “Hambone.” “Daugherty,” explained Dr. Bartel, “uses rock elements in his classical music. He has written string quartets in tribute to Liberace, Elvis, and other pop icons.”  “Hambone” is memorable for its series of slaps to the hands, thighs, etc.


The composition element for the advanced band is exciting because it “came out of one of the sight reading sessions,” as Dr. Bartel related the story. Junior Joseph Guzman’s “Pax Aeterna” not only “[captured] students’ imagination [but it also] has original ideas and constructions.”


Asked if his band students are sufficiently prepared for college, Dr. Bartel replied that a self-motivated and diligent musician can be “respectable” going into a college music program. It depends on the student.


Some advanced Cathedral students have even participated in the music festival at Chapman University.


There are six levels, or grades, of band music.  Band I plays at Grade 1. Intermediate and advanced band classes are more creative depending on the amount of effort students are willing to make.  For the advanced band, he says, “the toughest music is Grade 3+, not quite 4.” But, he continues, “I will show them what 4 looks like” in order to “challenge them.” For example, the Guitar Hero video game has an arrangement for band, but it is beyond their level of expertise.  He let them try the music, but told them they “probably won’t play it in public.”  College music, he continued, “starts at Grade 4; graduate students play at Grade 6+.”


Like most of us, students prefer the familiar success to the unknown challenge.  Dr. Bartel, however, understands that “we have to do new things, and have a positive experience with new things. If a musician learns one lick, that’s not the same as being fluent.”  It’s okay to have a favorite composer, for instance, or a favorite group, but “that’s not enough.  There is more music in the world than that.” Tuesday’s band concert will introduce you to some of that new music.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Math Club 25th Anniversary

and Awards Ceremony

Logo design by Joe “The

Commissioner” Sandoval.

May 4, 2009


On April 7, just before Easter vacation, the Math Club celebrated its silver anniversary as a Cathedral organization.


Established in 1984 by Patrick Wong and Alfonso Salazar with Mrs. Eve Salas as moderator, the club sponsors contests for individuals, for partners in the same grade, for partners across grades, and for teams.

Each activity focuses on a skill or a group of skills, and each fosters friendly competition in mathematics.  The Math Club Awards Ceremony is a highlight of the year, and has gradually outgrown the library (its original site), the cafeteria, where it was held during construction of the gym and science center, and even the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Conference Center, where it was held in 2008.  This year the ceremony was in the gym, and parents and friends found seats among folding chairs on the gym floor, or in the bleachers, as they chose. “Standing room only” may finally have become a historical reference rather than standard operating procedure, at least for the moment.


Following custom, senior Max Tsybrivskiy led those present in an opening prayer. Then for his opening remarks, Math Club Vice President David Tababa read Patrick Wong’s history of the founding of the club back in 1984:


Noting the awards for various athletic achievements in the trophy case, Patrick approached Mrs. Salas, then as now, chair of the Mathematics Department, and asked why there could not be an award for achievement in mathematics.  She agreed to be the moderator and suggested he circulate a petition among the students. He came back with 56 signups.  Worried that Math Club was too “boring” a name, Patrick approached Br. Robert, who gave him three Greek letters: Pi, representing the constant for circles in geometry; Theta, representing the angle in trigonometry; and Sigma, representing summation in calculus.  Patrick shuffled the letters around and came up with Theta Sigma Pi as the name for the club.  The name didn’t stick, but the symbols did, and so did the club, surviving even the attempt to close the school in the mid 1980s.  Everyone knows about the Math Club, and it is now the largest club on campus, with about three hundred members.



Several former members of the Math Club responded to Mrs. Salas’s invitation to return for the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration and joined with Cathedral faculty and current Math Club officers to present the awards.


Patrick Wong (Class of 85), founding member, its first president and first Mathematician of the Year, obtained his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Material Engineering at UCLA and completed his MBA at Cal State LA. He works as deputy director of the Far East at Biotherapeutics, Inc.


Emilio Rodriguez (Class of 85), also a founding member, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from Stanford and an MBA in Urban Planning from UCLA. He works with the City Administrative Officer in Los Angeles, doing budget and policy administration.


Alvin Brewer (class of 85), a founding member and the club’s first vice president, is currently a firefighter/paramedic for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He is training to become a Hazardous Materials Specialist, and now is on two promotion lists for Engineer and Captain. Unfortunately, a last minute emergency made it impossible for him to attend.

Alfonso Salazar (Class of 86), founding member and the club’s secretary/treasurer in 1985, he was elected president in 1986. He graduated from the University of Michigan and works as Manager-in-charge of strategic clients, public sector, Pacific Southwest at Deloitte.

Phillip del Pozo (Class of 88), former treasurer and Mathematician of the Year, he majored in design engineering at UCLA and is currently employed by Intel Corporation.


Abel Gutierrez (Class of 90) served as Math Club president and ASB President the same year. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Chicano literature with emphasis in education. He currently teaches Algebra 2 and physics at Cathedral.

Martin Tolosa (Class of 01) served four years as a member of the Math Club Board of Representatives. He graduated from UCLA in psychology/biology.

Ryan Resurreccion (class of 03) delivered the keynote address. He was ASB Treasurer and Math Club President in 2002, Senior Class President and Math Club Vice President in 2003. He also received the Archdiocesan Christian Service Award and was chosen class salutatorian. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Mary’s College in Moraga and currently teaches religion at LaSalle High School in Pasadena. Nonetheless, his heart “bleeds purple and white, and he is proud to be a Phantom.”

Winston Ng (Class of 06), was Math Club president two successive years, and is currently a junior in mechanical engineering at UC Irvine.


Winners and runners-up were recognized in several areas of competition. Creativity in Math included origami frogs (precise geometric angles required) in both futuristic and realistic categories as well as the farthest jumping frog (winning distance: 38 inches). Three contests requiring math skills had their share of participants also. Certificates were presented to individual winners and runners-up at each grade level for the Crossmatics contest, and to grade-level teams for the 24-Game.  Inter-grade teams (freshman/senior, sophomore/junior) were recognized with additional certificates for Krypto.


The Math Club’s academic awards were based half on the student’s score for the schoolwide math placement test and half on his GPA in math.  Fourth and fifth place received certificates, and medals of bronze, silver and gold went to the top three students in each math course.


The award for Mathematician of the Year went to senior Amar Vanmali, Class of 09 and current President of the Math Club.


Parents, too, were honored for their years of service: Mrs. Eden Uy Sy Su, mother of senior Francis Sy Su; and Mrs. Geraldine Helmuth, mother of seniors John and James Reyes.


The ceremony closed with the reciting of the Math Pledge written by Gary Noguera, class of 2000, and the singing of the Alma Mater.



Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Star Scholar Night

April 27, 2009



Star Scholar Night, coming Thursday, April 30, is a celebration of student achievement.  On that evening, invited students and their families join Cathedral faculty and administration to honor young men in every class for their diligence and excellence.


How are Star Scholars chosen?

After mid-semester grades, teachers review their records, looking not only for students of exceptional achievement, but also for those whose grades have improved over the course of the year, and for those whose desire to learn has been expressed in a willingness to take on additional work. Teachers choose two students from each class, one for excellence (highest grade) and one for dedication (commitment).


What happens at Star Scholar Night?

Invitations have been mailed to families of the honorees, but the program lists only the order of awards, not who gets them. Students sit by grade level in a special area apart from the rest of the audience.    Principal Br. John Montgomery opens the event with a prayer and a brief introduction.  Suspense increases as teachers in the first department line up to congratulate the winners.  Beginning with the freshmen, Dean of Studies reads the names of those being recognized for excellence in that department.  Each student comes forward when his name is called, shakes hands with the department chair as he receives his certificate, then receives a congratulatory handshake from each member of the department, including the one who nominated him for the award.  Sophomore honorees are next, followed by juniors and seniors. After the audience has acknowledged these excellent students with their applause, the Dean reads the names of those recognized for dedication.  Again, each student comes forward to receive his certificate and shake hands with members of the department.  After all the names have been read, the Dean again asks the audience of proud parents, siblings, friends, and teachers to show their appreciation. Then the next department lines up to congratulate their Star Scholars, and so on, until all the departments have recognized their excellent and dedicated students.


Can a student be recognized in more than one department?

Since no one knows who has been chosen by other teachers, it is likely that excellence or dedication will be honored in the same student by more than one teacher. Because there are seven periods in the school day, students are eligible for recognition in seven subjects. Members of the faculty are pleased to see freshmen make more than one trip to the front, and it is exciting when students from other grades make their first appearance. After the ceremony, students, parents and teachers have the opportunity to socialize over cake and punch. It is an opportunity to chat informally in an atmosphere of success.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Christian Service Award Recipients

Brian Barraza and Kenneth Carbajal

April 20, 2009


The Archdiocesan Christian Service Award recognizes seniors in each Catholic high school in the Archdiocese who have shown service in and out of the school community over their four years in high school. Recently the rules changed on the number of awardees a school could have, and because of its size, Cathedral was able to nominate two recipients.  At Mass on March 24, 2009, Brian Barraza and Kenneth Carbajal each received a medal from the Archdiocesan Christian Service Award.


Br. Chris Patino (a recipient himself in 2002) consulted both Br. Ricardo, the previous facilitator for Lasallian Youth, and Campus Minister Sanford Jones for their recommendations.  Br. Chris noted that “both students were involved in one capacity or another in Lasallian Youth,” and both had participated in Campus Ministry in different ways.  Br. Chris continued, “The involvement of these two young men throughout their four years [made it] very appropriate” to nominate them.

Photos courtesy of Dineen Glickman.


Kenneth Carbajal got involved with Lasallian Youth in his freshman year.  He had a girlfriend whose service organization was planning a beach trip, and she suggested he join Lasallian Youth so when the beach trip happened (and service organizations from the boys’ schools were invited), he would be able to join her.  “Well, the beach trip never happened,” he laughed, “but I stayed [with LSY] because I really liked it.”  He started by making sandwiches, but because had soccer practice after school, he went with Br. Ricardo one Saturday a month to do his part.  Brian, on the other hand, called Br. Ricardo his “inspiration.” He, too, made sandwiches and went on weekly visits to Skid Row, dispensing sandwiches every Thursday.

As a freshman Brian Barraza was impressed with the leadership of the seniors who facilitated his freshman retreat, and from the beginning he wanted to be like them. Working with Campus Ministry set him on that path. As a Peer Minister he facilitated retreats, especially with the freshmen. He met some at the “Meet & Greet” in August, and of the dozen young men that were in his group on retreat, he is still in almost daily contact with six or seven of them. You may also have seen him on “Spare Your Collar” days, taking money, dispensing wrist bands, or visiting classrooms to collect from latecomers.  He lends a hand with Mass and prayer services as well, helping to choose the readings.  Naturally it follows that Brian would seek out the opportunity to become a Eucharistic Minister, too. Thus he underwent training on two Saturdays, plus a couple of afternoons, to learn how to assist the priest during Mass and to earn the privilege of administering the Sacrament.


With other Lasallian Youth at the House of Ruth, a shelter for women and children, both Brian and Kenneth tutored children and did such chores as cleaning the kitchen, while others helped in the office. They completed some major upkeep by painting the outside fence and clearing out and organizing the storage room.

Both young men participated in the AIDS walk and numerous other service projects with Lasallian Youth, including going downtown on Thanksgiving morning to make dinner packages for families to take home; measuring children for (donated) school clothes and preparing bags of pens, pencils, and other supplies for them to take to school on a special evening of Parent Back-to-School Night; and helping Cathedral High School host the four-day Lasallian Youth District Assembly in the summer of 2007 at Loyola-Marymount University.

Individually, these young men have given generously of their time in other ways as well.


In his spare time, Brian builds things! He started in his sophomore year to “build the outside altar” for the school’s outdoor Masses, held during construction of the new gymnasium and science building. Seeing Brian’s skill and dedication, Walter Durham asked Brian if he would like to work with the professional crew of Baldwin Park Performing Arts Center (BPPAC) on the musical Once on This Island. Together Brian and the crew designed and built a fly system to allow storage of certain set pieces (trees, a couple of scrims – translucent curtains) above the stage. The project of weights and counterweights controlled by pulleys enthralled him, and “made me want to do more,” he said.  And thus, a stagehand was born.


He has been a dedicated member of the stage crew ever since, working after school to construct sets for the Theater Department’s plays and musicals. For the ten-year Revue, also at BPPAC, he helped build the car for the “Greased Lightning” number from Grease. And this year he and Walter Durham spent several Saturdays in January and February doing “90% of the construction” for the set of Amadeus.

In addition to participating in the senior vocation workshop and tutoring, Kenneth found that his most enlightening high school experience was the service learning trip to Tucson, Arizona, during semester break of 2008. With a group called “Samaritans,” who taught them about the lives of the border-crossers, he joined other Lasallian Youth to fill bottles with water, which they set out for travelers in the desert. They found resting places littered with backpacks, jackets, empty bottles – too big, too heavy, or now useless – the travelers could no longer carry on their journey. “They leave these areas in a big hurry,” explained Kenneth, “so parts of their lives are left behind.”  He and others cleaned up these areas as they had been taught by the Samaritans.  Cathedral’s Lasallian Youth were so impressed with the situation they found that they prevailed upon Br. Chris to ask the Principal for a special assembly to share what they had learned. The assembly, which was held last January, included a slide show of their activities as well as testimony by each of the participants.  Kenneth, of course, was among them.

After graduation Kenneth looks forward to enrolling at UCLA.  Brian expects to attend school in Oregon, major in theater, and perhaps eventually open his own theater here in Los Angeles.  Who knows what the future holds?


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Technical Difficulties

April 13, 2009


A month ago I promised to write an article about the “technical difficulties” we experienced at the beginning of March.  Here is that story, based on an interview with senior Raymond Beaudoin. I intended to publish it April 13 to make up for the missing article on March 16, but the web server at Cathedral was shut down for Easter break.


Mr. Anthony Trafecanty is dedicated to helping Cathedral find and use the technology of the 21st century.  He was instrumental in obtaining laptop computers from LAUSD, and he regularly informs teachers and administrators of workshops that will teach them how to integrate their laptops for classroom use.


He also works closely with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), which oversees all the school districts in the county.  His latest acquisition for Cathedral is a dedicated internet line for the school.  Before this, we used regular DSL with a download capacity of 768 KB but only 340 KB upload.  (A kilobyte is a measure of capacity but also of speed [per second].  That is, we could gain access to data at a rate of 768 KB, but could upload – meaning send out to others – at a rate of only 340 KB.)


Now, rather than DSL, we have our very own T1 network connection, the standard for business, with dedicated 1.5 MB (1 megabyte = 1000 KB) download and upload speed.  The greater speed means more features can be added without overtaxing the system.


To make the change, Mr. Trafecanty and senior Raymond Beaudoin began over a year ago, in the fall of 2007.  Originally the project was to learn how to use the Linux operating system. Unlike Windows, Linux uses open source code, which means it is available free to the community. Everyone can read its programs; everyone can edit them, and so the community (CHS) can tailor its programs to our particular needs.


By January, 2008, the system was successfully installed. Then Mr. Trafecanty realized that with a secondary web server, Cathedral could obtain additional domain names and host our own websites (rather than putting everything through campusgrid.net, for example).  The new web server needed its own special control panel, and after a few phone calls, Mr. Trafecanty had acquired a license from cPanel, Inc., including installation for the control panel.


Between January 2008 and June of 2008, Mr. Trafecanty began testing the system by teaching some of his students to create their own websites and giving them their own accounts on the server.  By the end of the school year, each of these students had a website fully accessible by others.


Then there was a trial run of Moodle, which is classroom management software.  Each student created his own user account, which represented him in a “classroom.” Then as “teachers” (advanced students) posted assignments online, students were able to access, complete, and submit these assignments online as well.  “This takes the classroom out of the paper and pen [era],” Raymond pointed out, and “the class relies completely on technology.”  No paperwork, however, is not the same as no work – or no grading.  Some assignments can be made available online for a defined period, such as 30 minutes, or at a defined time, such as 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., for students who miss or will miss the in-class event because of absence or early out.  Other assignments, such as tests, can be taken in the lab, where access to textbooks and notes can be monitored. At the end of the school year, “teachers” had for each student (and students had for themselves) a full grade sheet showing his online activity and evaluating his strengths and weaknesses for every assignment and test. The program can be fully integrated into classrooms.


This year, the project was picked up again. Br. Lawrence wanted to use Moodle, so its server was moved to the dedicated line, and everything was transferred and given to Br. Lawrence to test further. Stay tuned for a later article with Br. Lawrence about his experience.


Creating the system and installing the panel were demanding and time-consuming tasks, and took longer than expected.  Some of the technical difficulties related to the need to contact LACOE for “every little change,” said Raymond, in order to “integrate new records to point to the new server.” LACOE is in charge of DNS (the domain name server), which points other users to our web server.  If LACOE does not have the exact information, there will be no way for a computer to find the websites Cathedral has created.


We are grateful for the effort made by Mr. Trafecanty and his team to help Cathedral develop its technological muscles for the 21st century.

Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Holy Week



April 6, 2009


At the end of the first week of the new semester, the faculty and staff met in the MHR Conference Room for a daylong retreat. This retreat has become a tradition, helping teachers, administrators, and the support staff to recall the importance of their work in the mission of the school.


Holy Week is also a time for reflection.  Perhaps we can all benefit from recalling the Lasallian core values we reviewed a few short months ago.


Principal Br. John Montgomery introduced the theme.  Although “we see ourselves as teachers … we are also ministers of God’s grace, and we need to see ourselves in that light as well.”


After an opening prayer by retreat leader Greg Kopra, he reviewed the five Lasallian core values.  He pointed out that, for the past several years, each faculty retreat has focused on one of these values. For those of you who have not visited the school lately, the five core values are displayed on signs suspended in the open-air corridors throughout the school. He explained each in a little more depth.


First is faith in the presence of God.   Recognizing that we are in the presence of God here at school, we find God not by retreating from the world, but by being part of it. We recognize the presence of God in others as well, even students. Because God is present in everyone, everyone has inherent dignity, even if it is hidden.

Do you believe that God is present in you? Do you believe that God is present in others? How is God’s presence made manifest? What can you do to respond to that Presence in a way that will show others what you believe?


Next is concern for the poor and social justice.  Concern for the poor and social justice issues come from Scripture as well. Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life, and have it in full” (John 10:10).  The poor are most in need of the life Jesus offers.

Do you have concern for the poor? How do you work for social justice? What can you do to help those most in need to have the abundant life Jesus offers?


Third is respect for all persons. Respect for all persons derives from the first two: all persons, because they are in God’s image, have inherent dignity, but they must be held accountable when they do not behave in ways that are worthy.

Do you respect all persons, or only those you know and like? What can you do to show respect for those you do not know?  What can you do to show respect for those you do not like?


Fourth is quality education. Quality education means not only “employability” but also quality of life, reflecting a range of learning needs, having a life as well as making a living.

Have you received a quality education?  If so, how are you using it? What are you doing to be sure you have a life as well as earn a living?

Are you in the process of acquiring a quality education?  If so, what are you doing to make sure you are learning how to have a life as well as to make a living? What can you do to make sure the education you receive is of the highest quality?


Last is inclusive community.  Inclusive community means making Cathedral a place where both students and adults can feel that they belong.

Do you feel that you are part of the Cathedral family? Do the students and adults you interact with on campus feel that they are part of your Cathedral family? What can you do to ensure that Cathedral is an inclusive community?


Easter is a time for new beginnings.  The last grading period before final exams ends on Friday, April 24.  Responsibilities and homework continue to intensify as the end of the semester approaches. But before they overwhelm us, it is good to remember why we are here and what we are supposed to accomplish.  Sometimes we get lost in the everyday and forget that we are doing God’s work. We need to step back and adjust our perspective.  The faculty retreat in January gave us this opportunity, and now is as good a time as any to recall its lessons.


Which of the core values do you need to focus on at this stage of your life? Have you thought about a retreat time to examine your spiritual path?


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



P. S. to Purple Letter of Mar. 23, 2009:  This reporter attended Friday’s performance of Amadeus in the Cathedral Annex’s Phantom Theater. The two lead actors, Stephen Castillo as Salieri and Matthew Muranaga as Mozart, were superb in their characterizations, and every actor on stage, whether or not in a speaking role, added to the total effect. For those of you who still have not seen it, I commend this show to you without reservation.  There are only four more opportunities to experience this excellent production: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.


Faculty Profile:

Brian Bartel

March 30, 2009


In addition to its noteworthy achievements in drama, the Visual and Performing Arts Department also has an outstanding instrumental music program under the direction of Dr. Brian Bartel. When he first was hired in 1999, Dr. Bartel taught English and English electives in addition to his band class. However, in succeeding years he has developed a substantive music curriculum for beginners and intermediates (and the occasional advanced student) that includes not only instruction, but also performance, theory, and composition, with a little history thrown in for good measure. There is also a pep band that plays at football and basketball games in the fall and winter.


It is not surprising that music has been an essential part of his life from the very beginning. As a child he begged his parents to let him learn to play the piano, and he started lessons so early that he does not remember a time when he could not play.


At his piano teacher’s suggestion, he took up percussion as a way to learn more about timing and found that he “really enjoyed” both his ability to play and the variety of instruments at his disposal. After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, Dr. Bartel enrolled in Oberlin College Conservatory in Ohio.  There he majored in percussion performance, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) as well as a Bachelor of Arts with majors in history, anthropology, and archaeological studies.


Upon graduation he moved to Los Angeles to study for his Master of Music degree at the University of Southern California.  After two years, he received his degree and was hired to teach and develop the instrumental music program here at Cathedral.  He continued graduate study, however, completing the requirements for his DMA in 2006.  He is a Doctor of Musical Arts (a performance-based degree rather than the more theoretical Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D.).


He enjoys working with students, watching them develop into functional musicians as they make the transition from beginners in Band I to more advanced Band II and Band III performers. In Band I, students begin at the most basic level, learning how to hold (and care for) their instruments, how to make music instead of noise, and how to read musical notation.  Students are impressed with his ability to pick up any instrument and play it. With the development of notation software, “which is to music what Word is to English,” he explained, Dr. Bartel has also added a composition requirement: students get to create their own musical melody and accompaniment. The software also has a playback feature, so students can hear what they have written.


In Band II and Band III, students learn more advanced pieces, and their compositions become more complex. At the spring concert, Dr. Bartel directs his bands in a range of music from Europe, Africa, North America, and South America.  Besides the expected samples from several musical eras, audiences also get to hear some works written by the students themselves.  Check the Purple Letter for more information as the date of the concert draws near.


In 2007, Dr. Bartel introduced the music honor society, Modern Music Masters (3M), to recognize the personal best in student musicians and celebrate their participation in extra-curricular musical events. Dr. Bartel’s wife Candace, an accomplished musician in her own right, works as a music therapist at an Orange County mental health facility. In December the 3M played at a Christmas party for Fairview Development Center in Costa Mesa, where she works. Such service projects are part of the purpose for the honor society.


When he first began his tenure here, Dr. Bartel wrote a lot of the musical arrangements himself.  Now he has a budget to purchase arrangements, and he also has a music library with four or five years’ worth of material.


Asked about future plans, Dr. Bartel said he would like to develop a jazz band or combo, but the necessarily small number of musicians involved means it cannot qualify as an independent elective, and it does not quite qualify as a club or extra-curricular activity, either.  Like theater, it takes a lot of rehearsals before the group can perform publicly, and delayed gratification is a difficult concept for the many young people to understand or appreciate.


Dr. Bartel joins other educators in observing that one of his biggest challenges is motivating students to develop the discipline necessary to practice, hold on to their instruments, and reap the rewards three months later, when they find they can play the pieces they have been practicing. On the other hand, he finds joy in the progress of Cathedral alumni who continue to make music part of their lives:  Gabriel Montes, Class of 2007, currently majoring in music in San Diego; Tony Ilao, also Class of 2007, who, though he has enlisted in the military, continues to play; and Noe Guzman, Class of 2005, who has played saxophone professionally.


When asked to name his favorite kind of music, Dr. Bartel smiled and replied, “Whatever pays.”  While he continues at Cathedral, Dr. Bartel also works free lance – sometimes a single performance, sometimes a single song, or he works on albums, or on television. Wife Candace and her group made an appearance on Craig Ferguson’s show, but they are still waiting to capitalize on that break.


He has his own band, of course, called “Dylan Trees,” and they have a new song out on the Mother West label, currently available on iTunes.  Recently they traveled to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest (SxSW) festival.  Other performers who appeared at the festival include Metallica, the Decembrists, and Kanye West.

Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



As you may have noticed, we have been experiencing “technical difficulties” for the past few weeks.  I leave it to a future story to explain how those obstacles were overcome because right now Amadeus takes precedence.

Spring Play


Opens March 26

March 23, 2009


The Phantom Theater production of Amadeus opens this week. This exciting play by British playwright Peter Shaffer (author of Equus, among others) won five Tony awards when it was first produced in 1981. The film version (which is much richer in its elaborate re-creation of the time period than the meticulously focused stylization of the play) also won several Academy Awards in 1984, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay adapted from another medium.


After a dress rehearsal on Wednesday before a selected elementary school audience, the show will play Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings (March 26, 27, 28) at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, March 29, at 2:00 p.m.  It also runs the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday (April 2, 3, 4) at 7:30 p.m., with a final matinee Sunday, April 5, at 2:00 p.m. Tickets, which are going fast, are $10 for students and $15 for adults.


Director Joseph Walsh explained that the play examines “the relationship between man and God,” and what happens when a particular man, whose desire to serve God has guided his life, discovers that God is not keeping His part of the bargain. The man in question is Antonio Salieri (1750 -1825), the most famous composer of his time.  More than anything he wants to glorify God by writing music that will live forever, and he devotes his life to this purpose.


But God has other plans.  The prodigy Mozart has the genius Salieri longs for, but the little upstart is completely uninterested in being a role model of humility for the world. Salieri, who alone recognizes Mozart’s brilliance, cannot bear this betrayal by God. There is a delicious irony in the title, Amadeus, which most people know is Mozart’s middle name.  In Latin it means “Beloved of God.”


Mr. Walsh, who toured with the national company before settling in Los Angeles to begin his teaching career, praised not only Shaffer’s  carefully structured plot, with its climax, or turning point, precisely in the middle, but also his characters.  He says, “Shaffer makes his villain so attractive; he lets us see his struggle.”  Only six years older than Mozart, Salieri is an excellent composer in his own right, but he yearns for more.  He has noble motives, excellent education, and most important, an understanding of “how beautiful Mozart’s music is, and how much it adds to the world.”  Mr. Walsh believes that the play is Shaffer’s way of asking the audience, “What would you have done in a similar situation?”


“In 2009 terms,” he continues, the play presents a choice between the urgent and noisy  “quest for our fifteen minutes of fame,” and the considerably less exciting but ultimately more fulfilling decision to “walk humbly with God”  (Micah 6:8).


The production includes a cast of 23 in period costumes. Junior Stephen Castillo plays Salieri. In commending Stephen’s performance, Mr. Walsh acknowledged that it derived in large part because he “goes so far beyond [merely] memorizing his lines; he is dedicated to discovering as much as he can” about the character he plays.


Senior Matthew Muranaga is Mozart. Matt first developed an interest in theater when he worked on the backstage crew for Godspell and Urinetown. When Mr. Walsh saw him copying the dance steps and singing the songs, he suggested that the young man audition for Amadeus. So it was his Mozartean genius for music that Mr. Walsh recognized?  “I think it was my immaturity,” replied Matt with a smile. More diplomatically, Mr. Walsh said it was Matt’s “offbeat sense of humor and [his] energy” that made him a “natural” for this role.


Other actors whose performances Mr. Walsh applauded include Ramon Ortega as the Emperor Franz Josef, courtiers Chris Herrera, Steve Flores, and Jonathan Hernandez, and the “awesome” Ricardo Rubio. Taking one of the two speaking roles for women is Alexi Erwin of Sacred Heart High School, who plays Mozart’s wife, Constanze. You may remember her brother Nikki, who was Jean Valjean in Cathedral’s production of Les Miserables back in 2005.


According to Mr. Walsh, this is the most challenging production since Romeo and Juliet (Fall 2000) because it demands so much of its student actors. They must master not only a “complex story,” but also understand how to tell it using the playwright’s “beautiful language” – many beautiful languages, in fact. The Imperial Court was a cosmopolitan milieu, and men from many nations sought notice.  Their competition was only intensified by political rivalry between the Austrian Hapsburgs and the French Bourbons.  Alert spectators will hear words and phrases of Italian, German, Latin, and French amid the powerful figurative language of Shaffer’s English.


Dr. Brian Bartel, Cathedral’s music teacher, helped to locate all the Mozart music used in the play. Mozart composed over 600 works, so this was no small task. The one set, built by Walter Durham and his student stage crew, is designed to depict the interior of many late eighteenth-century locations.  When the scene changes, a picture (the palace of the Emperor in Vienna, an opera house) is projected onto a screen at the back of the set, so the audience will understand where the action occurs.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Faith in Action

March 9, 2009


Mrs. Aguirre’s junior religion classes act on their Christian faith.


The religion classes at Cathedral help students understand the basics of the Catholic faith.  They study Scripture (both Old and New Testaments), the life of Christ, and the history of the Catholic Church and its Sacraments.  By the time they are juniors, however, students are ready to look at ways for faith to inform their lives.


In her first year teaching in the Department of Religious Studies, Mrs. Hilary Aguirre (see Purple Letter of Oct. 20, 2008) used the fall semester’s curriculum (Christian justice) as an opportunity for her juniors to learn about the world outside the classroom, beyond the book-learning Christianity they had studied in their first two years of religion classes.  They spent most of the semester “discussing social issues,” she explained, including “the environment, civil rights, violence, the arms race, prejudice and discrimination, poverty”  – problems that create conflict in the world.


However, Mrs. Aguirre was interested in more than just talk.  “I saw the entire class as a call to action,” she continued. So as a culminating activity, she devised a project that gave the boys a way to act out their Christian faith.  First, she asked each student to choose an issue of importance to him, anything from “pollution on the beach to the war in Darfur.”  Then, they had to do some research on the issue, including an analysis of the situation, examination of solutions that had been tried, explanations for why those solutions have not worked, and finally, each student’s own recommendations for the future.


“After the research,” Mrs. Aguirre recounted, “they had to take an action – follow one of their own recommendations.”  The action could take many forms. For local issues, students had to do something and document their contribution, but for a global issue, a student had to “write letters to two government officials” informing them of the student’s concern and urging some kind of action.


As you can imagine, poverty, homelessness and education ranked high on their priorities. While Mrs. Aguirre did not expect them to solve the problems, she said they had to “do something, however small” in that direction.


What did students do?

Some went down to Skid Row to give food to the homeless, recording with their camera phones, and even putting it up on YouTube; others joined Br. Chris Patino (see Purple Letter of January 12, 2009) and Lasallian Youth, tutoring children and feeding the homeless by that method.

Mario Velis, recognizing the importance of poverty issues, wrote to City Council member Ed Reyes as well as to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both alumni of Cathedral. In his letters Mario cited statistics linking poverty and unemployment, and urged the men to look for ways to provide jobs for their constituents.


Concerned about inner city education, Alejandro Rodriguez tutored fifth graders at Sacred Heart Elementary School.


One student volunteered at a hospital; another, who worked at Jack-in-the-Box, used food from his job to feed a homeless man near his house for a week. At least one student paid for others’ bus fare.


William Velazquez was one of ten students concerned with pollution on the beaches. Together they picked a Saturday and went down to Santa Monica beach. For four hours, from 8:00 a.m. to noon, they picked up beer cans, glass, cigar and cigarette butts, and other litter.  “There was still a lot of trash” when they left, he conceded, “but at least [we] did something to make it better.”


Armando Bermudez, who enjoys athletics, was concerned about smoking by friends who play basketball regularly at the local recreation center.  “I talked to them,” he said, “and they stopped for about two months.” And the results? “They felt better and even played better,” he reported, but the intensity of their withdrawal symptoms “sent them back” to their old addiction.


For Brandon Garcia the issue was Darfur.  He wrote to President [-elect] Obama describing the issues in Sudan and suggesting that the U.S. government send humanitarian aid.  He also recommended that the Sudanese government step back its involvement.


Besides writing to the President, the Mayor and the City Council, students also wrote to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and David Brewer (then Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District), and Senator Dianne Feinstein.


These little acts make a difference, and they help the boys see what it means to put their Christian faith into action.  “I was impressed with the results,” Mrs. Aguirre concluded. The boys “volunteered all over the city and sent emails all over the country.”


So far the only written response has been an email from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Vincent Lopez. Vincent was concerned with child abuse, specifically because so many incidents are hidden from public knowledge.  He was concerned about prevention, which is also less publicized.  Following his research into various kinds of child abuse, he saw a need to educate the public as to what constitutes abuse and for laws to prevent it. He wrote to Sen. Feinstein, who responded in an email that addressed his concerns.


She told him of a bill, the “Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act” (H.R. 5876), introduced last April. The bill is currently pending in the House of Representatives (no vote has been taken; it has not come up on the floor yet). No companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate.  She promised to “keep [his] comments in mind should this or similar legislation come before the United States Senate.”


In a world with far more problems than solutions, it is comforting to know that the next generation is looking at the world with new eyes and taking action on issues of Christian justice.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Shakespeare at


March 2, 2009


One of the enrichment activities Cathedral welcomed back last year was the annual visit of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s “Shakespeare on Tour.”  Last year this troupe of professional actors brought us a 55-minute version of the comedy Twelfth Night; this year they are performing the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. There will be a special schedule on Friday, March 6, for two performances.


Part of the delight of seeing a Shakespeare play produced is that, no matter how familiar the text, each production is the director’s vision and thus has something new to offer.  In putting together this production, for example, artistic director Rebecca J. Ennals was struck by the play’s strong Catholic themes and emphasis on death and mourning. She began to consider setting the story in Mexico, perhaps during the Day of the Dead celebration. When further research indicated that violent street fighting accompanied the Mexican revolution, she became convinced that early twentieth-century Mexico provided an appropriate backdrop for the tragedy.  Moreover, in Shakespeare’s time, music was expected to be part of any live entertainment, and actors also had to be dancers, singers and musicians. The melodies from Shakespeare’s time, however, have not survived, so the music the audience hears has been composed especially for this production.

Students at Cathedral read Romeo and Juliet as part of their freshman English curriculum, so most of the students will be familiar with the plot.  This year’s freshmen, however, will not read the play until later in the semester, so English teachers have promised to bring their freshmen up to speed before the production.


For those of you unfamiliar with the play, here is a brief summary of the action. The first part of the story is the exposition.  It tells us what has just happened to the characters before the play opens and sets the plot in motion.


An opening sonnet establishes the feud “from ancient grudge” between the Capulets and the Montagues, and the play opens with a street fight between servants of the two families. The Prince, in a last attempt to maintain peace, threatens the heads of both families with death should any more violence occur.


Meanwhile, Romeo Montague, who was not involved in the fighting, agrees to go to a party at the Capulets’ home. As it is a masquerade ball, he does not expect to be recognized.


Complications (also called the “rising action”) begin when he meets and falls in love with Juliet Capulet, and she with him. They have their famous balcony scene in Act II, and Romeo persuades Friar Lawrence to conduct a secret marriage ceremony for them.


Unbeknownst to Romeo, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt recognized him at the party and is now looking to teach young Montague a lesson.  When Romeo refuses to fight (He is, after all, now a Capulet by marriage, even though he cannot yet make that fact public.), his hot-tempered friend Mercutio steps in to uphold Romeo’s honor.  Unfortunately, in spite of (or is it because of?) Romeo’s attempts to stop the violence, Tybalt kills Mercutio, and Romeo now demands vengeance.  Momentarily forgetting his bride and their hope of bringing peace to their families, Romeo fights an impassioned duel resulting in Tybalt’s death.  At the climax that ends Act III, he stands over Tybalt’s body and realizes what he has done.  In agony, he cries, “O, I am fortune’s fool!”


The Prince delivers justice over the bodies of Mercutio (the Prince’s cousin) and Tybalt (Mercutio’s murderer) by reducing Romeo’s death sentence to exile for life.


But what of Juliet?  Can she forgive her new husband for murdering her cousin?  How will her parents help her move on with her life when the death of her cousin (as they see it) has caused such monumental sorrow?  Will the lovers ever see one another again?  Will the feud ever end?


These complications should pique your interest in the performance coming this Friday, March 6.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Photo courtesy of Francis Sy Su

Academic Decathlon

February 23, 2009


On this, the day after the Academy Awards, it is fitting to celebrate the medals won by members of Cathedral’s Academic Decathlon teams. At this year’s competition, held again at Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, Cathedral’s team of decathletes earned at least one medal in each of the ten categories (except science, but more on that later).  Of their fourteen medals, six were gold, four silver, and four bronze.

In an academic decathlon, teams of students compete on different levels in ten academic subjects, including (1) literature & language; (2) music; (3) science; (4) art; (5) mathematics; (6) economics; (7) social science; (8) speech (one extemporaneous – prepared – and one impromptu); (9) composition; and (10) an oral interview based on the student’s resumé.  Then there is the “Super Quiz,” which includes both an individual written component and a team-based oral quiz.


At 7:00 a.m. students started with a one-hour timed writing and then took seven one-hour Scantron tests, one for each of the subject areas.


The big winner for Cathedral was Josergio Zaragoza, who brought home four medals: 2 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze.  First-time participant Erick Linares surprised himself by winning three medals:  a gold in music, a silver in literature, and a bronze in art.  The art test was particularly challenging, he said, because he did not get to look at any of the art! Instead, he had to “describe the decorations on the edge of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s robe,” or, given the title of a work, to name the artist.


In mathematics, medal winners included Wisely Wang (silver) and Chris Soriano (bronze) at the Honors level; Josergio Zaragoza (bronze) at the Scholastic level; and Gabriel Gutierrez (bronze) at the Varsity level. Gabriel also took silver in music.


In social science, a test on the history of Mexico and its government, Robert Martinez took gold at the Varsity level, and at the Scholastic level Josergio Zaragoza won silver.

Josergio also won a gold medal for economics.


The written Super Quiz, the interview, the two speech components, and the oral component of the Super Quiz took place in the afternoon, and that was when Alex Rodriguez won a gold medal for his interview based on his resumé.


Now, about that lack of a science medal.  While none of Cathedral’s Decathletes won a medal in the Scantron portion of the subject, senior Josergio Zaragoza won a gold medal for his speech on DNA bonding, a science-based topic, and sophomore Luis Isidro won gold for his composition (timed writing) comparing the views of Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck on evolution.  If that’s not science, what is?


All in all, it was an eleven-hour ordeal, and they had to do it on their own – no coaches are allowed in the testing rooms!

How do the teams prepare?

Academic Decathlon preparation is mostly independent study, but the team also meets daily during lunch with their coach/moderator, Mrs. Staveley. Though she is new to Cathedral (see Purple Letter of Nov. 17, 2008), she fortunately brings experience with Academic Decathlon from her former school.  She arranged for the boys to get special tutoring in mathematics, including calculus, from Mr. Mike TrafecantyJosergio Zaragoza and Chris Soriano were particularly vocal in expressing their gratitude.  “I couldn’t have done it [won a medal] without his help,” they agreed.


This year the theme for the competition was Latin American history, economy and culture, with the Super Quiz on evolutionary biology.  Team members each received a “packet” about six inches high with flashcards, CDs of music, and over 1000 pages in information to digest.  Literature and language, for instance, assigned Rudolfo Anaya’s novel Bless Me, Ultima; but the teams also read up on Don Quixote, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Mariachi music, painters/muralists Jose Orozco and Diego Rivera, and political leader Porfírio Díaz.  For the Super Quiz they learned about Charles Darwin, of course, but also Thomas Malthus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. The teams have to learn about all the subjects, not just the ones they like.


In addition, each person writes his own four-minute expository speech on a self-chosen topic, which he delivers extemporaneously – without any notes.  Erick Linares enjoyed the speech component. Though he did not win a medal, he spoke eloquently about the quality of hamburgers and where to find the best ones.


And that’s not all.  Each decathlete must also write his own resumé in preparation for the interview segment of the Decathlon.  Freshman Jonathan Guinto found the interview to be the most fun.  He had developed his resumé around his experience with LaSallian Youth, and he looks forward to competing again next year.


The team’s first goal was to prepare for the “scrimmage” in November, a practice session with St. Francis and Holy Family hosted by Cathedral.  The entire team competed in the scrimmage, but only nine per Division (three at each level) get to go to the competition in February.


Who gets to compete?

Academic Decathlon has four divisions and three levels of competition. Division 4 consists of teams competing for the first time, and last year that’s where Cathedral competed, winning twenty medals.  This year we had a team in Division 3 and one in Division 2. (Division 1 is for teams that have scored thousands of points in competition. Cathedral is not quite ready for that.)  In each division, teams are divided into three skill levels, and each school is required to participate at all three skill levels.


Members of the Division 2 team are, at the Honors Level (GPA of 3.6 and above): Jonathan Guinto, Eddie Franco, and Wisely Wang; at the Scholastic Level (GPA of 3.0 to 3.5): Kevin Brenes, Josergio Zaragoza, and Edgar Maldonado; and at the Varsity Level (GPA of 2.99 or below): Jessie Castelan, Ernesto Brooks, and Jeremy Joaquin.


On the Division 3 team, members at the Honors Level are Chris Soriano, Henry Garcia, and Alvin Fong; at the Scholastic Level: Steve Flores, Luis Isidro, and Alex Rodriguez; and at the Varsity Level: Robert Martinez, Erick Linares, and Gabriel Gutierrez.

What does the future hold?

When asked why they compete, the response was unanimous:  The boys “like learning new things.” This year’s results have “inspired [them] to do better next year.”  They like “meeting new people” at the competitions, and especially the opportunity to “meet girls.”  Even though he will be in college next year, Josergio has high hopes because “a lot of the sophomores are really bright, so they should do well.” According to their coach, Mrs. Staveley, “Half the team is made up of sophomores, and they have the bug” and can hardly wait for next year.  The new theme will be announced in March, so there is not much of an off season for these decathletes.  Like her predecessor, Mrs. Staveley hopes to have Academic Decathlon as a regular elective, just like many other top-ranking schools.


What is your response, Dear Readers?  Students, would you choose this as an elective?  Parents, would you recommend that your son participate?  Administration, what kind of response would make it possible to have this class available in the fall of 2009?


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Walkathon Kickoff and

Winter Sports Rally

February 16, 2009


On a cold and rainy Friday, students filing into the new gymnasium received an information flyer and a Walkathon envelope.  Once everyone was present, Development Director Oscar Leong took the microphone to explain to freshmen and transfer students the importance of participating in this annual fundraiser.


“Seventy percent of the students present,” he declared, “receive some financial aid.  The Walkathon is one way you can make sure Cathedral can keep offering such aid to future students.”  Student involvement is crucial to the success of the Walkathon, he insisted, and with a schoolwide goal of $65,000, every dollar makes a difference.


How do students participate? Each student is asked to raise $100 in sponsorship dollars.  For example, Mr. Leong suggested that students ask relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) to sponsor the walk.  If ten relatives or friends pay $10 apiece, the minimum pledge of $100 will be reached.


Besides guaranteeing future fiscal health of the Scholarship Fund, students are also rewarded for bringing in more than the minimum amount.  For the classroom that brings in the most money (assuming 100% bring in at least $100) each student will win an in-home DVD player.


Individuals who bring in the most money at each grade level will win, too.  First prize is either a Guitar Hero (or World Tour Band Kit) video game, or an Apple iTouch.  Each of the runners-up gets a choice of  either an Apple iPod Shuffle or a Skull Candy MP3 player.


The grand prize is a 42” Plasma television, which will be awarded by means of a raffle.  Each student who raises $500 will get one ticket for the raffle.  For each $100 he brings in above $500, another ticket will be added.  “The more money you raise,” observed Mr. Leong, “the better chance you have of winning the plasma television.”


And that’s not all.  After the two-loop walk around Elysian Park, students return for a free lunch from In-N-Out Burger, and then they get to leave.  As expected, the boys were elated at the prospect of a day with no classes and a meal from this well-known source.


The only “fly in the ointment,” as it were, is what happens to students who refuse to take part.  For them, the Walkathon Day is a full school day: 8:00 to 3:30.  Everyone else gets to go home after lunch. Because this event is so important to the future of the school, the principal expects full participation.  In fact, absence can lead to suspension or even dismissal.  But back to the fun and games at the Winter Sports Rally.


Following the Walkathon Kickoff, Mrs. McNeal and the ASB Council supervised a number of rally activities designed to foster good-natured competition among the four classes.


First came a combination of “Blind Man’s Buff” and “Musical Chairs.” Two representatives from each class were blindfolded and walked around seven chairs, to musical accompaniment provided by Dr. Bartel and the Pep Band. When the music stopped, each participant had to find a chair and sit in it.  The one left standing had to leave the contest.  The eight players were quickly reduced to four, still one from each class.  Then there were three, two, and the eventual winner, senior Carlos De La Torre.


An attempt to start the class spell-out yells failed, so the ASB moved to another competition, “Body Surfing.”  A pre-selected group of students from each class lay head-to-shoulder on the floor and passed a chosen classmate through their upraised hands to the end of the line.  His job was to pick up the waiting basketball and make a basket.  Although the rules indicated that a missed basket meant he had to go back and surf again, the winner made his second attempt before anyone noticed, and the sophomores won the event.


A winter sports rally would not be complete without some mention of winter sports, so the senior basketball players were introduced.  The team finished third in the league, and  they have their first playoff game Wednesday.  Fans were urged to come out and support the team.


The next rally event was “Crab Soccer,” with two two-man teams: a freshman and a senior competing against a sophomore and a junior.  Goal nets were set up inside the basketball sidelines, and the ASB Council worked to keep the ball in bounds.  Players had to move on their hands and feet (face up) to get the ball into position. The game was won by the freshman and senior who scored the sudden-death goal.


Soccer Coach Art Lopez asked members of the freshman, junior varsity and varsity soccer teams to stand up, and several wannabes stole attention from the worthy athletes who actually went to practice. He made special mention of the seniors who had worked for four years on the field for one more playoff run.


Then it was a second opportunity for class yells.  Starting with the freshmen, the ASB went to each class and led them in the Cathedral spell-out (“C-C-C-A-T-H-H-H-E-D-R-R-R-A-L, Cathedral! Cathedral! Cathedral!”).  The freshmen were split, on opposite sides of the gym, as were the sophomores, but they made up for their lack of volume by pushing each other at the finish. The juniors, not to be outdone, were louder because they were all on the same side of the gym, but they continued the roughhousing at the end anyway.  The senior attempt was drowned out by unsportsmanlike boos from the other classes.  Isn’t this fun?


The next activity, called “I’m smarter than a freshman,” involved the moderators for each class: Mr. Godoy (freshmen), Ms. Edwards (sophomores), Mr. Murphy (juniors), and Mr. Gutierrez (seniors).  Each question was taken from a class required of freshmen, and moderators were allowed to use a freshman as a “lifeline.”  Mr. Godoy was asked to name the science that studies moving organisms.  He correctly replied, “Biology.”  Then Ms. Edwards was asked to name two prophets of the Old Testament.  She correctly named Ezekiel and Micah.  Mr. Murphy, asked to name the messenger of the gods, deliberated a long time before guessing “Bob?”  Mr. Gutierrez used his freshman lifeline to help him name Genesis as the book of the Bible containing God’s call to Abraham.   A bonus question, “What is the capital of Cuba?” determined the winner when Mr. Godoy correctly responded, “Havana!”


The rally ended with a lively rendition of the Alma Mater, to the accompaniment of Dr. Bartel and the Pep Band.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Vocation Month:

Bruce Matteson

February 9, 2009


The Honor Roll Assembly and the Schoolwide Writing Project interrupted the series of vocation interviews promised for the month of January.  Herewith the latest in the series:  Bruce Matteson, teacher.  Unlike the others, however, Mr. Matteson says he “fought [his] calling for years.”


Mr. Matteson was born in London, but by age nine had split most of his early life between London and Tokyo.  After graduating from high school in Edmonds, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, he decided against college and joined the Air Force.  He managed to avoid combat in those dangerous times, instead learning military discipline in such diverse stations as Montana and Georgia in the U.S., and overseas in Thailand and Okinawa.


After his discharge he went to England to visit relatives; then he “kicked around Europe,” seeing Scotland, France, Spain and North Africa, and finished his tour by playing guitar in a rock ‘n roll band in Madrid for six months.


Back in the States he worked dead-end jobs and played in bands in Seattle.  Eventually he realized he needed more than a high school education, so using his GI Bill, he enrolled in North Seattle Community College.  There he studied what he liked – music theory – and, on the advice of a teacher, took core classes that allowed him to transfer to the University of Washington.


At the University he began as a business major because he thought he “ought to be doing something practical”; however, he still recalls that he “HATED it” so much that he “quit school altogether and drove a truck for UPS.”


After a while, however, he decided that he would rather have a degree than not have one, so he re-enrolled at University of Washington, this time taking only the courses he wanted.  The state of Washington required English majors who were interested in teaching to have a minor in history, a constraint that did not sit well with the rugged individualism of Mr. Matteson.  He decided to use his Associate’s degree from North Seattle Community College to develop a minor in music, but he says, the music department at the University “didn’t even recognize the guitar as an instrument until 1990.”  Ultimately, he majored in creative writing, minored in music and graduated at the age of 45, but without a teaching credential.


After moving to Los Angeles, he worked for Glidden Paints as a representative to Home Depot while his wife taught at Marymount College. Friends noticed that he had the qualities of a good teacher and encouraged him to get into the field of education.  Unhappy in his job, he took the CBEST and began interviewing.  He started working as a substitute teacher at both Sacred Heart and Cathedral to see if he liked it.  When the opportunity arose for a permanent position, he decided to take the plunge.


After a long and tortuous journey, Mr. Matteson stepped onto the Cathedral campus for his interview and immediately felt comfortable.  Everyone he met, beginning with Mrs. Collier at the reception desk, Chris Heyn (then Dean of Studies), Br. John, the principal – even the Chair of the English Department – gave him a sense of belonging.  He has been at CHS for eight years, currently teaching three sections of English IV and two music appreciation classes.


“Sometimes,” he says, “I forget which class I’m teaching because the classes bleed into each other: they have so much in common.”  Folk music, blues, rock ‘n roll, rap, and hip-hop – all depend on words to convey at least part of their meaning. As composers for each musical genre re-write older songs for their own generation, so poets, playwrights, and novelists re-examine the literature of the past to find new ways to express their truths. Both Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Kerouac’s On the Road were the results of a ten-year process.  Music, of course, is a language of its own, and lyrics are part of its literature.


“Teaching is my calling,” he says, even though he “fought against it for a long time.” It is hardly surprising that now he finds teaching is “tailor-made to [his] interests,” and “it’s uncanny” how well it fits. His itinerant youth, work  experience and eclectic interests now unite as a positive force helping him connect with young men who find formal education a difficult or unnecessary challenge. If his approach is somewhat unorthodox, it is definitely effective.  He does not mind that the boys get to sample different teaching styles; each teacher has different strengths.  Sharing his life experience, he hopes, will help others make wise decisions. Recently, he was pleased to hear from alumnus Aaron Taylor, class of 2008, who saved all his notes from high school and is using them at Berkeley!


Mr. Matteson has not abandoned his alter ego, the professional musician.  He still plays an occasional gig off campus, but the demands of graduate school (he is pursuing his M.A. in Education at Mount St. Mary’s) mean that his spare time is usually spent catching up on lost sleep.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Schoolwide Writing Project

February 2, 2009


Once again, the annual Schoolwide Writing Project is coming to Cathedral.  As anyone knows who has been to college, or who has worked for more than five years, writing is a key skill.  This weeklong project focuses particularly on writing outside the English curriculum.  It will take place the second week of February (Feb. 9 – 12), just before the kickoff assembly for the Walk-a-thon.


What is the purpose of the Schoolwide Writing Project?

Before Cathedral instituted this project, many of our students were unable to pass the UC Writing Placement exam, and as a result, had to enroll in a basic skills writing course that (1) cost money and (2) did not count for graduation.  What was worse, the instructors in these courses discovered that our students already knew how to write well enough for college, but they had been unable to perform to that level in a timed environment.

It is our hope that the Writing Project will provide students with enough practice writing under time pressure that when they sit for the Writing Placement exam in early May of their senior year, they will pass.  While not every student enrolls at UC, every institution of higher learning has an equivalent writing placement test. We want all our graduates to be ready for freshman level instruction in college.

How does the project work? At each grade level, students read an article and respond in writing to a prompt based on that article.  The articles are opinion pieces from current magazines and newspapers, the kind of reading adults do every day.


What are the topics? The topics vary at each grade level.  The freshmen read an article related to their study of foreign language.  It might be about the use of Spanish in the Los Angeles community; or it might be about the value of studying a foreign language in a community where English appears to be the language of power.  Sophomores read an article about a current issue related to their biology class.  Past topics have included  evolution, global warming, and in vitro fertilization.  This year juniors will read an article related to their religion class (Christian lifestyles, morality), and seniors will read something related to their study of U. S. government.


How can students prepare for the writing? Both freshmen and sophomores read the article on Monday in their subject area classes to be sure they understand the vocabulary and the argument the writer is making.  Unlike the lower division students, juniors and seniors do not get to see the article before the day of the timed writing.


Do the freshmen and sophomores get any other help? Yes.  In their bloc classes on Tuesday and Wednesday, teachers in English I and II review the article to make sure the students understand the kind of response the prompt requires.  They may even suggest ways to address the prompt.  The freshman and sophomore packets also include a “shaping sheet” to help the student organize or outline his response.  The teacher may suggest a thesis or a response to the prompt, but the student is still responsible for finding the examples (concrete details) to support it, and of course, his explanation and analysis (commentary) must be his own.


What happens on the day of the writing? A special schedule on Thursday, February 12, provides each of the three even-bloc classes with 70 minutes of instruction, and allows another bloc of 80 minutes (during Homeroom) just for the writing.  This is when the juniors and seniors see their article for the first time.   They must read the article carefully to understand the argument, then read and understand the prompt, and finally organize and write their response, all in only eighty minutes.  The freshmen and sophomores will have the same amount of time, but they have had two periods (one in the subject area and one in English class) to read and understand the article and organize their response to the prompt.  If they did not complete the shaping sheet, they still have some time to finish an outline before they write their response.  A finished outline is not required, of course, but an organized response is always a good idea.


Does this count as part of the student’s grade?

Of course it does.  In fact, it counts twice: once in the subject area and once in English.  This is one of the ways the project emphasizes the importance of writing outside the English curriculum.

What happens to the essays after they are written?

The essays are sorted by class and delivered to the subject area teachers for scoring. Spanish I teachers grade their own students, as do biology, religion and U. S. government teachers.


What do the subject area teachers do with the essays?

Each teacher has a copy of the rubric, or scoring guide, which is based on the one used by the University of California to evaluate essays for its writing placement exam.  Teachers give each essay a grade from 1 to 6 based on the level of maturity in such areas as thoughtfulness of response, vocabulary, organization, and sentence structure.  They make no marks on the papers because they do not want to prejudice the grade of the second teacher.


Who is the second teacher?

After each subject area class is graded, the papers are returned to the faculty room, where they are re-sorted according to English teacher.  The English teachers follow the same process, scoring each paper independently on the basis of the same UC rubric.  They do not see the subject area teacher’s scores.  Again, no marks are made on the paper.


Is that it?  Then what?

The papers are returned to the Chair of the English Department, who records both scores on a color-coded cover sheet and attaches each one to the individual student’s writing packet.  Then the essays are returned to the appropriate English teacher, who distributes them to the students, discusses their scores, and files the essays in the students’ English folders. And the good news for students who find writing difficult is that there will be another opportunity in another subject area next year.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Honor Roll Assembly

January 26, 2009


On Thursday, January 22, 2009, Cathedral recognized the scholastic achievements of almost 300 students, or 42% of the student body, who earned places on the “A” and “B” Honor Roll during the fall semester.  The assembly is intended to celebrate academic success and motivate students to earn a place on the Honor Roll at the assembly next fall.


This year for the first time, each member of the “A” Honor Roll received an elegant school tie (see picture) to be worn on dress-up days for Mass and special assemblies.


With Mr. Gary Bertolone as Master of Ceremonies, Student Body President Dennis Lim opened the assembly with a prayer, and senior Frank Montoya led the Pledge of Allegiance. Then Dean of Studies Sulema Modesto explained the significance of the awards.


Excellence Awards were given to those students in each class with the highest GPA for the semester. Because several students earned the same GPA, more than four students were recognized:


Freshmen: Dong Hyoung Kim, Steve Lee, and

Oscar Leong

Sophomores: Alvin Fong, Henry Garcia, and Christopher Soriano

Juniors: William Velazquez

Seniors: Maksim Tsybrivskiy and Amar Vanmali


In addition, the Principal’s Award was given to the above-named and to the following students, who achieved a GPA of 4.0 or higher:

Angelo Aglipay, Chirstian Aguinaga, Christopher Arredondo, Mark Aumentado, Michael Candaza, John Castellanos, Christopher Centeno, Matias Farfan IV, Mike Fernandez, Jesse Flores, Steve Flores, Christopher Galeano, Anthony Garcia, Daniel Garcia, Isaac Garcia, Luis Garcia, Viktor Gatdula, Jonathan Guinto, Dennis Gutierrez, Joseph Guzman, Andres Hernandez, Matthew Herrera, Quinton Hom, Lawrence Jolon, Jonathan Leyva, Saul Loera, Raymond Lopez, Rick Lu, James Manahan, Jesus Martinez, Joseph Mendoza, Alexander Nadal, Jeffrey Ramirez, James Reyes, John V. Reyes, Alexander U. Rodriguez, Daniel Salas, Aaron Sandoval, Joel Solis, Francis Sy Su, David-Ren Tababa, Christian Tolosa, Julian Tolosa, Vincent Uy, Wisely Wang.


The Purple Card is a further honor for each of the Principal’s Award winners.  It goes to the top ten students by GPA at each grade level. The Purple Card entitles students to one free admission to the March and May dances; a free treat once a month; and one free lunch per quarter (two per semester).


The “A” Honor Roll comprised 148 students in all four classes, or 21% of the student body.  These young men demonstrated excellent academic merit and achieved a minimum 3.5 GPA with no D or F grade for the fall semester.  The Honor Roll tie was introduced as “a new tradition” to complement the usual Honor Roll certificate.

“Like a letterman’s jacket or a varsity letter,” Mr. Bertolone explained, it is “awarded only to those who have earned it by their hard work … in the field of academics.”  A symbol of prestige and distinctive accomplishment, it will be a “treasured” memento of high school.


“B” Honor Roll students, comprising an additional 21% of the student body, or 149 students from the four classes, were also recognized with Honor Roll certificates. .


Finally, members of the California Scholarship Federation and the National Honor Society were recognized by their moderator, Mrs. Salas, who noted that, of the 169 students eligible for membership in CSF, 49 were freshmen. Membership is based on GPA (3.5 or above), character, and service. She also observed that of the 218 students eligible for National Honor Society membership, 59 were freshmen.  NHS membership requires GPA of 3.29 or above, plus leadership (involvement in clubs or sports), character and service.


After the ceremony, President Martin Farfan addressed the students, admitting that he had spent time “on both sides” of the aisle at Honor Roll Assemblies.  In the beginning, he was not interested in getting good grades, but eventually he saw the light and began to apply himself.  When he made the Honor Roll, his parents were very proud, and he realized how important a good education could be.  He observed that Dr. Martin Luther King was chosen by his peers to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement because he was an educated minister, with a degree from Morehouse College and a doctoral degree from Boston University. Similarly, the new President, Barack Obama, persuaded the voters that he could lead the country because he, too, was an educated man, with degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School.


Principal Br. John Montgomery also congratulated the Honor Roll students for their achievement.  But he continued on a more serious note, noting that a disturbing number of students had a GPA of less than 2.0.  He urged these students to apply themselves to their studies so they would have more choices upon graduation.  He pointed out that four-year institutions (Cal State, UC and private colleges and universities) do not award credit for D grades in high school.  “If you have a D when you graduate,” he warned, “your only choice will be a community college.”  While he did not intend to denigrate the community college system, the Principal insisted that limited choices contradict Cathedral’s stated goals: a D is not a college preparatory grade. Br. John also discussed the grade issue at the parents meeting Thursday night. In closing, he reminded the students that the 42% of the student body who earned places on the Honor Roll exemplified the college preparatory nature of the school.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Vocation Month:

Brady Lowdermilk

January 19, 2009


This year Cathedral High School is dedicating the month of January to vocations. In keeping with this theme, The Purple Letter asked teacher Brady Lowdermilk about his calling as a husband.  Like Br. Chris (see Purple Letter of Jan. 12) Mr. Lowdermilk’s vocation was clear to him from the beginning.  He “always knew” he wanted to be a dad, and marriage was the first step in that direction.


He has been at Cathedral since the fall of 2006, teaching core English classes (English II and English III), plus such electives as Utopian Literature, Across America, and Literature to Film. This year his classes include three sections of English II, and two sections of the new elective, Across America, now paired with Literature to Film.  Rather than looking at Gothic novels and film versions (Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Mr. Lowdermilk’s students are examining more modern works: Shoeless Joe, a novel about baseball; Into the Wild, a non-fiction work; and All the Pretty Horses, a coming-of-age novel.  He also continues to coach the water polo and swimming teams.


When considering his calling for Vocation Month, Mr. Lowdermilk asked his wife, “How did I know it was time to get married?” and she responded, “I told you.” (Lesson #1: Listen to your wife.)


Born in Denver, Colorado, he graduated from St. Regis Jesuit High School and went to college at Lake Forest near Chicago, where he majored in English literature and secondary education.  He’s “one of the few” people he knows who is actually pursuing a career in his major field.


He came to California as a Jesuit volunteer and taught at St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood for a year.  There he met Kristina Ortega, his future wife, who was already a teacher and campus minister as well. Although he was obligated to go back to Chicago and complete the requirements for a teaching credential for the State of Illinois, he had no intention of teaching in that state. When an opportunity arose to return to California and teach at Cathedral, he accepted the offer.  His wife teaches religion at Chaminade High School in the Valley.


Mr. Lowdermilk says there was never any debate about whom he would marry:  he felt comfortable with Kristina; she was enjoyable company, easy to talk to.  In two years of dating and getting to know one another, they discovered that they shared many of the same values and goals. They were engaged for six months before getting married in August of 2007.


Asked about leisure time and summer activities, Mr. Lowdermilk said he and his wife usually go to Denver to visit his family in the summer. They enjoy hiking and camping; his brother arranges music festivals, and they get to attend those as well. Last summer, however, they went to India and lived for three weeks in a Christian Brothers orphanage (see Purple Letter of September 2, 2008).


In his spare time, he likes to read new literature. His goal is to read a Pulitzer Prize novel before it receives that award.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is such a novel, but “that was an Oprah book,” he observed, so it does not quite qualify. Currently, for the first time since high school, he is re-reading Ray Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe.  This second reading makes the book a new experience because he sees the story from an entirely different perspective. As a high school student he saw “the kid who wanted to play baseball”; as an adult reader he sees the point of view of the husband and father.

What skills and abilities does a husband need? What does he bring to his calling?  First, Mr. Lowdermilk admits he has always been more a “team player” than an individual star, so he shows consideration for his wife in tangible ways. “I work at making her proud to be with me,” he says.  When she is with her friends and colleagues, he wants her to be able to say good things about her husband.  The other night, for example, when she was feeling the effects of her pregnancy, Mr. Lowdermilk stayed up until 1:00 a.m. doing the laundry, because “that’s part of what teamwork means.”


Second, both husband and wife accept one another’s faults and virtues; neither one is trying to change the other person. Mr. Lowdermilk concedes that part of him is still a kid, sometimes wanting to stay out all night at a concert and just have fun.  His wife understands that sometimes he needs to be with his buddies and “sound [his] barbaric yawp,” as Whitman put it.  On the other hand, he realizes that he cannot think only of himself and go ice skating with friends if she is unable to participate. Asked how she makes him a better person, Mr. Lowdermilk replied, “She is a great and dedicated teacher. She is passionate about her faith, the importance of family, and our relationship. By seeing those things in her, I am reminded of their importance for me.”


What is hard about being a husband? “Sometimes,” he says, “our priorities are different. I have to remember I’m no longer on my own. Partnership means making decisions together, for the good of the family, even if I’m the one who gives in.”

Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Vocation Month:

Br. Chris Patino

January 12, 2008


This year Cathedral High School is dedicating the month of January to vocations. In keeping with this theme, The Purple Letter asked the vocation director, Br. Chris Patino, about his calling.


Br. Chris is a local boy, born in Santa Monica, but a product of St. Bernard’s School in Glassell Park.  Early on he knew he wanted to be a teacher – he says God has blessed him with “clarity” in that respect.


As a Cathedral freshman in the fall of 1998, however, he had no idea what a Christian Brother was. His introduction was gradual: he had only one Brother as a teacher his freshman year, Br. Jesus Lara, who taught Spanish.  His sophomore year, however, was pivotal.  That year Br. Ted Kanelopoulos, his religion teacher, introduced him to Lasallian Youth. Though Br. Ted left Cathedral for Yakima the following year (and later left the Brothers to marry and have a family) young Chris was inspired by his dedication and enthusiasm.  “This is the kind of teaching I want to do,” he decided.


Vocation is more than desire, however.  To recognize the call, one must have talent and be willing to develop the necessary skills to be effective.  What talents and abilities did Br. Chris bring to his vocation? What skills did he develop? With characteristic modesty, he did not mention his activities as an undergraduate, so this reporter did a little research in past yearbooks and made the following discoveries.  First, Chris got involved in the life of the school. He served on the freshman council, read prayer petitions at Mass, and as a sophomore became an active participant in Lasallian Youth, including service learning experiences in Los Angeles and across the country. As a junior he continued with Lasallian Youth, joined the yearbook staff, and earned a Star Scholar award for dedication in English III Honors. Unfortunately, a schedule conflict prevented his enrollment in AP English Literature. As yearbook moderator John Ferrante explained, “Mrs. Price will have an AP class without Chris, but if I don’t have him, there won’t be a yearbook.”


As a senior, Chris was editor of the 2002 Chimes, and he finished his high school career as a life member of both the National Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation, graduating summa cum laude (with highest honors).  At graduation he gave the salutatory speech and was recognized with both the Br. James Meegan Award for his dedication and service to Cathedral, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Christian Service Award. What did he bring to his vocation?  He said “Yes” to the challenge. He brought his best effort, enthusiasm and hard work.  He persisted; he never gave up.


When looking at colleges, Chris briefly considered St. Mary’s of Moraga, the Christian Brothers institution, but decided instead to attend the University of Arizona.  “I knew no one there; I had no connections, but I wanted to try something different,” he explained. He discovered that God’s call grew stronger when he was away from the Brothers.  He worked at the university as a student counselor for culturally diverse incoming freshmen from lower income families. It was, in a word, “different” from his Cathedral experience. Then he heard from the vocation director that the Brothers were planning to open a school in Tucson.  Would Chris like to help?  Yes!


Br. Nick Gonzalez, who was to be principal of the new school, had met Chris a few years earlier at a service learning opportunity with Cathedral’s Lasallian Youth in El Paso. He asked Chris to develop the new school’s website and its sports program as he continued his sophomore studies. The two men shared an apartment and worked together planning for the school, to be called St. Miguel. When the school opened the following fall, he lived in community with the Brothers, attending morning and evening prayer with them while still attending classes at the University.


As graduation approached, Chris expected to continue as a lay worker with the school, but then suddenly, in December of 2005, the admissions director resigned, and Chris was asked to assume that responsibility as well.  He discovered that having to go out and preach what he believed, to recruit students to the Lasallian school was exactly what he needed to help him discern that his vocation lay with the Christian Brothers. However, he was not quite ready to leave St. Miguel and his many duties.  Then, in the fall of 2006, another miracle occurred: the incoming director of the Brothers’ community in Tucson was a past director of postulants (the first step in becoming a Brother), so Chris was able to stay in Tucson, teach history classes in addition to his many other jobs, and enter the novitiate as a postulant.


In the fall of 2007, he moved to Napa for his second year in the novitiate.  During this time encouraging words from students, their families, and the Brothers helped him accept this new challenge.  They became for him the voice of God, and by listening to them, he heard and answered the call to vocation with the Christian Brothers. “The call of God is about saying ‘Yes,’” declared Br. Chris.  “It’s about taking the next step.”


Having completed his novitiate and taken his first vows, Br.  Chris awaited word on where he would be sent.  From the beginning, he had no expectation of being sent to either St. Miguel or Cathedral.  And yet, in February Br. Stanislaus Campbell asked if he was interested in coming here.  The Brothers allow plenty of time for discernment, Br. Chris noted, so it was not until June that the decision was final.


He is delighted to be teaching religion classes full time (three of freshman and two of sophomores), plus Lasallian Youth and – in his spare time? – vocational formation. He is working creatively with Br. Roch to include with the announcements some interviews with several adults who will talk about their vocations – as spouses, parents, teachers, etc. As time and space permit, The Purple Letter will interview some of these folks and share their insights.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Gearing Up

January 5, 2009


The image to the right is from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology (http://etc.usf.edu/clipart). It depicts the Roman god Janus, who presides over beginnings, such as marriages, and endings, such as harvest.  The month of January takes its name from this two-faced deity of doorways and gates.


The beginning of a new year is a time to look forward and a time to look back.  In Japan, for example, people rise early to greet the first sunrise of the year, and then honor the past with offerings to their ancestors.  On this first week of the new semester, it is appropriate to look back on the past and forward to the future. Try this exercise.


As you think about your college or career goals, what progress have you made in the past semester?  At the faculty Christmas party, Br. John Montgomery observed that the first semester is much easier for him than the second.  Is this true for you?  Freshmen, who have had only a semester of high school experience, are hardly qualified to respond, but sophomores, juniors and seniors, even faculty and staff, should ponder the question, if only for a moment. The shorter first semester might be easier because it has only 17 weeks of instruction as opposed to 19 (18 for seniors) in the second semester. Or it might be more difficult for the same reason: not as much time to cover the same amount of information. Are you pleased with the results, or merely relieved that the semester is over? Have you achieved your semester goal?


Next, consider the future.  What are your long-term goals?  What steps can you take this coming semester to help achieve them? Every sport has its season, and no season hangs on a single game, or even a single play.  Just as a coach teaches players skills and strategies for present and future seasons, so a teacher coaches students, encouraging them to develop skills and strategies they will need in college. Whatever decisions you make, each step is important, and consistency is the key.  Think marathon rather than sprint.


The second semester, however, is rife with distractions, including senior activities and the hope for privileges. Br. John knows that academic, behavioral, and financial problems are exacerbated by the extra pressure. As for seniors, it seems like only yesterday they were callow freshmen, wondering if they’d make it to senior year, and now, here they are. In only a few short weeks they’ll be graduates. If you think the first semester went by quickly, don’t blink or you’ll miss the second semester entirely.


First, however, there are a few hurdles, such as classes, homework, problem sets, reading, writing assignments, and library research.  Seniors will be getting letters from colleges and universities. For those whose college admission is deferred, the second semester grades are essential to acceptance. For those who had some disciplinary or academic difficulty, second semester is a last chance. In the Gospel of Matthew, the magi went home “by a different way” because they had been warned not to go back to Herod. It may be time for a new approach for you, too.


How will you spend your summer vacation?  Will you be in summer school making up classes you could have passed, or at work, earning money for tuition and books? The time to start planning is now.



Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Theater Parties

December 15, 2008


As semester exams begin, it is sometimes helpful to look back at extra-curricular experiences, those that will be remembered long after test material is forgotten.


One of the advantages of enrolling in Mrs. Price’s AP English Literature class is the opportunity to earn extra credit by attending live performances of plays at A Noise Within, Glendale’s classical repertory theater company.  The English Department advances money for group tickets, and the students buy them at a group discount.


“Repertory” means there is one large group of actors, and they perform three plays on a rotating basis for the duration of the season. The theme this year is “Awakenings!” and the three plays this season (which coincides with our fall semester) are Shakespeare’s Hamlet, N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker, and an adaptation by Neil Bartlett of Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.


This year the boys voted to attend Sunday evening performances, beginning with Oliver Twist on November 9.  The show had opened the previous evening, and reviews were not yet available.  The production, however, was non-traditional and powerful.  From the beginning there was no attempt at “willing suspension of disbelief.” The cast sat on chairs across the back of the stage and established the back-story through choral speaking. The Artful Dodger narrated as the hapless Oliver was victimized by a series of selfish and unsympathetic characters.  The students especially commended Tom Fitzpatrick, the actor who played Fagin, commander of the gang of youthful pickpockets.  His manipulative arrogance in moments of power became pleading desperation in the prison scene at the end. It was a memorable performance.


The second play, The Rainmaker, was a more realistic production, set in the U.S. of the 1950s during an extended drought.  The family of men (a widower and his two sons) knows Lizzie, their daughter/sister, must marry if she is to be happy, but she does not seem to understand how to play the courtship game.  An eligible deputy sheriff is equally unwilling to take the plunge, having been deserted by his first wife.  Enter the stranger, Starbuck, who promises to deliver rain within 24 hours and sweeps Lizzie off her feet with his attentions. An old-fashioned romance, the play was a delight for one and all.


The last production generated a change in the usual order of Mrs. Price’s curriculum. Instead of reading Hamlet second semester, when students are better prepared for the blank verse and sophisticated language of Shakespeare, the class began the year with its most challenging reading.  “I wanted the boys to see the play,” explained Mrs. Price, “but I also wanted them to have read it first.  I knew it was a gamble, but I hope it paid off.”  Indeed, the focus of this production was almost entirely on the royal family: King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, and Prince Hamlet. The parallel conflict with Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia is included, but there are no soldiers, no ambassadors, and no mention of Fortinbras of Norway.  During post-play discussion in class, students said they had no difficulty following the plot, even though some lines and scenes had been shuffled.  The boys also observed that actor Freddy Douglas, by portraying Hamlet as a “cutter,” brought a sense of immediacy and modern relevance to his characterization of young man on his way to madness from the very beginning.  Asked how the omissions affected their understanding of the play, the boys responded that it seemed “smaller” because the tragedy did not spread to include the state of Denmark. This led to the conclusion that every production of this play will be different, for each director has a particular focus. The realization that many different interpretations and emphases are possible is what makes a masterpiece.


In January the company is offering Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for a short ten-day run.  The class hopes to kick off the second semester with the opportunity to see this seminal play.  The regular spring season begins in March with three more productions: the heavy drama of Henrik Ibsens’s Ghosts, Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, and a twentieth-century French play, The Rehearsal, by Jean Anouilh.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Annual Scholarship



December 8, 2008


This Friday, December 12, at its Annual Scholarship Banquet, Cathedral High School celebrates 83 years of Catholic educational excellence. For the past ten years, the school has honored an alumnus or male educator. This year for the first time, the honoree is a woman, Kathleen H. Anderson, Executive Director of the Catholic Education Foundation of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Foundation is dedicated to providing tuition support to students at Archdiocesan schools.


Born in Gilroy, California, she is the eldest of six children and a fifth-generation Californian. Because the parish subsidized students at the local Catholic school, her parents paid tuition only for their first child; her siblings attended tuition-free. She graduated from Santa Clara University, where she serves on the Board of Regents.  In 2006 that school honored her with the Ignatian Award for her volunteer work.  She and her husband, Howard, a commercial artist, are active in St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Burbank, where she has served on several committees and taught social justice to Confirmation I students. One of their two sons teaches mathematics and journalism at St. Genevieve’s High School in Panorama City; the other is an actuary for an international consulting firm in San Diego.


Before coming to the Foundation, Mrs. Anderson had a successful career in corporate finance and banking.  When the company asked her to move to Washington, DC, however, she was unwilling to leave California.  Instead, she looked in a new direction and changed careers.


Her Catholic school experience, she says, made her what she is today, and for that reason she has taken on the challenge of ensuring “that all children who want to attend a Catholic school can do so.”  This is especially important because so few of the parish schools in the poorest neighborhoods can afford to subsidize their families.


Her new career focuses on helping the Church educate inner-city students.  She was involved first in a tutoring project at Loyola High School, and then helped establish a similar program here at Cathedral.  The Cathedral program differs from Loyola’s in that Cathedral “recruits eighth graders to attend Catholic high schools and will provide training in financial literacy to their parents.”


This year the Catholic Education Foundation will give a record $11.5 million in program awards to 9,000 students, making a significant impact in the Catholic schools.


The keynote speaker at the banquet will be Shane P. Martin, Dean of the School of Education at Loyola-Marymount University.  He is also on the Board of Directors of Green Dot Public Schools, serves on the Board of Regents for Loyola High School of Los Angeles, and is a member of Teach for America.  An educational anthropologist by training, he is an expert in intercultural education, cultural diversity, and Catholic schools.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Phantom Family 

Elena Lira

December 1, 2008

The sister of Martha Lira, Chair of the Spanish Department, Elena Lira is also a native of Mexico with a clear understanding of both English and Spanish. She teaches four classes of non-speaker Spanish II, and one class of Spanish I for native speakers.


She was born in Guadalajara, third of seven children (six girls and a boy).  She finished high school in Mexico, but decided to move to with her family to the U.S. to be reunited with her father and pursue an education. For two years she attended an adult school to learn English; then she enrolled at Glendale Community College, where she obtained an Associate of Arts degree in Spanish. She followed up with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, and finally a teaching credential in Spanish from Cal State LA.


Once she learned English, Ms. Lira began her career in education.  She began as a tutor at Glendale Community College, later becoming a bilingual assistant for an elementary school in Glendale.  Once she had her MA, she began teaching at Glendale Community College and at East LA College.  She has also taught at the middle school level and at Franklin High School before coming to Cathedral. She has eleven years of teaching experience at the college level and five years at the high school level.  All in all, she has taught at every age group from kindergarten to college!


In her spare time Ms. Lira reads avidly, listens to “soothing” music (classics, romantic singers) and writes poems and stories.  She does not publish, she says, because “I am very picky; I want it to be perfect.”  She likes soccer and enjoys playing as well as watching.  She attends theater productions at the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, which produces plays by such Spanish-language notables as Cervantes, Lorca, Garcia-Marquez. Travel opportunities usually find her in Mexico, but she has dreams of visiting Italy, Spain, Portugal — and Egypt!  She has a great interest in pre-Columbian civilizations and once wanted to be a historian or an archaeologist.  She has also thought about getting a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics, but in the current economic climate she fears too much education might make her over-qualified for the kind of employment she is seeking.


Her father was an orphan, so at the age of sixteen he emigrated to the U.S.  On a visit back home in Mexico, however, he met and married Elena’s mother.  They went back to the U.S. temporarily, but felt Mexico would provide a better education for their children, so they returned to Mexico before Elena was born.


Her mother wanted to be doctor, but her parents forbade it, saying doctors and nurses see things no lady should see. Instead, she became an autodidact, a voracious reader, self-educated., and she passed that appetite for learning on to her children. Of the six daughters, five are teachers. They all have Master’s degrees and teach at local colleges: Glendale, East LA, and Cal State LA.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Phantom Family:

Helen Moses

November 24, 2008


When she is not accompanying students to Sacramento for a Town Hall meeting (See Purple Letter of Nov. 3, 2008), Helen Moses can usually be found in the CHS library.  She has been the Library Media Specialist at Cathedral since the fall of 2002 but has worked in a number of different fields, wearing many different hats. When she tells a student he will have several careers in his lifetime and needs to be adaptable to many job opportunities, he knows she speaks from experience.


Asked specifically to comment on what she likes about being a school librarian, Mrs. Moses replied that she is a teacher of  “information literacy,” that is, she teaches people “how to be information seekers.”  She wants to help students learn how to find the information they will need when they get to college, and even beyond.


To that end, she has made some changes in Cathedral’s library.  To teach students how to avoid plagiarism, she has instituted source forms, with blanks at the top for bibliographic information, and she has set up an easy way to organize a bibliography according to either MLA or APA format.  She is immensely helpful to both teachers and students who want to find information either online or in the 13,000 volumes of our library. She also keeps an eagle eye on the printer, making sure that neither images nor text escape undocumented. And she knows how to shut down a library computer if a student is surfing the web in forbidden waters, so to speak.


This year she is also teaching a section of psychology, her undergraduate major. She has proposed an exciting year-end project for her class: each student will analyze a character of his choice from literature (Miss Watson’s Jim from Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, Boo Radley, Romeo, Jack of Lord of the Flies, etc.). “The project amounts to a case study,” she explained. “It is a fitting culmination for the year’s work.”


Born in Portland Oregon, Mrs. Moses grew up in Fullerton, California.  Her grandfather, she notes, “helped build Disneyland.” After high school she attended Diablo Valley, a junior college, before transferring to UC Berkeley as a pre-med major.  She graduated with a degree in psychology, but went back to school for additional classes in music and ceramics.  She even took engineering classes and worked as an estimator assistant for Scott Co., a mechanical engineering company.  “It was the only time I ever used trigonometry,” she confessed.


While in college she sang with the ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) performance choir.  Their program included an opera, Les Testaments, by Ezra Pound, and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass.  But the best part was that she met her husband in the choir.


Her husband is Robert Moses, Vice President of “The Front Porch Group,” whose mission is to help arrange affordable housing for seniors.  Two facilities they run are Kingsley Manor and the Alhambra, a full-care nursing home, in Alhambra.  The FPG also looks after senior facilities in Mississippi and in Florida. He has been involved with the company for 27 years.


After they married and moved to Southern California, Mrs. Moses and her husband worked as managers for the Presbyterian Church Conference Grounds in Big Bear.  The Conference Grounds are used for church retreats by Presbyterian congregations throughout Southern California, but sometimes the grounds can be rented by other religious groups.


Both of their daughters are graduates of La Canada High School, like their father.  In fact, they had some of the same teachers he had!  (Does this sound familiar to anyone?) Becky went to Wells College in Aurora, NY, and has a degree in psychology like her mother. She works for the Didi Hirsch Foundation in West Los Angeles.  Laurie has a B.A. in psychology as well, but she also has a teaching credential from Occidental.  She is currently a teacher at Field Elementary School in Pasadena.


A lifelong learner, Mrs. Moses again returned to school after her children were grown. In 2000 she got a Master’s in Education from Pepperdine University.  She has a multiple-subject credential with additional certification in music and science.  For two years she taught eighth-grade science; then she went back to school (San Jose State University) for a master’s degree in library and information science.


And that’s not all.  She is a certified personal trainer, has taken up quilting, and recently learned to make woodblocks. She shares with her husband a love of cooking and they continue to participate in the Town Singers, a choral group in La Canada. They “will be giving concerts in December in Pasadena,” she noted. In her spare time, if you can imagine that she has any, she reads young adult novels, mysteries, and educational literature.  Add “bibliophile” to her many hats!


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Phantom Family:

Beverly Staveley

November 17, 2008

Beverly Staveley comes to us from Holy Family High School, and though new to Cathedral, she is experienced in the art and skill of teaching English.  At Our Lady of Lourdes (junior high), she taught science, social studies, English, music, and directed their musicals.  When she moved to Holy Family High School three years ago, she narrowed her fields of endeavor to English, drama club (which produced the musicals), and Academic Decathlon. Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, The Wizard of Oz, and Annie are among her favorite shows. She is, of course, looking forward to seeing our current musical production, Urinetown (See Purple Letter of Nov. 10, 2008), which plays Wednesday through Saturday nights and closes with a matinee on Sunday, November 23.  She appreciates the skill and effort required to craft a show that combines comedy, drama, song and dance.


It was through a combination of theater and Academic Decathlon, however, that she arrived at Cathedral.  “I was impressed with the boys from Cathedral who participated in Annie,” she remarked, and she had met our Academic Decathlon team and their coach, Mr. Bruce Matteson, at the competition last February (see Purple Letter of April 2, 2008).  Mr. Matteson introduced her to our principal, Br. John Montgomery, FSC, and now she is one of us.  This year she is teaching one class of freshmen, three of sophomores, and one of juniors.  And she has agreed to coach our Academic Decathlon team!


Born in New Jersey, and one of eight children (four boys and four girls), Mrs. Staveley lived part of her childhood in San Francisco, but she graduated from high school in St. Louis, Missouri, and spent two years at the University of Kansas as a voice major.  Later she moved to California and finished her degree at Cal State Northridge.  Her first job was as an assistant credit manager at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it was there that she met her husband, who is a computer analyst for U.S. Technologies. She also worked at Disney for thirteen years in the corporate treasurer’s office before turning to a career in education.  She and her husband will have been married 25 years in June, and they have three lovely daughters: Sheena, a graduate of Cal State Monterey Bay; Kelsey, a freshman at Cal State Northridge; and Aubrey, a senior at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.


In her spare time, Mrs. Staveley enjoys going to movies and traveling. Most recently she saw Oliver Stone’s film W. and found it very thought-provoking.  As a traveler, she once took a group of sixteen girls from Holy Family to London, and now calls that a “life-changing experience.” She has also traveled throughout the U.S. – from New York City to California – to just about every state but Alaska. A favorite destination is Monterey, but not just because her daughter lives there. She likes any place that is new and different.


Asked about the difference between an all-girls school and an all-boys school, Mrs. Staveley noted that boys seem less likely to engage in public displays of drama and tears than girls do even though they may be experiencing enormous emotional upheaval in their lives.  She said her favorite part of teaching is helping students discover what their best talents are, “and that happens at both schools.”


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Fall Musical Opens This Week

November 10, 2008


To pee or not to pee: that is the question. The fall musical, Urinetown, opens this week and runs for two weekends.  Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for adults, and they are going fast. Br. Roch Dufresne is in charge of sales.


Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays (November 13 and 20); Friday (November 21 only); and Saturdays (November 15 and 22).  Matinee performances are at 2:00 p.m. on Sundays (November 16 and 23).


Of the ten musicals previously produced at Cathedral, director Joseph Walsh says, “This one has the most humor in it.” Even though the issues are serious, the book is “so well written” that the show has both “depth” and “great laughs.”


Among the thirty members of the cast, Roberto Valerin plays Bobby Strong, the hero, who objects to the new “pay to pee” law. Regular patrons of Cathedral musicals will recognize Bianette Linares from Once on This Island in the role of Hope, daughter of the evil Mr. Cladwell, played by Jeremy Joaquin. Vincent Lopez is Mr. McQueen, Cladwell’s right-hand man, and Edwin Villasenor is Hot Blades Harry, a poor man who wants to kill Hope for his own reasons. Girls from all five nearby schools — Bishop Conaty, Ramona Convent, San Gabriel Mission, Holy Family and Sacred Heart are also participating.


The show itself, despite its suggestive title, is really a satirical look at corporate greed, environmental issues, and the corruption of power. At the same time, its creators wanted to poke fun at the conventions of musical comedy, and those of you who enjoy this genre will recognize in the names of the characters some of the stereotypes they mock so humorously.


The original Broadway show was scheduled to open in September of 2001, but its debut was postponed several weeks because of 9/11.  There was some trepidation among the producers that the public might not be ready for a comedy, but both audiences and critics responded positively. In fact, the show won three Tony awards in 2002 for best score (its music), best book (its storyline), and best director.  This means the American Theatre Wing, which sponsors the Tony Awards, recognized the excellence of Urinetown in the three essential areas for a successful musical; in spite of this success, however, the Tony for best musical that year went to Thoroughly Modern Millie. (What more can I say?)


Behind the scenes, the durable Walter Durham is supervising set construction; the stage crew numbers ten.  Musical director Dan Belzer, associate professor at UCLA, returns for his eighth year, but there is a new choreographer this year: Tracy Powell, who comes from Interact Theater of Los Angeles, which produced the West Coast premiere of Urinetown. She won a Los Angeles Ovation award for her choreography of that show, and much of that original work will be duplicated at the Phantom Theater for this production.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Preparing for Election Day

November 3, 2008


New faculty members bring new opportunities for our students, and this year, English teacher and Academic Decathlon coach Beverly Staveley, recently arrived from Holy Family High School, shared a letter from a friend in Sacramento with Social Studies Chair Robert Ryan, and here is the result.


Mrs. Staveley’s friend, Megan Thorall, is the coordinator for the LegiSchool Project, a collaboration between Cal State Sacramento, where she works, and the California State Legislature. The mission is to “engage young people in matters of public policy and state government by creating opportunities for students and state leaders to meet and share ideas on the problems affecting Californians.”  To this end Ms. Thorall extended an invitation to five Cathedral students and a faculty chaperone to travel to Sacramento as guests of LegiSchool and participate in a Town Hall Meeting on Friday, October 24.


The lucky boys were Raymond Beaudoin, Jorge Ibarra, Dennis Lim, Maksim Tsybrivskiy, and Amar Vanmali. Is it coincidence or a tribute to diversity that their names represent five distinct ethnic backgrounds? In an interview the following week, four of the participants related their impressions of the event. (Dennis Lim was unavailable for comment.)


They and their volunteer chaperone, Cathedral’s library media specialist Helen Moses, met at school before dawn (5:00 a.m.!) and left on a 7:00 a.m. flight from Burbank to Sacramento.  There they boarded a shuttle that took them to the Capitol, where they were greeted by Projects Coordinator Toni Mados from the office of Senator Don Perata. They toured the Capitol with Brandon Kennedy Jackson, who, before becoming a legislative consultant, worked as a tour guide for sixteen years. Mr. Jackson’s willingness to explain  “how politics works,” as Maksim put it, made the tour so fascinating that the boys were almost late to the Town Hall Meeting on the election issues!


The topic, Election 2008: Picking Our President, intrigued all the students. Raymond Beaudoin, who has “always been interested in government,” followed the televised debates and is excited about the “firsts” of this election: A woman (Hillary Clinton) playing a major role in the primary races; an African-American (Barack Obama, for those of you who have been under a rock for the past six months) receiving the Democratic Party’s nomination; and the Republican Party nominating a woman (Sarah Palin) for Vice President.  Raymond has spent time both in and out of class talking about the issues and learning to distinguish between the “beauty contest” aspects and the actual positions the candidates hold on the issues, so he felt particularly well prepared for the question-and-answer session.


The Town Hall meeting examined both the national election process and the hot issues in this election. Young voters are expected to have a huge impact on the election. Because their decision will affect many issues facing the nation – the war in Iraq, rising gas prices, and the economy, the 2008 election could be the most important one in years.


The goal of the meeting was to enable students to make informed voting decisions as they learned more about the candidates and the issues. The candidates were represented by two young people, Brian Brokaw (Barack Obama) and Jaime Huff (John McCain). The moderator was Marcey Brightwell. Competition was stiff, with over a hundred Sacramento-area students from Marysville, Burbank, and Stagg High Schools vying for her attention against only five from Southern California.


Students posed questions about the economy, immigration, gasoline prices, and especially the Iraq war, and the candidates’ representatives did their best to explain the candidates’ positions on those issues.

Amar Vanmali asked about McCain’s proposed spending freeze, which he thought would help to reduce the national debt, but Mr. Brokaw, representing Obama, pointed out the limitations such a decision would have on health care and education.

One student from Burbank High School in Sacramento was especially interested in the Iraq problem because he is a “student soldier,” committed to military service immediately after high school graduation. Maksim Tsybrivskiy asked for clarification of Obama’s plans for “withdrawing troops slowly” from Iraq, but did not get a schedule or a time frame.

When Raymond Beaudoin asked about the future of Social Security for his generation, neither of the representatives was properly equipped to explain the complexities of that issue.


Jorge Ibarra, who was interviewed following the Town Hall Meeting for a Spanish-language broadcast, asked if Obama’s proposed withdrawal of troops from Iraq might lead to a troop “surge” in Afghanistan.


Following the Town Hall Meeting, students held a mock election using the latest voting technology. Cathedral students’ prediction was close to the actual result: They predicted Obama 85%, McCain 15%, and the final count was Obama 80%, McCain 19%, and Nader 1%.


According to Toni Mados, who as Projects Coordinator made the transportation and lunch arrangements for the students and their chaperones, the election is designed to “give [students] the confidence to make sure they register and cast the real ballot when they become 18 years of age.”


After the presentation, the boys had lunch (provided by LegiSchool) at the California History Museum. In the museum Amar saw tributes to such California celebrities as Tiger Woods, Amelia Earhart, Cesar Chavez and Ronald Reagan. Jorge was impressed with the design of the “Hall of Fame” portion of the California Museum, especially the wall adorned with words from the U.S. Constitution in the colors of the California state flag.


After lunch the students, including Dennis Lim, went back to the Capitol for a visit to the Senate Chambers and a meeting with the current Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, who has responsibility for the election process.  At the end of the day, a shuttle picked them up and returned them to Sacramento Airport for their flight home. They were supposed to be home by 5:30, but some mechanical trouble with the airplane door required adjustment, and they did not get back to Burbank Airport until after 7:00 p.m.  It was a long, exhausting day, but one filled with excitement as well.  And of course, the next day was Saturday, a good day for sleeping in!


Asked if they would recommend this experience to next year’s class, the response was an enthusiastic “Yes!”


The LegiSchool Project

Since its creation in 1994, the LegiSchool Project has introduced state government to thousands of young people in a positive way, highlighting many of the issues that potentially impact the lives of youth in California. LegiSchool’s mission has become increasingly more important as civic engagement studies continue to point to a loss of faith in government among young people in America. Through Town Hall meetings, curriculum materials and annual contests, the LegiSchool project aims to educate and engage students in the myriad public policies and issues currently being addressed by state leaders. Most importantly, LegiSchool hopes to motivate young people to take action, be involved in their communities, and, above all, become engaged citizens in our democracy.


On December 4, the Town Hall topic will be “Career Technical Education: Is College for Everyone?” Who is interested in participating in that discussion? You?

Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




College Awareness Month

October 27, 2008


October is College Awareness Month at Cathedral.  If you checked the calendar, you might have noticed that the school administered two sets of standardized tests (PSAT, ITBS) on October 15 and October 23. These were part of a series of events the school provides for its students to get them used to the idea of college. Less formal observances include the privilege of wearing modified dress on testing days if the student wears a college/university T-shirt or sweatshirt.


The College Fair on Monday, October 27, is another opportunity to learn about colleges and universities from the recruiters who want your son to prepare for his future at their institution.


The centerpiece of this program, however, is College Visit Day, Wednesday, October 29. On that day over twenty buses leave the school to take 700 students to institutions of higher learning from Malibu to Irvine.


The new homeroom classes serve as the base for the activity: permissions slips were distributed and collected in homeroom classes; however, extra permission slips are also available in the front office and online. The homeroom classes are homogeneous by grade level and each roster takes students in consecutive alphabetical order.

Why take a day of instruction and spend it visiting colleges? Senior counselor and academic advisor Wendy Ruiz explained:  “We want our students to see what a college campus is like.  Such experiences help motivate them to prepare for life after high school, and college should certainly be part of that future.”  To that end, she has divided the colleges into groups, and each grade level (freshman through senior) will visit a different kind of college.  Freshmen will see a UC campus; sophomores will visit one of the larger private universities: USC, Loyola-Marymount, or Pepperdine.  Juniors will get to experience such smaller private institutions as Occidental, Whittier College, or Chapman University, and seniors will visit Cal State campuses in Northridge, Pomona, Fullerton, and Long Beach.  The goal is to expose students to many different types of colleges in their four years, so they can make an informed choice when they apply as seniors.

To help students prepare for the event, this year a new wrinkle has been added. On Monday, October 27, the English department assigned a four-paragraph report (not an essay) in each core English class.  Students are expected to use the college campus visit as the basis for their information, but some research will also help. In addition to attending the College Fair on Monday evening, students can also check the website of the institution they are going to visit, using .edu, not .com for best results. The report will be due on Friday, October 31.

In the first paragraph of the report, students provided basic facts about the college or university they are scheduled to visit:  its location, number of students, average class size, tuition costs, scholarships, and some extra-curricular activities of interest to the student.  Such data are easily found online at the college’s website.

The second paragraph requires paying attention to the campus during the visit.  Is it clean, or is there a lot of trash around? Is there a lot of grass or is it mostly concrete?  What are the students doing?  Is it a noisy environment or a quiet one? What food options are available in the cafeteria? Are they like the options we have at Cathedral, or are they different?

The third paragraph includes an interview (or question and answer session) with an admissions counselor.  Students get information about the professors, internships, and the level of preparedness required for students entering graduate school in their area of interest. They find out how a student can prepare in high school for success in this area, and they ask other questions as well.

The fourth (and last) paragraph contains the student’s response to his visit, plus any questions he might still have about this particular institution. For freshmen, and for transfer students who have not visited a college before, the focus will be on how they felt about their first visit to a college campus, and how that visit might affect their understanding of applying and going to college. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors may find it helpful to compare this campus with others visited in previous years. But all students should be able to describe what they like about the school, their increasing understanding of their personal needs as students, and their plans for the next step on their journey to college.

On the day of the trip, students must be in uniform, of course, and no electronic devices, backpacks, or book bags are permitted on the bus.  Everyone is asked to bring a sack lunch because food can be expensive, and waiting in line behind crowds of hungry college students can cut into the time allotted for eating.


What will students do once they arrive on the campus? They meet a student guide who walks them around the campus, and shows them some classrooms, labs, libraries and athletic resources (gymnasium, fields, workout equipment, etc.).  The guide also answers questions about the school and its facilities.  There is a presentation by an administrator (usually the freshman counselor) who will discuss admission requirements, explain how to apply for financial aid, and answer other questions that have arisen in the course of the day.  Students eat lunch on campus and then meet at the buses for the return to Cathedral.


The report, which will summarize the entire learning experience, is due the Friday following the visit: October 31. It provides a record for the college counselors and will help them guide students in the coming years.


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Phantom Family:

Hilary Aguirre

October 20, 2008


Phantoms are family, and those who value their own families understand the special relationship Cathedral offers.

Some of you may remember Ms. Yribarren from a few years ago.  She taught algebra and earth science, mostly to freshmen. Those freshmen are now seniors, and Ms. Yribarren has returned with a new name (Mrs. Aguirre) and a new teaching assignment: Math and religion!


Although she was born in Los Angeles, Mrs. Aguirre grew up in Mesa, Arizona.  However, she longed to return to California, so she enrolled at Loyola Marymount, her mother’s alma mater, majoring in political science with a minor in classical civilizations (Greece and Rome). After she was accepted to law school (her original career goal), she changed her mind and decided to become a teacher.  She went back to school to take some extra classes in math and to prepare for her teaching credential; then she sent out copies of her resume and hoped.


When Cathedral responded with a call for an interview with Dean of Studies Sulema Modesto, she got her first assignment:  substitute P.E. teacher!  “We were in the old gym,” Mrs. Aguirre recalled.  “They did what I asked them – a few drills, a little basketball.”  She substituted frequently that semester, and then signed a contract for the 2005-2006 school year.

Teaching a full load in a variety of classrooms (a “floater,” as such teachers are known), Mrs. Aguirre learned from her students while she taught them.  She left to test out her newly acquired teaching credential at a public charter high school, but the Catholic education philosophy called her back.  Her uncle, Br. Martin Yribarren, had been principal at Cathedral in the late 1980s, and her father, George Yribarren, taught here in the 1970s.  Her mother taught at Bishop Conaty.  “Catholic schools are kind of in my blood,” she laughed.

Her new teaching assignment requires her to divide her time between Room 103 (World Religions to seniors, Christian Justice to juniors) and Room 401 (two sections of Algebra I for freshmen and sophomores). She finds religion an enjoyable subject, especially liberation theology.  Some ways to look at (or study) God are provocative rather than comforting, but it is gratifying to see students become intellectually and emotionally involved in debating their beliefs. As part of her curriculum for World Religions, she plans to ask Mr. Gancz to talk about his experiences and beliefs (See Purple Letter of October 6, 2008).


Mrs. Aguirre met her husband John when he was a graduate student in business at LMU, and his sister Lisa was Mrs. Aguirre’s college roommate. He is now employed as a sales analyst at Inter-continental Art in Compton.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, swimming, and listening to music.  Eclectic titles include A History of the Modern Middle East, Freakonomics, and Love in the Time Cholera.

But she also enjoys travel.  A year ago she visited her sister in Egypt, seeing the Nubian dwellings near Aswan and going inside the pyramids. In 2006, like Mr. Lowdermilk last summer (see Purple Letter of Sept. 2, 2008), Mrs. Aguirre went to India with the Christian Brothers program.  She found it to be “a wonderful, beautiful country.”  Because the community where she stayed did not have a lot of technology or gadgets, the experience offered a chance to “slow down and be at peace with the world.” When the electric power went out – and that happened often – she learned to work without it.  The longer she stayed, the less time she spent on projects that required electricity, so she did not notice as much when it went out.  Having been warned about the abundance of insect life, she brought a supply of repellent.  In the summer of 2006, the group consisted of four women, and the Brothers took very good care of them.  “We may have gotten a little more attention because there were no men in our group,” she recalled.  “But it was a different atmosphere [over there].  I could not take a seat on the bus because the man in the next seat was not related to me.”


Flying to and from India with a 24-hour layover in Bangkok, Mrs. Aguirre also enjoyed such highlights of that city as the 50-foot Buddha and the pink taxicabs.  “It was fun to wander the city and get a little lost,” she said, “but only for a day, not to live there.”

Mrs. Aguirre is pleased to be working at Cathedral again, but she continues to dream of seeing more of the world. And at some point she and her husband hope to have children – “but not yet.”


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.






Freshman Retreat

October 7-10, 2008

October 13, 2008

Dear Phantoms, Friends, and Family,


Last week the freshmen attended their first all-day retreat as high school students. Because there are over 200 in the class, they were divided by English teacher into seven sections; then two sections met for retreat on each of the bloc days. The students in my homeroom participated in all four retreat days, so this article is a composite based on their responses to these questions:  What did you like best? What surprised you? What would you change for next year’s class? What did you learn?


Shortly after 8:00 a.m., approximately 60 boys walked from Cathedral to Casa Italiana, the parish hall at St. Peter’s Church. With their bags and lunches out of the way, students took their seats in a large circle of chairs.

Campus Minister Sanford Jones, who is responsible for spiritual formation at Cathedral, began by indicating two banners on the wall.  The first read “Lasallian and Proud,” the theme of the retreat. And to introduce the freshmen to this concept, he led them on a guided meditation. David Vazquez was among those who liked this activity the most. With quiet reflective music playing in the background, they closed their eyes and responded to the leader’s cue, “Let us remember….” The meditation imagined a meeting with Jesus, who wanted each one to make a change in his life.  The closing suggested that each boy open his heart and allow himself to be strengthened in his faith by today’s activities. After a minute of silent reflection, Mr. Jones concluded, “St. John Baptist de la Salle…” and the students responded, “Pray for us.”  “Live Jesus in our hearts…”  “Forever!”  For Victor Valencia, this activity was a surprise because, he said, “I really did picture myself walking along the beach with God.”


The second banner created by the peer ministers named the five Lasallian Core Principles: Faith in the presence of God; concern for social justice; inclusive community; respect for all persons; and quality education.  Several students admitted they did not know how to be “Lasallian” or what the core principles meant, but Mr. Jones returned to this banner more than once during the day.

A select group of juniors and seniors serving as peer ministers used a game to divide the freshmen into six smaller groups. One or two peer ministers facilitated discussion and other activities for each of the smaller groups.

After learning one another’s names, the peer ministers distributed snack bags containing several different-colored M&Ms.  “If you have a red M&M,” said Mr. Jones, “share with your group information about the people you live with – the children and adults in your home.” For Rodrick West, “sharing information about … families” was a favorite activity. And so it went – talk about a best friend, or a girlfriend; describe a spiritual experience; a favorite electronic game or gadget. Several freshmen, among them Alejandro Toruno, appreciated the “M&M” game because “we got to know each other more.”


Moving easily between activity and instruction, Mr. Jones let the students finish their M&Ms while he related a brief biography of St. John Baptist de la Salle. Many freshmen, like Ricardo Solis, learned about the patron saint of the school from this story.

For the next activity the peer ministers distributed paper bags and markers so students could make “mail bags.”  They decorated the bags with their names and other colorful designs, and affixed them to the movable wall with masking tape. These later became significant reminders of the day.

At this point, Mr. Jones focused attention again on the Lasalllian Core Principles.  Students recognized that the guided meditation was evidence of faith in the presence of God; the M&M game showed respect for all persons as they shared with one another.

Writing a letter to God (addressed to St. LaSalle) was a more challenging activity, partly because it involved setting goals for the next four years.  Mr. Jones allowed no talking during this exercise, but asked students to write down what they wanted to accomplish by the time they reached senior year. The finished letters were folded once, and students wrote their name, student number, and year of graduation (2012) before giving them to Mr. Jones for safekeeping until senior year.


The peer ministers used this time to write notes of encouragement and praise to the members of their group and drop them into the mail bags.

While the boys finished their letters, the peer ministers filled pitchers with ice water and brought cups and bags of popcorn for the twenty-minute break. The snack came as a surprise to Geoffrey Tello, but other freshmen dug into their bags for additional refreshment with the usual ravenous enthusiasm.

After break, the groups adjourned with their peer ministers for twenty minutes of rehearsal before they performed original versions of five parables:  The Sower, The Wedding Feast, The Good Samaritan, The Laborers in the Vineyard, and the Prodigal Son. These skits were a favorite part of the retreat for many students, including Richard Vasquez and Eduardo Zaragoza. Omar Silva was surprised that his group had to do “a little tiny play,” because he feels “shy in front of people.” But like Edwin Villasenor, he called the skits his favorite activity because “you can act.”  Robert Torres liked them because they were “a good way for us to learn how to work as a team and trust each other.”

The groups performed with great enthusiasm and to great acclaim from an appreciative audience of their peers.  Afterwards, Mr. Jones asked individuals to share what they had learned from each parable.


Before lunch, Mr. Jones asked the freshmen to open themselves to the Holy Spirit and say “Thank you” to God.  Students had no difficulty expressing gratitude for life, family, friends, today’s experience, teachers, school, education, blessings, etc. After the prayer, peer ministers prepared a second snack of chips and salsa to share with their groups.  Students dug into their backpacks and pulled out the sack lunches they had brought. It was kick-back time, and the boys talked, shared food, listened to music, played their gadget games.

After lunch, Mr. Jones announced the next game would begin as soon as cleanup was complete.  It was good motivation, and the next activity was Postmaster, a rousing game with plenty of physical activity, laughter, singing, and even dancing. It was far and away a favorite event for many freshmen, including Isaac Vigil, Carlos Serna, Jesse Vela, Edward Sierra, Timmy Shiba, Rudy Vasquez, and Renzo Terrera, who expressed the feelings of many when he wrote, “We had a lot of fun running around the whole place and we actually got tired!”

At 1:30 there was another change of pace. Mr. Jones asked the boys to close their eyes, breathe, relax, and let God talk to them.  Then he read a letter from “a very dear friend of your class,” the freshman moderator, Mr. Godoy.

Drawing their attention once more to the Lasallian Core Principles, Mr. Jones asked the boys what they had learned.  Freshmen quickly identified the moral lesson of the skits as showing respect for all persons; thanks before the meal as faith in the presence of God; lunch and Postmaster as evidence of an inclusive community.

As the peer ministers distributed paper and pens, Mr. Jones asked the boys to write a positive message to each person in their group and to deliver the notes to the bags on the wall. Michael Sosa liked “writing things and putting them in people’s bags,” and Richard Vasquez was surprised that “a lot of us opened up to everyone.” Carlos Serna was also surprised by “how close [he] got with [his] classmates.” While the freshmen wrote, Mr. Jones urged them to “take the flame of the retreat back to school” and help unify their class. When he asked, “Did we do Lasallian activities?”  The answer was a proud, resounding “YES!” This sentiment was echoed by several retreatants, among them, Eduardo Zaragoza, Rudy Vasquez and Carlos Serna, who wrote that he learned “what it is like to be Lasallian.”


For their closing activity, the peer ministers prepared a bowl of water to use for blessing the members of their group.  The boys lined up, the peer minister dipped a thumb in the water and made the Sign of the Cross on the forehead of each boy.  Ricardo Solis was among those who savored this “spiritual blessing.” Then the peer ministers blessed one another as the bowl passed to the minister of the next group.  Mr. Jones presented each freshman with what was, for Renzo Terrera, another surprise: “a wristband and it has God’s messages.” Mr. Jones promised ice cream to every freshman who had his wristband at school on Tuesday. “This is the beginning of your Lasallian journey,” he told them. “Even before you are a Phantom, you are Lasallian.  Your brothers are waiting for you to join them at school.”

Looking back on the retreat as a whole, many students, among them Brandon Villalta, were pleased to have met new friends. As Omar Silva wrote, “I learned that I could share and talk to other people and be friends with them.” Edwin Villasenor was “surprised that all the students got along and we were really [a] family.” That sentiment was echoed by Jesse Vela, who observed that “as freshmen we are a big family,” and by Jameson Smith, who went even further. “Being part of Cathedral” he wrote, “is like being part of a family.”

Many, including Timmy Shiba, were surprised by how much fun they had.  Others, especially David Vazquez and Richard Vasquez, hoped future freshmen would “take the retreat seriously” and open themselves to their potential for spiritual development in an atmosphere of acceptance and friendship.

The senior peer ministers offered the freshmen some observations based on their experience. One recalled hearing as a freshman how fast four years would go by. “And now, here I am, a senior,” he admitted, “and it has gone by so fast!” They praised Cathedral’s close-knit community, the teachers who care and “want you to learn,” the Brothers, and the opportunities to make friends through sports, class, service, and theater. “School is about making choices,” they said. “Choose to get involved. Mr. Jones and Cathedral are teaching you to be leaders. Spread school spirit at outings and sports. Give your very best in studies as well as athletics.”

But the last word goes to freshman Isaac Vigil: “I thought the retreat was going to be a drag. I learned that if you are open and willing, anything can be fun.”


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Phantom Family:

Gerardo Gancz         

October 6, 2008


Phantoms are family, and those who value their own families understand the special relationship Cathedral offers.


Gerardo Gancz started at Cathedral in 2004 as an assistant basketball coach.  His expertise in Spanish led to a permanent position, and we are pleased to have him.

His somewhat unusual last name (pronounced “Gantz”) is Hungarian, but he was born in Mexico and came to the United States as a child with his parents.  Mr. Gancz’s grandfather came from Transylvania in Eastern Europe.  It was part of Hungary when he was born, but later it became part of Czechoslovakia.  As a young man, the senior Mr. Gancz, tried to enlist in the army, but he was told that, because he was born in Hungary, the Czech army did not want him. When he tried to enlist in Hungary, he was told that, because his hometown was in Czechoslovakia, the Hungarians did not want him, either!  So in 1926, he decided to emigrate to Mexico.

Once in his new country, he got a job at a lumberyard. Five or six years later, he had saved enough money to buy the lumberyard.  A well-to-do bachelor, he might have started a new life in the New World, marrying a Mexican woman and converting to Catholicism.  However, he chose instead to continue following Judaism.  On the cover of a Jewish magazine, he saw a beautiful young woman dressed as Esther for the Purim parade.  He set out to find her, and even though there was a great difference in their ages (He was 33; she was 19), they became engaged.  Part of the family was in Los Angeles by then, and they were married at the Biltmore Hotel.  However, the couple moved back to Torreon in 1938.  Clouds of war were gathering in Germany, and Mr. Gancz’s grandfather began sending for his brothers to get them out of the path of the Nazis.  His parents (our Mr. Gancz’s great-grandparents), however, refused to leave.  They could not believe that Hitler would really carry out his threats against the Jews, certainly not in Hungary.  They did not survive the war.

After the World War II, those members of the family who survived came over from the Old Country too.  They started work in the lumberyard in Torreon, and a brother opened a kosher restaurant in Tampico.  The impact of the Holocaust continued to influence the family. When the time came to marry, Mr. Gancz’s father honored his religious heritage by marrying a Jewish woman from Mexico City and bringing her to Torreon.  Their son, Gerardo, our Mr. Gancz, moved with them to the United States in 1979, when he was almost four years old.


As a child, Mr. Gancz learned to speak English at school, but his parents allowed only Spanish at home. The transition was difficult at first, but eventually he adjusted.  There was also another language in the mix: Yiddish. This is a mixture of elements of Hebrew, German and Polish, written with the Hebrew alphabet, and his parents spoke it when they did not want the children to understand.  His father owned a business in the Pacific Design Center, and young Gerardo grew up in Palos Verdes.  His mother took care of the children until her son was in junior high, and then taught at a Hebrew school.  She also worked as a teacher and later as director of the preschool at their local synagogue.

Mr. Gancz graduated from Peninsula High School and went to college at UC Riverside, where he majored in business administration.  He found Cathedral in 2004 when he responded to an ad placed by Sheldon McCorn for an assistant basketball coach.  He was also offered work as a substitute teacher, and when Oscar Leong learned of his Spanish fluency, he suggested submitting a resume to Br. John.  Now he teaches Spanish and Computer Literacy, and in his spare time – when he’s not coaching – he watches sports, plays in a basketball league, goes to the beach, and enjoys his family and friends.

You may wonder why Mr. Gancz’s story begins three generations ago, but he says, “My  religion is an important part of my life.”  For his grandfather, Judaism is more than a religion; it is a way of life, reflected in the way he treated others, in the way he treated his family.  He urged his grandson to “be a mensch” (a good human being), not just a religious one.  Mr. Gancz has learned that, through religion, the family is stronger.  He noted that the Holocaust ended some families, but theirs survived. It is important to make up those six million lives lost. “Every Jewish baby,” says Mr. Gancz, “is a slap in Hitler’s face.”

He also finds his religion a good conversation starter.  Students ask, “Why don’t you pray with us?” and he replies, “I’m Jewish.”  But he makes sure his classes pray every day because he respects other people’s religious cultures.  “How can you be Mexican and Jewish?”  they ask.  “How can you work at a Catholic school?”  Mr. Gancz replies that life is about respect:  Buddhists, Catholics, Jews can observe other faith traditions and respect them.  On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week (September 30 and October 1) Mr. Gancz was not at school because he was observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This week he will be fasting for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The administration respects his religious beliefs and practices, just as he respects theirs.


Mr. Gancz tells the story of his father’s decision to become a more observant Jew.  “When my dad’s mom died, he found comfort” in his religion.  He “immersed himself” in Orthodox Judaism, with strict observance of such customs as kosher diet and going to  temple on high holy days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Passover.  “We didn’t keep kosher (abstinence from pork, for example) until I was a sophomore in high school.  My dad used to have carnitas on Sunday, but one day, it ended.” So there is a conflict for Mexican Jews (or Jewish Mexicans):  It is hard to give up carnitas and posole!

Judaism is more than a religion; it is also culture.  Although he does not keep kosher outside the home, Mr. Gancz intends to marry a Jewish girl because he wants to continue the lineage, to pass along the same heritage to his children that his parents passed on to him. He concedes, “I will probably become more observant when I get married and have children of my own.”


Comments? Questions? Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.



Field Dedication

September 29, 2008

PART III: Naming the Field & Track


How did Cathedral get so blessed with a patron dedicated to building our school into such a first-class facility?


Melvin Henderson-Rubio, Class of 1970, earned his BA degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and followed up with a wide range of professional responsibilities before signing on with Microsoft, where he worked for eighteen and a half years.  He retired in 2001 as the company’s Vendor Diversity Program Manager.

His philanthropic activities are extensive as well.  Besides being the first member of the Board of Trustees for Cathedral High School, he also funds the LEO (Lasallian Educational Opportunities) program, operated by the Christian Brothers in Oakland, California; the Variety Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs in East Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Police Department’s Juvenile Impact Program and the Sheriff’s Department VIDA Program, all designed to help young people and guide them toward productive futures.  He is currently in his twelfth year as a Trustee for Willamette University.  In addition, he serves on the Board of Trustees for the Seattle Theater Group and is a major sponsor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

He currently provides financial aid for numerous students at Cathedral as well as for Cathedral graduates pursuing their degrees at Willamette University’s graduate and undergraduate programs.

But he did not achieve this success alone.  During the presentations, Mr. Henderson-Rubio paid tribute to several people who were instrumental in his accomplishments, among them:

Br. James Meegan, his college counselor, who recommended that he consider going to college;

Willamette University recruiter Frank Meyer, who persuaded the young man that college was a realistic goal; and

his mother, who did not object to her son’s plans, even though she knew it meant he would leave home and take his first airplane trip alone.

As the major donor, Melvin Henderson-Rubio declared to Brother John that he had “naming rights” for the field and the track.  Why did he choose these names for the facilities?


The Farfan Connection

School President Martin Farfan related that he had met Mr. Henderson-Rubio seventeen years ago when Mr. Farfan was a history teacher and Mr. Henderson-Rubio dropped by and asked to sit in on the class. Afterwards, the men started talking, and they discovered that both had been students in that very room, and had studied history under legendary history teacher Vic Balzano, whom both men greatly admired. Thus began a beautiful friendship.


Speaking about the track, Mr. Farfan was moved by the fact that his father’s name is on a place that means so much to him and to his two brothers, Matias and Fausto, also Cathedral graduates.  It comes as no surprise that being the school’s president is Mr. Farfan’s “dream job.”  He recalled his father’s claim that he had “run the 200 meters in 22 seconds flat,” and concluded, “I wish he were alive to see this.”


The Balzano Connection

Vic Balzano taught history at Cathedral for thirty-three years, and he was a track coach as well.  He retired from teaching twenty years ago, shortly after the school was saved, and   moved to Las Vegas “to be near [his] money.” At that time, he recalled, Cathedral was “a nice school, but poor and with low enrollment.”  He knew they needed an “angel” to come up with the funds to give Cathedral “class.” At the dedication ceremony he was amazed to hear that the entire student body was present in dress shirts and ties! (And by the way, this reporter was very impressed with the students as well, not only for their dress, but also their deportment.)

Mr. Balzano started teaching at Cathedral in 1954, the first thirteen years with only partial sight, and the last twenty completely blind.  Commenting on his age for the benefit of students who did not know him, he observed that he had been Br. James’ history teacher!  “How,” he asked rhetorically, “does a blind teacher prepare for class? Create tests? Grade papers and record them?  The answer,” he said, “is simple: my wife.”  And so the field is named for the Balzano family.


One story about Mr. Balzano in the classroom bears repeating.  He was proctoring a test – and blind, mind you – and he heard two students exchanging papers.  He walked up the aisle, stopped between the two desks and charged both with cheating.  They were guilty, and they knew it.  Ask Mr. Bertolone if the story is true.  He was there.


The Parlapiano Connection

Lou Parlapiano, for whom the track facility is named, was born in New York, and came to Cathedral as a teacher and coach in 1981.  In the classroom he taught English and psychology; outside of class he coached track & field and cross country; and as an administrator he served as guidance counselor, Athletic Director and Dean of Students.  He told the assembly that God brought him to Cathedral, and that he grew spiritually while he was here. Key people in his Cathedral experience were Vic Balzano and Martin Farfan. Vic was “Dean of the Faculty” with a reserved spot on the faculty room sofa. Vic announced the events for track & field; then the next day he talked about student performance at the meet. It was Mr. Parlapiano who recruited Martin Farfan from football to cross country.  When he mentioned to Mr. Henderson-Rubio that the track team needed an ice machine to treat injuries, they got one. In addition, he started the college counseling position (funded by Mr. Henderson-Rubio) because he wanted to help students succeed. “It is all part of God’s plan,” he said. “We taught the boys to pray whether we won or lost.  They learned self-esteem and camaraderie, and we taught them teamwork.” Then he posed another rhetorical, if also heretical, question: What if Melvin had gone to Salesian? He closed with words of gratitude to the Christian Brothers, and especially to Br. James for hiring him, and to Martin Farfan for what he has done.


Questions? Comments?  Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org




Field Dedication

September 22, 2008


PART II: The Athletic Field

and its Symbolism

Dear Phantoms, Friends, and Family,

After Mass, Gary Bertolone (’73), Master of Ceremonies and a 31-year employee of Cathedral announced the entrance of bagpipers and a Marine Corps Color Guard.  The entire assembly stood at attention while the Color Guard presented the American flag, and junior Marquise Harris provided an a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Major donor Melvin Henderson-Rubio reviewed the history of the project.  He began by outlining the four phases of construction for the school: Phase 1 – the gymnasium/science building; Phase 2 – the field, track, retaining wall and scoreboard; Phase 3 – the Annex (which, he pointed out, provides an excellent opportunity for additional donations); and Phase 4 – renovating the classrooms, the library, and the administration building.

Then he turned to the large screen and showed pictures of Cathedral at various times in its history, including the old gym before its new replacement.  He narrated the story of the construction of the field, including an anecdote about the head custodian, Ernesto Ramirez, who ran to Br. John’s office one day shouting “Oil! Oil!”  As Mr. Henderson-Rubio told it, Br. John’s first thought was the extra expense to get rid of “hazardous waste.”  His second thought was “Money!”  Alas, Mr. Ramirez was using the Spanish word for “hole” [“Ollo!”] and he was describing the discovery of a crypt under the field!  Indeed, several crypts were discovered, and several tombstones as well, but fortunately, no human remains.  Some of the tombstones will be cleaned and mounted in the inside wall of the tunnel leading from the locker room to the field.  A new tradition will begin: touching the tombstones on the way out to the field to bring victory.

During the presentation, Mr. Henderson-Rubio noted that Field Turf is the same product used by the San Diego Chargers in their stadium.  The turf was unrolled in sections, each one sewn to the next.  Then parts of the green turf were shaved out and hashmarks, yard lines, and yellow soccer markings were inlaid in color.  The Phantom in the center of the field was stitched into the turf, shaved and inlaid as well. “The black dot in the Phantom’s head marks the exact center of the field,” he said.


He also explained the red, white and blue lines at the 25-yard line on either side of the field. On the left (east) side of the field, the colors represent the American Dream, and persistence required to achieve it. The second red, white, and blue line (on the west) represents those in uniform who protect the city and the nation.  Then he explained the black line interrupting the red line on the west side.  “Nine inches in from the side line,” he said, “is a black line eleven inches long. It represents 9/11 – the loss of blood – but the red line continues, because life goes on.”  These lines are also evident on the paperweight the boys received as a souvenir of the occasion.

Mr. Henderson-Rubio continued with a statement about the dream for a new gym.  After the school was saved from being sold (more than 20 years ago) discussion began among the alumni about building a new gymnasium. He identified a group of men and women in leis and white polo shirts, whom he identified as “Phantoms for Life.” These people have donated money and time to see their dream come true and make the school what it is today. The Alumni Association, led by President Hector Roman, has decided to pay permanent tribute to them by inscribing their names on the wall by the 400 building. Mr. Roman and Alumni Association Vice President Carlos Carbajal read the names of 39 past recipients of the “Phantom for Life” award.  To each one present, Mr. Henderson-Rubio gave two passes to opening night football game (under the lights!) in the sky-box – the MHR Conference Room – with refreshments provided.

Mr. Roman, too, had words for the seniors: “We have devoted time and money to keep the school affordable for working-class, low-income families.  In my day, tuition was $500/year.  What will it cost for you to send your sons here?”  Then he issued this challenge: After graduation, go to college, and “after you become successful, give back.”

Next:  How did the facilities get their names?  Who is Vic Balzano? Lou Parlapiano? You may think you know Martin Farfan and Melvin Henderson-Rubio, but there is more to say about them, too.


Questions? Comments?  Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org




Field Dedication

September 11, 2008

September 15, 2008

PART I: Overview

Dear Phantoms, Friends, and Family,

Thursday, September 11, 2008, was a special day as the tragedies in New York City, Washington, DC, and the Pennsylvania countryside were commemorated across the nation.  Here at Cathedral the day served a double purpose: a day of tragedy became a day of blessing as we celebrate in the midst of remembrance.

At 10:00 the bleachers of the new gymnasium were packed with the entire student body of over 700 young men, neatly attired in dress shirts and ties.  On the floor below, approximately 200 invited guests had assembled for the Mass and presentation ceremonies. What follows is a summary of the elaborate three-hour event.


Father Sal Pilato, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, celebrated Mass. Senior Chris Galeano read from I Corinthians 9:24-27.  In this Scripture St. Paul compares Christians to athletes in that that all runners compete even though only one can win, and athletes exercise self-control in pursuit of a “perishable wreath.”  Christians, however, train for a spiritual life and an “imperishable prize.”  St. Paul urges Christians to imitate the effort of the athlete so that they are not “disqualified” before the end of the race.  Contemporary musical responses were provided by The Lord’s Flock Catholic Charismatic Ministry, led by Romano Sy.  The present diversity of the student population was reflected in the students and faculty who read the prayers of the faithful in eight languages:  senior James Reyes, Tagalog; senior Maksim Tsybrivskiy, Ukrainian; Br. Roch Dufresne, FSC,  French; senior Gabriel Guevara, Spanish; junior Aaron Sandoval,  English; junior Sean Han, Korean; junior Andrew Moung, Burmese; and Ms. Nancy Price, German.


Father Pilato’s homily reminded those present of the horror and pain felt by the nation seven years ago, when “educated, middle class people who misunderstood their faith” embraced evil and committed acts of terror. Catholics, he pointed out, are about life and dignity of life; thus he commended the generosity of those who donated blood, contributed to scholarships for children orphaned by the event, and recognized the need to prepare for the future. Then, turning to the reason for today’s celebration, he spoke to the students, expressing gratitude for the new facilities, and challenging the students.  The donors, he said, “believe you are worthy of this investment. You are the future of Cathedral High School.”


Mass was followed by the introduction of honored guests, among them the newly established “Phantoms for Life”; members of the Board of Trustees; Cathedral graduates; Christian Brothers; major donor Melvin Henderson-Rubio, who claimed “naming rights” for the facility; and the three members of the Cathedral family he chose to honor:  Martin Farfan, Lou Parlapiano, and Vic Balzano and family.  Each of the honorees had worked as both teacher and coach, and each addressed the assembly, recalling the important role Cathedral and its athletic program had played in his life.

At the end of the speeches and presentations, Mr. Henderson-Rubio announced that he also had a gift for each student and faculty member (see image at the top of the page).  It is a rectangular crystal paperweight with a globe in the center and “2008” inside.  Visible from the front is the etched image of our mascot, the traditional phantom.  On the bottom is the student’s name and year of graduation.  On the sides are two Cathedral “C” logos and below them the inscriptions “Balzano Family Field” and “Parlapiano and Farfan Track.” Below these are three parallel lines representing the red, white, and blue lines on the field.  Ever the fundraiser, the donor made sure the top is inscribed, “Each year please donate at least one dollar for every year since 1925” (the year Cathedral was founded).

The school day ended for the students with a free lunch – two cheeseburgers, fries and a soft drink – courtesy of Mr. Henderson-Rubio.

In the coming weeks, the Purple Letter will explain how the field was installed and the symbolism behind the red, white and blue lines on either side of the field. And for you newcomers, we will introduce the legendary teacher-coaches whose names grace the field.

Questions? Comments?

Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org



Friday Night Lights!

Dedication of Track, Field & Lights

Sept. 8, 2008

Dear Phantoms, Friends, and Family,

Last Friday, August 29, at 6:30 p.m., practice for football players and cheerleaders was coming to a close. Parents with young children had arrived to take their sons home, and a group of Phantoms, friends and family —  and their guests —  were meeting informally in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio

Conference Room of the new science wing.

They had been invited to a small informal dinner and lighting ceremony to celebrate the turning on of the lights for our football and soccer field for the first time.   During the pre-dinner social hour, conversation swirled around expectations for the new field now that games can be played in the cool of the evening instead of the heat of the day.


At 6:30, Principal Br. John Montgomery asked God’s blessing on both the food and those present, and then invited everyone to enjoy the evening.  The intergenerational assembly, made up of donors, trustees, administrators, alumni, and faculty — plus spouses and children — chatted amiably and expressed admiration for the new building, the beautiful athletic field (and expectations for Phantom football), and the dazzling show produced on the computerized scoreboard by Br. Roch Dufresne and company.

The Italian dinner, catered by Steven’s Steakhouse, consisted of a generous selection of salads, pasta dishes (lasagna and fettucini Alfredo), shrimp carbonara, chicken parmesan, and an assortment of soft drinks, bottled water and wine. Desserts included pastries with creamy fillings and a variety of fruit toppings. White tablecloths and purple napkins completed the interior decor, but as the number of diners grew, many left the formality of the dining room and moved to the cool of the patio.  There, with the city skyline as a backdrop, they continued their conversations, eating al fresco as the sun disappeared in the West.

At 7:30 Development/Admissions Director Oscar Leong invited everyone to follow President Martin Farfan and alumnus/donor Melvin Henderson-Rubio down to the field. While some parents and students leaned on the railing of the Senior Patio, and children played on the new artificial turf, the invited guests formed a ring around the Phantom decorating the center of the field. Br. John joined Mr. Henderson-Rubio and Mr. Farfan in the center of the circle, and everyone watched the stadium lights come on for the first time. As the sky grew darker, the lights gradually intensified, and the crowd applauded as the field became bright as day.

Cathedral’s photographer extraordinaire, Abel Gutierrez, recorded the momentous event from the roof of the science wing, and you probably saw the result last week on Cathedral’s home page.  Some people feared his ladder might slide down the roof, but they were reassured when it was explained that the tiled incline is merely decorative; the roof itself is flat.


Afterwards, everyone was invited to return to the MHR Conference Room to continue socializing.  The next big event will be a much more elaborate dedication of Balzano Field and the Parlapiano and Farfan Track Stadium, beginning with Mass to take place in the gym at 10:00 a.m. on September 11.

Comments? Questions?


Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.




Dear Phantoms, Friends and indiaFamilies,

Return of the Purple Letter!

September 2, 2008

Christian Brothers in India

First, thanks to the loyal readers who took time to write in and urge continuation of this valuable resource! It is heartening to discover that a weekly article is not only read but anticipated by alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and students. In response to your comments (and as a result of our ever-increasing enrollment), the Purple Letter will continue for another year. Keep those email comments, questions, and suggestions coming!

At the first faculty meeting of the year, English teacher and swim coach Brady Lowdermilk gave a DVD presentation of the three weeks he and his wife spent in India, courtesy of the Christian Brothers outreach program. (If you click on the highlighted words “DVD Presentation” above, you can see the video Mr. Lowdermilk showed the faculty.)

On June 14 they left the U.S. with three other teachers (two from the Christian Brothers school in San Francisco and one from the school in Portland). For three weeks they lived with the Christian Brothers and their students at Boys’ Town in Madurai, in the province of Tamilnadu in southern India. They ate the same food (every meal, every day the same), slept on the same straw mats, experienced the excitement of finding large tropical insects – and at least once, a cobra – in unexpected places, and learned about life for members of the “most downtrodden” caste.

Unlike Boys’ Village, which is an orphanage/school for boys up to the age of 13, Boys’ Town is made up of 130 students who have been abandoned by their families and are unadoptable. They range in age from 15 to 20. Here the Christian Brothers provide food, a safe place to sleep, and job skills. The Brothers are the school administrators, but they hire vocational teachers to instruct the boys in the skills they will need to earn a living. They learn to be welders, pipe fitters, carpenters, electricians, or lathe operators.

The boys’ wardrobe is limited: a uniform (a collared shirt and walking shorts) for class, a recreation outfit, and “dress-up” clothes for going into the city. Each boy is responsible for his own laundry – washing it on a rock, drying it in the sun. Before school ended last June, Mr. Lowdermilk requested donations of Cathedral T-shirts from students, teachers, or staff. He took 200 T-shirts with him, and a teacher from San Francisco brought another 200 as well. Each boy received two T-shirts, and the remainder went to the Christian Brothers. The boys were delighted by these gifts. These were the “cleanest, nicest, newest” clothes the boys had ever had, says Mr. Lowdermilk. They played in them and even slept in them, as they have no blankets.

Classes go until 4:00, followed by chores, which is the boys’ way of contributing. They feed the chickens and goats, sweep the dirt floors, rake the dirt courtyard, and help with cooking – and when they finish, it is recreation time!

Mr. Lowdermilk and the other Americans used this opportunity to play games with the students, and at the same time to teach them a little English. The boys learned hacky sack and Frisbee as they learned to “kick,” “catch,” “throw,” and to use a “foot,” “knee,” “hand,” etc. The boys already know basketball and soccer, so vocabulary came quickly for those activities. After Mass, Sundays, are dedicated to cricket, “a game that takes all day,” according to Mr. Lowdermilk.

At the end of the term, a state official certifies those students who have achieved competence, and the Christian Brothers find them secure jobs (with the government or a corporation) with assured wages and safe housing. The boys go off into the world as men. There are no graduation ceremonies or celebrations, just moving on to the next stage of their lives.

Comments? Questions? Want to save the Purple Letter?

Write to purpletter@cathedralhighschool.org.





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