Do Catholic schools really matter? Young adults say 'Yes': Meet Ameyalli Chavez

Catholic schools across the nation will celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, providing an opportunity to showcase how they demonstrate their value time and time again – with superior academic outcomes and high graduation and college placement rates, all supported by strong moral values.

No doubt, Catholic graduates make a positive contribution to society and are more likely to practice their faith as young adults. Studies conducted in the past five years by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University show that among millennials (young adults born since 1982), there is a strong correlation between Catholic education and Mass attendance with Catholic-educated young adults more than six times more likely to attend Mass weekly, participate in their parish, volunteer and tithe. Twenty-three percent of millennial Catholics have attended a Catholic elementary school at some point in their lives. Four millennial-age Catholic school alumni of the Diocese of Sacramento – Ameyalli Chavez, Eric Jackson, Robyn Williams and Patrick Arguelles — are living proof that Catholic schools do matter. They share their experiences with Catholic Herald magazine, all citing the component of their faith as the guiding force in their lives.

Meet Ameyalli Chavez

Catholic schools are the defining influence in Ameyalli Chavez’s life, especially the five core principles of the two Christian Brothers’ schools from which she graduated: Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento and St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga. She is inspired by the charism of St. John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the Christian Brothers and the patron of teachers.

“My Catholic education gave me the basis of values that guide my life,” says Ameyalli, 21, a member of St. Peter and All Hallows Parish in Sacramento. “The five core principles of Lasallian schools have shaped my faith and morality, and my own personal views also.” The principles are: faith in the presence of God; respect for all persons; inclusive community; quality education; and concern for the poor and social justice.

The first in her family to graduate from college, Ameyalli received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Mary’s in May 2019 and is currently looking for career opportunities in counseling and nursing in the Sacramento area. She is a 2015 graduate of Christian Brothers and a 2011 graduate of St. Patrick’s Academy in Sacramento. Before St. Patrick’s, she attended the former St. Peter School from kindergarten to second grade, and the former John Paul II School from third to seventh grade.

She grew up in a bilingual and bicultural home with a younger brother and sister (who also attend Catholic schools), as her parents, Elio and Anabel, immigrated to the United States from Mexico. “Both of my parents grew up Catholic and it is something central to their identity,” she says.

During elementary school, she cherished learning about the history of Catholicism and the Scriptures, and receiving the sacraments of first Eucharist and reconciliation. On a daily basis “we learned how to be a good person in all things,” she recalls. “Even in something as simple as how to treat others on the playground, I knew to respect all kids, even those who are different from me.”

She struggled with her faith during high school. “It was a joyous occasion when I received my confirmation, but in your teenage years there’s a lot of doubt and uncertainty. Am I doing OK? Am I on the right path? When I had doubts, I would ask, is God real? I would pray, but not always feel I was getting answers.”

Her doubts were erased by her experiences at St. Mary’s College, where as a sophomore she began working in the mission and ministry center (campus ministry). “That was the best choice of my life,” she says. “I met so many great mentors and there was a support system to guide me to find my faith in my own way: that my relationship with God could grow on my own terms and formation.”

She served as a resident advisor and a Lasallian peer minister, was involved with student liturgies and prayer groups, and developed cultural programs to enrich and educate the college community, including an annual weeklong celebration around the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “Over time, I discovered the way I wanted to practice my faith was by serving. I was always drawn to the Lasallian motto of ‘Enter to learn, leave to serve,’” she says.

Her most memorable experience came during her junior year on a month-long semester break. As part of a Lasallian service internship in Naples, Italy, she lived and worked with the Christian Brothers at Casa Arcobaleno in the Scampia urban area. The brothers’ mission is to help at-risk teen boys who have dropped out of school. Ameyalli taught them English and also volunteered at the local day care run by the Sisters of Providence.

“I found the meaning of living and serving in your faith,” she says. “It was a moment where I was truly close to God. I found so much of myself in this group of boys, who didn’t come from wealthy families and were trying to find hope that their lives could be better. I let them know they could do what they wanted to do, that the sky’s the limit. All my life I have been taught that I could do anything, to have faith and God will provide.”

The values instilled through Catholic education “shape you for the entirety of your life,” Ameyalli says. “To other young adults who may be questioning their faith, I say don’t worry, have hope, and find your own faith, because God will always be there for you. Your faith is something no one can take away from you. It’s the strongest thing you have. It will guide you wherever you go in life. It will protect you in your moments of greatest fear and comfort you in your greatest sorrows.”

Catholic Herald Issue