By Marianela Nuñez
I grew up in the Dominican Republic, where my grandmother sent me, at a very young age, to Catholic school. She believed not only in education but a good Catholic education, and she looked for help to send me to El Colegio Nuestra Senora del Carmen, where I learned self-discipline and developed a passion for learning. I also learned that Jesus is and should always be at the center of our lives. Therefore, we should make him proud of our work and our actions by pursuing the best version or ourselves.
I came to the United States more than 10 years ago, in my 20s, with the dream of getting a college education. I now have a family here, a master’s degree and a job. I feel welcomed and respected because of what I have accomplished. In my country, people believe that if you come to the United States, and if you work hard and go to school, you will succeed. That has been true for me. I have been blessed to experience what Martin Luther King envisioned: living in an environment where people are judged not by the color of their skin — or where they came from — but by their character.
My job is helping and serving my fellow immigrant Latino families who, like me, came to the United States searching for a life full of opportunities and hopes. Some are fleeing war, violence and hunger, but all are coming with a dream of living in a country where the keys to success are no more, and no less, than education and hard work.
This is one reason why giving children access to great Catholic schools — schools that increase their chances of going to college — is so close to my heart. The other reason, of course, is that Catholic schools here, just like the Catholic school I attended in the Dominican Republic, consider the spiritual and moral development of children their top priority. At South Jersey Catholic schools, children are welcomed, they learn to make Jesus the center of their lives, and they receive a rigorous academic education.
Since the beginning of my journey at the Diocese of Camden, Latino enrollment in our Catholic schools has increased from 11% of our total enrollment to 18% of our total enrollment in our elementary schools. It is a blessing to see more Latino families who share our Catholic values joining the schools. We have so much to give as well as so much to receive. I encourage the south Jersey community to continue to embrace these families as much as I encourage my fellow Latino families to embrace the ethnic diversity around them.
God is a God of all and he loves unity. In these challenging times, when we may be feeling the hatred around us, it is right and just to show our brothers and sisters what we are about as Catholics, people of love and peace.
Marianela Nuñez is the field consultant for Latino enrollment, Diocese of Camden.