Retired educator honored for ongoing work with students

| Melenie Soucheray | May 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

Samuel Salas, center, talks with students Latrell Oliver and Kelly Quizhpi at Hospitality House Youth Development in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Samuel Salas says when his wife asks him when he’s going to retire, he responds with, “I don’t know, because I never studied to be a retired person.”

In a nutshell, that’s one reason why the Ignatian Volunteer Corps Twin Cities branch presented Salas, 85, with its 2017 Madonna Della Strada Award May 11 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

The award is named for Sancta Maria della Strada, the first church entrusted to St. Ignatius of Loyola and the early Jesuits where they served the urban poor in central Rome. The award honors those who reflect Ignatian values of direct service to the poor as well as those who seek a more just society through work and education.

In 2007, as his career was winding down, Salas wondered what to do next. His wife of 56 years, Cecilia, advised him not to worry and that something would turn up. Sure enough, he noticed a blurb in the parish bulletin at Good Shepherd in Golden Valley, where he’s a member, recruiting for IVC, a national organization that offers men and women 50 and older opportunities to serve and grow as Christians in the Ignatian tradition. He signed on to volunteer as a tutor and adviser at Hospitality House Youth Development, a Christian nonprofit in North Minneapolis that focuses on the spiritual, intellectual and physical development of inner-city youths and their families.

Kathleen Groh, IVC regional director of Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Salas was selected for the award because he “has taken a rich life experience as an educator, administrator and a person of faith to serve those who are poor and vulnerable in North Minneapolis. He not only brings his many skills and expertise with him to all endeavors he undertakes, [but] he in turn experiences the gifts of those who struggle while finding God among them.”

Steve Lucke, who served with Salas for five years on the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School-Twin Cities board of directors, said he “was always impressed by his wisdom, patience, professionalism and desire for people to work together in a spirit of collaboration.” A member of the IVC Regional Council, Lucke added: “Sam is a pro in the education field and is very collaborative.”

Salas, a soft-spoken a native of Santiago, Chile, came to the United States with Cecilia in 1960. He took a position at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. At the Episcopalian boarding school, Salas oversaw the resident students, taught Spanish and coached soccer. Eventually, their family grew to include two sons and a daughter, and Salas advanced to become the head of school.

In 1987, Salas was named headmaster of Breck School in Golden Valley, where he served until 2007.

“They accepted people of all religions,” Salas said of the private Episcopal school. “We were interested in having people learn about religion and respect the religions of others. I started a community service program through which all students in the upper school and the teachers would do community service in the morning, once a week. They go to 20 different agencies and do service, then they come back and continue their academic work.”

Serving others is deeply-rooted in Salas’ life.

“My mother used to work in the St. Vincent de Paul organization in our parish,” he said. “The organization has a structure that I really like. You become in charge of the family. You help them with whatever needs they have.”

And he also strives to model his father’s example.

“Since I was young, when he was paid, the first thing he did was to go to the store and get a couple of bags of groceries and give them to the poor,” Salas said.

As a child in Catholic school, Salas and his classmates visited hospitals and jails. Those experiences shaped his understanding of what is important in life.

“It has been very much a part of my understanding of what it is to be a Christian. [Jesus’] first assignment — self-assigned or from the father through the Holy Spirit — was to help others,” he said.

A life of service, Salas believes, is celebrated when Pope Francis speaks.

“Somehow, with time, organizations start losing their origins,” Salas observed. “The Church, with this pope, has found what is fundamental — going back to Jesus as he lived and who he was. Imitate him. The task is so clear.”

Salas also volunteers at a variety of other nonprofits, including the Aim Higher Foundation, Catholic Charities, YMCA, Children’s Theatre Company, MacPhail Center for Music, the Nature Conservancy and the shoe ministry at the Basilica of St. Mary.

On May 11, IVC also awarded the Robert Hobbins Community Service Award to Hospitality House Youth Development.

Tags: , ,

Category: Local News