Stephanie DePrez on Easter and the order of love

March 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

Today, Holy Thursday, my friend and colleague Stephanie DePrez shares a bit about her journey from the University of Notre Dame to Xavier College Preparatory and talks about her role ministering to students in the wake of tragedy.

 Love and Loss for an Easter People

March 28, 2013

By Stephanie DePrez

“Are you Catholic?”

“Yes.”

“Would you be willing to teach religion?”

Two months after that impromptu interview, I found myself packing a U-Haul and driving from Denver to Palm Desert, my brand-new degree from the University of Notre Dame in hand.

I never planned on teaching high school. My own experience as a member of the first freshman class of Regis Jesuit High School’s Girls Division in Aurora, Colorado was fantastic, and I loved my four years spent “building” our new school. My two summers in college doing catechetical work with high school students with the Notre Dame Vision program rocked me and my faith. But my passion was performance, and my majors were Music and Film, Television & Theatre. What could I bring to a religion classroom? Especially one that is Jesuit?

Nearing the end of my second year at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, I’m beginning to understand what I am truly called to be and do as an Ignatian educator.

When I walked into my classroom, a 22-year-old directing a choir and teaching sophomore Scripture, I was frantic. Text and materials, homework assignments, lectures, and disciplinary procedures swirled in my head as I attempted to keep my no-idea-what-I’m-in-for grin to a minimum and command respect from the terrifying monsters darling children now in my care. The grace of God, assisted by my pure foolishness, led me to abandon plans to move to Los Angeles to write for television or to audition for a Young Artists’ Program with an opera company. Instead, I found myself teaching high school.

Thus began my quest to discover what I am called to do with a millennial teenager. There are competing opinions. I recently heard teenagers referred to as piñatas of hormones and emotion, and if that’s the case, there’s really not more for a teacher in secondary education to do other than babysit the fiesta and hope it doesn’t get out of control. Especially if my subject matter is so radical (God, truth) that the run-of-the-mill relativist takes sharp offense at virtually every idea I propose. Get them in, get them out, keep them safe, and make sure they know who Moses is.

This is, of course, a wildly simplified and incomplete view. Teaching teenagers, especially at a Jesuit school, means wresting with love every day. Who am I? Someone who is loved. Whose am I? The God of love’s. Who am I called to be? Love. Which means, when three students lose a parent, and when a senior is unconscious in the ICU, when it looks like hope is gone and the piñatas turn into exhausted zombies with red-rimmed eyes fearfully stuffed into polo’s, the order of love gets bigger. And that’s where I, the Ignatian educator, come in.

I remarked off-handedly earlier this year that the only thing I really need to do every day is look my students in the eye and say, “You’re okay.” This simple task is indicative of the larger act of reminding my students that they’re safe, they’re important, and they’re not screwing up. Even if your parents are getting divorced, even if you failed a math exam, even if you didn’t make Varsity … you’re okay. It’s going to be okay. You’re a good person, and you will do good things. This is the best thing I do for my students – I give them permission to breathe, to meet themselves in the middle of the mess that is high school and be comfortable with the person they see in the mirror.

So what happens when the questions get harder? This week, as we grieved the death of a Xavier senior, a student sitting in front of me crumpled into my arms, sobbing, and said, “I just don’t get it, Miss DePrez. We’re such good people, and we’re all so sad.” I got an email from a student who wrote, “I have no experience with loss. But since you teach religion and such, I thought maybe you’d be able to point me towards God in this situation. Where is he? What the hell is he thinking?”

In my year and a half at a Jesuit school I’ve felt lost, humbled, confused, grossly wrong, upset, disappointed, frustrated, and like a bad teacher, but I have never felt paralyzed. That’s what I felt this week. I didn’t have answers, and I couldn’t pull out my favorite line, “Let’s look it up in the Catechism!” I had to sit there, holding hearts bleeding out pain with purity only teenagers possess, and the only thing I could do is … love. I gave the student a bear hug, and I emailed a response with a song I’d been listening to and a confession that I have no idea where He is, either. I have lost count of the hugs I’ve initiated, giving my darlings permission to weep, to moan, to be present to their emotions. The world they know is destroyed; they are not invincible. The only response I have, and the only one I am called to have, is to love.

This means showing up every day. It means being real with them about my own grief. It means continuing to do our work. It means goofing off and having a good laugh and letting them convince me to soap-box — at least for a little while — about reality television instead of the origins of the Liturgy. It means saying a rosary next to a hospital bed while the patient’s dad stands watch. It means holding a colleague’s hand in the faculty lounge as she breaks down at 8:30 AM. It means weekend meals with other teachers, facing each other, looking for the face of Christ.

Because, no matter what happens, we are going to be okay. We are rooted in Christ, fed by the Eucharist, and at the mercy of our own faithful desires to seek the magis. We are an Easter people.

Stephanie DePrez

Stephanie DePrez

Stephanie DePrez is a member of the first four-year class from Regis Jesuit High School Girls Division in Aurora, Colorado (class of 2007). She received a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame in Music (Vocal Performance) and Film, Television & Theatre in 2011. She is currently the Choir Director and member of the Theology Department at Xavier College Preparatory High School in Palm Desert, CA. She can be reached at sdeprez@xavierprep.org.

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