Graduate profiles

| May 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

To honor graduating high school seniors in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, The Catholic Spirit asked three Catholic high schools — Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and Providence Academy in Plymouth — to nominate students for the following profiles.

The three students selected credit their Catholic education with deepening their faith and commitment to living out its principles.

Service is life’s teacher

Gia Aleman has experienced loss and filled voids.

The soon-to-be graduate of Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield lost her father when she was 7, and both grandfathers at about the same time. She spends a lot of time these days filling gaps in other people’s lives. Her high school’s focus on serving others gives her numerous opportunities for that.

As a senior, Aleman, 18, interviewed for and won a spot on a campus ministry team to become what Aleman calls “the face for the example to live out the Christian or Catholic life.” Team members plan Masses and service retreats, and perform acts of service on a weekly basis.

The 40 to 50 seniors in campus ministry serve weekly in smaller groups at various sites such as Sharing and Caring Hands’ Mary’s Place, transitional apartments in Minneapolis for homeless families with children. The main service site for Aleman’s group of five is GiGi’s Playhouse, an achievement center for children and adults with Down syndrome. Aleman worked with children ages 3 to 7 on athletic activities and motor skills, providing them the chance to be around other people, she said.

The experience gave her a new outlook and insight into other people’s lives, she said, and provided proof that one person can make a difference.

Aleman also participated in two mission trips during high school. The summer before her sophomore year, her soccer team traveled to Tanzania where team members served at a church and school. “We helped the kids, taught them English, brought them supplies and just gave them … interaction that they might not have experienced,” she said.

Before her junior year, she traveled to Honduras with a group from her parish, All Saints in Lakeville, to serve with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters). The organization supports thousands of vulnerable boys and girls in Latin American countries.

Aleman’s group worked with children in an orphanage.

The trips opened her eyes to other cultures and ways of life, Aleman said. “It was a chance to see how privileged we are, and how people and kids with so little can be so happy.”

Aleman plans to attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison, this fall to study biochemistry on her path to becoming a physician. Because of her positive experience in high school, she also intends to continue volunteering in college.

Meg Angevine, admissions officer at Holy Angels, said Aleman has always been a strong ambassador for Holy Angels at open houses and recruiting events. “You name it and she is there,” Angevine said. “We have no doubt that Gia will continue to be an AHA … ambassador throughout her years at Madison and beyond.”

Convert, on priesthood path

Senior year of high school is a milestone and, by its very nature, memorable. Michael Underwood has added a life-changing twist to the story of his senior year.

Underwood, 17, is a senior at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, where he started his Catholic education as a freshman.

He was raised a Protestant but recently completed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to become Catholic — the only person in his immediate family to do so, he said. This fall, he will study philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and plans to apply to St. John Vianney College Seminary in a couple of years. His goal: To become a priest.

“I wasn’t … a Catholic growing up, but I was a religious person,” he said. “Christianity was always a very real and prevalent thing in my life. It just wasn’t fully manifested.”

Underwood credits his teachers for boosting the development of his faith over the years. “They were very open about their faith,” he said. His theology teachers and classes, in particular, had a big influence on his life and conversion.

He gave special recognition to his teachers in his freshman and sophomore classes, who described and discussed the life of the saints, “that idea of just being around the saints and the example they set,” Underwood said. He always walked away from those lessons thinking, “I need to step up my game.”

He felt challenged by the knowledge of the saints and who they were “to be a better Christian, to be a better leader, a better Catholic — but to be a better person, most importantly. And that was what my teachers … were shooting for,” he said.

Underwood is involved in campus ministry programs at DeLaSalle, where he serves as a lector and cantor in liturgies. He is a section leader in the school’s A Cappella Choir, where he has been a member all four years of high school. The arts and music are very important to his family, and Underwood said he and his mother enjoy singing together at home.

He also helped launch the school’s co-curricular Ethics Bowl team this past school year. The team won first place in Minnesota in its inaugural year.

A friend once asked Underwood why he would encourage someone to attend a Catholic school instead of a public school. “It’s a very different aura,” he said. Among his reasons, Underwood said, was that “you need to function not just physically in this world, but also spiritually.”

Turning to God healed his grief

Ben Guerrero’s parents divorced during his freshman year at Providence Academy in Plymouth. He thought he could handle it, but by his sophomore year, he made some bad choices, including substance abuse.

“I struggled through that year and made friends with people I shouldn’t have,” he said. He missed a lot of school and felt lost. Teachers and close friends tried to help, but he turned his back on his true friends. “I didn’t know how to go through whatever I was going through,” he said. “I just wanted to stop my grief.”

Guerrero, 18, credits faith with turning his life around. He will soon graduate from Providence Academy and plans to attend the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul or St. John’s University in Collegeville to study pre-medicine with a minor in Catholic studies.

The first step of his turnaround occurred while visiting an out-of-state relative who works in behavioral health. She described someone with serious anger issues who would go into “major meltdown mode” at school, bullying students and teachers.

Guerrero said she was able to help the young man, telling him that change is inevitable, and someone can either work with it or against it. Something about the story clicked with Guerrero. “She helped him with his struggles, inspiring me that I can change and become better,” he said.
And he did. “My junior year, I was inspired to do well and I wanted to have more of a spiritual life,” he said.

He starting going to church. Then his father introduced him to videos of Mother Angelica, the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, EWTN. “I really thought that she was speaking to my heart,” Guerrero said, “and I felt a special connection with her.”

He started watching Mother Angelica’s messages every day before he went to school. “I would start my day … listening to what she had to say about God. And my relationship with God was getting so much stronger.”

Guerrero started depending on God to help guide him through more of his life, including fears and struggles. At that time, he also realized that his true friends were always there for him.

He said he now gives it all to God. “Every time I get a good grade, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for helping me.’ He changed my attitude and he helped me so much, especially the Holy Spirit. He really helped me change for the better.”

As Guerrero’s spiritual life became more central, his grades improved, as did his attitude. “All my teachers could see this [change] in me,” he said, “and everything was making more sense.”

Tags: , , ,

Category: Featured, Graduation