“Teach by example. Put into practice what you want your students to believe.”- Saint John Baptist de La Salle
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was an extremely shy kid. I only had a handful of friends and, like many 15-year-olds, I was insecure and lacked confidence. It was at this peculiar time of my life that I had a social studies teacher and coach, Coach Mann, who took me under his wing. He believed in me, taught me about the importance of hard work, and encouraged me to recognize my own potential. Unfortunately, at the end of my sophomore year, he passed away, and I never had the chance to tell him how much his mentorship meant to me.
Two years later, when it came time to go to college, I chose Lewis University, with no knowledge that it was a Lasallian school or that Saint John Baptist de La Salle was the patron saint of educators. By the end of my sophomore year, I had decided to major in education, with the hope of one day inspiring young people the same way my high school teacher inspired me.
As a young, aspiring educator, I found hope and courage in the life of De La Salle. He was a wealthy, powerful priest when he decided to renounce his wealth and position of power within the church to start schools for poor children in France. Almost everyone in his life questioned his decision, but he was motivated by a calling from God and a firm belief in the transformative power of education. Over the years, I have found myself thinking a lot about De La Salle’s decision to give up his wealth and power to start schools for marginalized boys in France, and his story has been a constant source of encouragement for me to live out my convictions; to practice what I preach; to teach by example.
A few years ago, after five years of working as a teacher and campus minister at Lasallian institutions, I took a leap of faith and switched careers, motivated by a long-held conviction to work on issues of food justice in my hometown of Chicago. Today, I work for an organization that builds gardens at Chicago Public Schools, empowering teachers and students to grow their own fruits and vegetables and learn about the importance of healthy eating. I also co-run a community farm that provides local, sustainably-grown produce for people at an affordable price. Though I am no longer teaching in the classroom, working with students is a significant part of my daily work, and I am still deeply committed to living out the Lasallian charism. I continue to draw inspiration from the life of De La Salle and the Christian Brothers.
A few years ago, I tracked down the number of Coach Mann’s wife and called her. I introduced myself and explained how I never had the chance to thank him for the positive impact he had on my life. She thanked me for calling and asked about where I lived and what I did for work. I told her my story and, with hesitation, mentioned my recent decision to leave teaching and pursue work to help create a more equitable food system in Chicago. She paused for a moment and said with sincerity…“he would be very proud of you.”