The Quica Project: A mission to make Catholic education available to every child

FRIEND, HELPER --- Blue-eyed priest Toribio Romo was martyred during the Cristero War in the 1920s and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000, becoming an unofficial patron of immigrants. — Credit: DORIS BENAVIDES

Maria Marcos Romo Gonzalez (also called “Quica”), the sister of Mexican martyr St. Toribio Romo Gonzalez, dedicated her life to enabling poor children, including her brother, to receive a Christ-centered education.  The Quica project bears her name because our mission is to allow Spirit and Truth education available to every child.

Partaking in the divine life of God’s son, Jesus, we have all been made children of God. Sharing God’s love, which knows no limits or borders of culture, ethnicity, or economic status, we are united as brothers and sisters — one family — in Christ. The Quica Project seeks to enable all of our children to follow in the footsteps of St. Toribio and to discover their inheritance as sons and daughters of God. The scripture says Jesus was “indignant” toward those who would prevent children from knowing God’s special love for them,  saying: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The Quica Project recognizes the need for schools to open their doors to all of our children, regardless of the child’s economic status.

We believe it is possible for our schools to operate in a new way to overcome the obstacle of economic status for students. This model is as radical as Christ’s love: Instead of trying to generate more income to cover costs, it generates the generosity of others.  Our schools must focus first and foremost on becoming better disciples of Christ, trusting that God will move in the hearts of others, who will then respond by giving. Allowing all children to enter a school, regardless of their ability to pay, ignites the fire of faith within the hearts of others, empowering them to respond in any way they can. Living this radical life of faith gives birth to a whole new life for the parish and for the broader Church. The fire spreads, and participation increases in all areas of the parish community and beyond. We are confident this model can work, because it is already working at a school in California’s San Fernando Valley, St. Catherine of Siena Parish School in Reseda.

For the model to have long-term sustainability, the fire must spread outside the confines of the local parish. This is where Quica Project comes in. It is our job to share in this radical life of faith and to tell the story of the people who have helped sustain and grow St. Catherine’s school (and the schools that may follow in its footsteps). In doing this, we hope to inspire others to give and to organize their giving, creating a long term source of income for all schools that wish to adopt this new model for our schools. This is necessary if the model, which we believe is the model of Quica and of Jesus, is to be adopted on a universal scale, so that no child will be kept from coming to Him. 

Quica, pray for us.

Sr. Sheila McNiff 

Each morning at 6:15 a.m. Mass, I see a mother kiss the forehead of her preschooler and leave for work. Her little angel walks and sits beside Sr. Sheila in the pews. Her feet dangle while they swing back and forth. “The peace of the Lord be with you,” says the priest. Without hesitation, the girl walks to her friends gives Christ’s peace and a forehead to be kissed then returns right beside Sister. All the while, Sister watches and prays. How does one describe the job that Sr. Sheila does for the school? It’s simple. Love.

When she arrived five years ago, there were only fifty-seven students.  She faced the arduous task of healing a school where students may want to leave because of plans to combine the classrooms.  It was likely that Saint Catherine School would close by year’s end.

Sr. Sheila was raised in a prominent family in Pasadena where she dreamed that she’d play on the Wimbledon court. Her mother had big hopes for all her children, but especially for her blue-eyed dimpled baby girl. Amidst an abundance of love and support, she hoped to attend a well-respected University with the help of her parents. The world offered her a lot, but instead, she chose to renounce and dedicate her life to Christ. 

At seventeen, she entered the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus. After she completed her Postulancy and Novitiate they sent her to Philadelphia to teach. She remembers that no child was turned away. A memory that would help several decades later when she found herself at a little school in the San Fernando Valley. 

After an entire life of work and sacrifice, Sr. Sheila certainly deserves retirement. Instead, she wakes at 4:30 a.m. every morning to receive a little girl and walks across a parking lot where they both go to learn and love in a school that has grown to over 150 students. 

How is she able to do all this? What is it that makes this all possible? Love.

Barbara May Theresa Werle

Barbara May Theresa Werle, Quica to the school children of St. Catherine of Siena, was gifted by God with a high awareness of beauty. She loved real beauty, first of all in the purity of souls around her, but also in flowers and in artistic expression of all types. 

Barbara, sometimes known as Bobbi, grew up in a rough area of New York. Her childhood was off to a rocky start, until her parents entered her into a Private Catholic School. Here in this spirit–filled education, she found the sanctuary she needed to calm the high sensitivity of her heart. She was very fond of the years she spent there and the encounters with people who brought God to her.  In the yearbook for her graduating class, the students listed who they most wanted to be like. Barbara’s answer was, “The Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Barbara is spoken of as, “One of the most tender and caring people.” One might even say that she cared too much. One story that was told of her was about ducks that would fly into her pool. The pool cleaner would be trying to get rid of them, chasing them away.  Meanwhile, Barbara would be trying to feed them. 

Because of her sensitive nature, Barbara wanted to create a sanctuary for her soul, but at first, she didn’t know how to do it. She tried to enter and live in this sanctuary through art. She found much success in the world with her talent for singing, dancing, and acting. People remember her from the movie roles she played alongside Elvis Presley and her appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. She was also a prolific painter and poet.

In her adult years, Barbara re-found her Catholic Faith. The Blessed Virgin Mary must not have missed her yearbook request from so many years before; at this time of her life, she began to draw Barbara close. And Barbara responded by praying the rosary and spending hours just gazing at Our Lady Guadalupe. She lit church candles and offered prayers for those who needed them. A woman who once needed other people to bring God to her, now was able to do that for others.

Barbara’s days as a Quica, were filled with intercessory prayer and acts of charity. She looked out for the poor, and in particular the children who were living in the apartment building she owned. She really cared for them, making sure they received their sacraments and being a Godmother to many of them. Her voice which once drew audiences from across the country, now was shared in the church choir of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church. In the past, she did not want to attend Mass at all; but now she found herself attending a second Mass. Since she was in service as a choir member, another mass became necessary so that can enter fully into the mystery. She also started attending daily Mass. She once said, “Just Sunday Mass? That’s for beginners.” 

Barbara has much in common with the saint of her confirmation name, Saint Theresa the little flower.  As a little girl, St. Theresa was known to be quite stubborn, a personality which God transformed into her virtue. Saint Theresa became known for her unwillingness to give up on any soul. 

Barbara, also stubborn, never gave up on her dream of a soul sanctuary. She was elated to hear that there was a Catholic School in the San Fernando Valley that had a plan to turn no kid away. She believed that she could help other children by protecting the sanctuary that she had experienced as a child.   She donated on numerous occasions to help the success of the school and it’s dream. A plaque honoring Barbara Werle now hangs at the school’s entrance gate- under a picture of Jesus with small children. It reads, “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not stop them.’ In memory of Barbara Werle, a dear friend of the Adopt-a-child program.” 

On January 1st, 2013, Barbara May Theresa Werle passed on from this life. Saint Theresa, her favorite saint once said, “I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”  Barbara Werle is doing good to us now while she spends time in heaven. Not only through the cooperation of The Quica Project, St. Catherine School, and the loving generosity of her son, John Branca, but also with what’s certain to be her continued prayers of intercession. Thanks be to God. Barbara Werle, Pray for us!

Father Raul Cortes

Father Raul Cortes’ story is recognizable to many other immigrants whose lives were marked with honorable work and service to others but yet remained anonymous in this country.  His simple manner, accented by sharp wit and humor, veils the fact that in 1981, he was the first to celebrate in Spanish in the San Fernando Valley.   He began a non-profit school for children who cannot afford music lessons in a property that he inherited. Parishioners from Saint Catherine of Siena lovingly talk about “Padre Raul” yet he remains a humble servant of his people. 

Father Raul was born in San Jose de Gracia, Jalisco, from a family who followed a trail of migrants from Mexico to the United States in the 1920s.  His family traveled to America for work but his parents insisted that the children should be raised in their hometown for Catholic education.   He entered seminary in Guadalajara and was ordained at the age of 27 in 1962. While still in Mexico, he learned that surrounding towns longed for ministry and so he visited those in need by horse.  At one time, he even rode for fourteen hours to hear the confession of a dying man. This devotion to others journeyed with him when it came time to join his family in the United States.

Father Raul’s assignment to Saint Catherine of Siena was providential as Southern California’s Latino population grew by over a third in the 1990s.   Reseda became a blend of different ethnicities with a wave of Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Central American immigrants.  At the heart of the San Fernando Valley, Saint Catherine of Siena felt these changes, which gave a different pulse and new joyful spirit in the Catholic Church.   Father Raul maintained his ministry to Spanish speaking populations and kept the vibrancy of this community.  

By the same token, he devoted much of his attention to helping the parish school.  Fully aware of their social and spiritual needs, he believed that Catholic education must be accessible for all especially for immigrants and those with economic difficulties.  It was a dream that he kept turning into a reality. When Father Raul was about to celebrate his 50th year as a priest.  Many possibilities were suggested to him of how to celebrate and he said, “I want to raise $50,000 for scholarships for the children to come to St. Catherine’s”. The momentum got going and soon many people were on board to help.  All the gifts he received amounted to more than fifty thousand dollars. He gave every dollar to the school for scholarships. He kept nothing for himself even though he might have needed a better car.  It was “Una celebracion de Oro.” 

Father Raul’s story is irrevocably Quica’s story. From the labor of his family who joined thousands of migrants but remained silent in their work to his efforts to help the little school in San Fernando Valley.  Like Quica, Father Raul’s life was a selfless submission to God and his children.      

Gustavo Farias

Gustavo Farias has been active in the music business as a composer, arranger, and producer for popular musicians including Juan Gabriel, Melissa Etheridge, and many others.  He won the Cannes Silver Lion for his contribution in advertising and he was named producer of the year in Premio Lo Nuestro.  Along with all these extraordinary achievements, Gustavo’s greatest gift is his wonderful family.

One evening, a group of Latino leaders gathered at his family’s home for dinner to talk about a new way to raise money and help children receive a Catholic education.  The heartfelt sharing during this prayerful gathering inspired others in the group to point out some of Gustavo’s successes and achievements. They identified in the beauty of his humble “behind the scenes” giftedness, whether he liked it or not. The conversation turned toward Quica and how she also embodied this “hidden” way of generosity. It was Gustavo who pointed out that Quica should be the model for this project of raising money and that we should name it after her.  It was here in Gustavo’s home that the Quica Project was born. 

A board of directors was quickly formed and plans for different projects began.  It was understood by all that monetary gifts were only a part of the story. Quica’s selfless love for her brother sparked Santo Toribio to serve his people.  Quica’s generosity ignited a fire in Santo Toribio that continues on today.  This fire is at the heart of Catholic education.  The board of directors agreed that every child, without any regard to their class, economic status, and ethnicity must not be turned away.  Every child must be allowed education fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit. 

Gustavo is a living Quica.  He is a silent supporter of artists and musicians, always anonymously working behind the stage.  But moreover, as chairman of the Quica Project, Gustavo has carried through on the mission despite his active schedule.  His travels all over the world did not deter him from coming to meetings and responding to what is necessary to make the project successful. Gustavo believes that we can see all children’s fire burn furiously.  Through the Quica Project, we all burn with the fire of God’s love together. 


Voices

Statement on the announcement of presidential executive orders on immigration

Archbishop José H. Gomez

I am happy that some temporary relief is being offered to help parents and children who right now are living in daily fear that their families will be broken up by arrests and deportations. But the President’s actions today are no substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform our nation needs.

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Events

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November 21, 2014

  • Friday, November 21

    Fall Concert: Paul Gilbraith, 7 p.m., Thomas Aquinas College, 10000 Ojai Road, Santa Paula. Free and open to the public. Gilbraith is a classical guitarist, Grammy nominee and Billboard “Top Ten” Artist. (805) 525-4417.

    “Marymount Presents” Fall Theater Production, 8 p.m. and Nov. 22, 8 p.m., Grand Annex, 434 W Sixth St., San Pedro. Tickets: $10 general, $5 student/senior. The fall theatre production will showcase Marymount California University student talent. (310) 303-7223.

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