FATHER WILLIAM MULLER, S.J., at WVRC on May 12th
PP STEVE DAY led the Pledge, but in an act of real independence, PP SEAN MCMILLAN who was presiding, had him skip the Four Way Test! SEAN, you gotta be careful here - how in hell will we ever learn it if we don’t practice? But JOHN O’KEEFE saved the day with his Invocation, quoting from the Koran; O Beloved One, for whom the future is always now, I am busy making plans for my tomorrows, What I shall do and where I shall go, Am I not captain of my ship, Competent to chart its course Through calm or stormy seas? Teach me the foolishness of such thoughts, And place upon my lips this day The Arabic word INSHALLAH, “God willing.” May it remind me constantly That I cannot control today, Let alone tomorrow. God willing, I will be alive tomorrow, If God wills it, I shall be able To meet my commitments, Arrive safely at my destination, Complete the work that I have promised. INSHALLAH, wondrous word which reveals to me That I must live day by day, Always dependent upon God’s providence. May every plan and dream I propose Be sealed with what God may dispose. And bear the mystic’s motto, “God willing,” INSHALLAH. Good stuff, PP STEVE - thanks. And for those of us who are experienced SEAN watchers, it was no surprise that we didn’t sing!
However, we did have a Visiting Rotarian, Alonzo Hill, from Santa Monica where he operates the FBI office. In addition, PEGGY brought her helper, and PDG ANDY was accompanied by PAT. Our other guest was Steve Harris, who came along on President GORDON FELL’S tab - Steve works at Verbum Dei High School. In addition, he has known President GORDON since the first grade! PP SEAN invited him forward, asking for some insights into President GORDON. Steve opined that he and GORDON were similar in temperament, and both preferred to stand back and not be noticed. As he phrased it, they both enjoyed observing the stream of life, but didn’t want to be caught up in the current. Steve was close to GORDON’S mother, and both he and GORDON attended Richland Elementary School, Daniel Webster Jr. High, and University High School. They ended up together again at the end of the Korean War, at Ft. Ord. Gordon was there for medical reasons, having been wounded in Korea, and Steve arranged to be under his command. It certainly does appear that the two of them spent a lot of time together.
And then, an entirely gratituous ”freebie”- it turned out there were to be no fines this fine day. However, PP SEAN apparently divined a lack of Inspiration extant (that means it wasn’t out there, somewhere), so we then were provided with some inspiriting thoughts by PP ERIC and ELLIOTT, who happened to be ‘on call’. PP ERIC led off, explaining why margaritas were the best antidote for depression, or whatever else may concern you. They allow you to do almost anything, and thus remove any barriers that prevent you from living the life you desire. However, note that margaritas might not be appropriate for everyone, specifically, women who are pregnant or nursing should not use margaritas. However, if you wish to become pregnant, or begin nursing, margaritas may be the answer. Several other possible symptoms were noted, among them loss of motor control, plus they may give you a desire to sing Karaoke. PP ERIC ended this exposition by offering this response to the wife saying, “Let’s go upstairs and make love”. His reply, “You gotta choose one or the other - I can’t do both”.
So, here’s ELLIOTT! Somebody once told him, marriage is not a word - it’s a sentence. With this intro, he then proceeded to pontificate (that means extol) some perhaps little known facts about women over 50. Women over 50 are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it’s like to be unappreciated. Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to a woman over 50. Older women are forthright and honest. They’ll tell you right off if you are a jerk or if you are acting like one. Yes, we praise women over 50 for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s not reciprocal. But wait - he also had a story…A drunk customer asked, “In what aisle could I find Irish Whiskey?” The clerk asks, “Are you Irish?” The guy, clearly offended, says, “Yes, I am. But let me ask you something. If I had asked for an Italian sausage, would you ask me if I was Italian? Or, if I asked you German Bratwurst, would you ask me if I was German? Or, if I asked you for a kosher hot dog would you ask me if I was Jewish? Or, if I had asked for a taco, would you ask if I was Mexican? Or if I asked for some Polish sausage, would you ask if I was Polish?” The clerk says, “No, I probably wouldn’t.” The guy then says, “Well then, because I asked for Irish whiskey, why did you ask me if I’m Irish?” The clerk replied, “Because you’re in Home Depot.” And once again, I beg your indulgence - I can only report what I heard…
All this eventually led to PP CHRIS BRADFOD introducing our Speaker, Father William Muller, S.J. In case you don’t know, the initials stand for Society of Jesus, the official name of the Jesuits. He grew up in the Bay Area, and began training in 1962, being ordained in 1973. That led to high school teaching in English and Theology, plus several theater programs. He has been an administrator in four different Jesuit schools in California, including Loyola High in LA. Father Muller was a Rotarian when he was President of Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, and he misses it.
His most recent three years has been as President of Verbum Dei High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in Watts, where he has worked to build an outstanding educational environment for young men in the inner city. Verbum Dei was founded in 1962, and soon built a national reputation because of the strength of their athletic programs, with many alumni playing in the NBA and NFL. Names you may be familiar with are David Greenwood, Roy Hamilton and Andre Miller. But in the late 90’s and early 2000’s VDHS enrollment declined dramatically, and closure became a possibility. The Archdiocese of LA asked the Society of Jesus to step in and take over, and Muller was installed as the first Jesuit President of VDHS in 2008. He called upon the faculty, its Board of Directors, and alumni for help, and now has increased student enrollment, and provided a safe and dynamic environment for the young men of Watts and surrounding area.
The statistics are not encouraging. Kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods have only a 65% graduation rate from high school. Only a quarter of those actually go to college, and of those, across the nation, only 11% graduate from college. Generally, those who go to college make more money, and have many more employment opportunities. Father Muller then showed an excellent video, before proceeding with his talk.
A basic question that they faced was what is the definition of Hope? It means access, access to college. Almost all of these kids are the first in their family to go to college. They now have 24-hour security, and an example of how important that can be was a student who Father Muller kept seeing sitting on a bench, reading after school. When he asked him why he was there, the young man instantly answered, “Because it’s safe here!”Their school hours are 0730 until 5:30pm and that can be a tough grind for a kid who hasn’t been challenged before. They all go to classes for four days, and the fifth day is an entry level clerical position in over eighty local businesses. The pay they receive goes to Verbum Dei, and covers about half their tuition. Some of these kids have never ridden in an elevator! In these jobs they are getting real time, actual experience in what business is like.
Q&A - Do you have a dress code? Yes, everyone wears black pants, a white shirt with tie, black shoes and socks. Requested tuition? The requested tuition is $2700 annually, and they receive, on average, about half that. The mission is to serve only those who are not being served otherwise. What are your grades? Nine to twelve, a regular high school. What is your enrollment? We are down this year, to 240 total. Their goal for next year is 300 total. How can we help? We have many partners on the Westside - takes longer to get here, but busses do work. How many applicants do you have each year? We need a broader applicant pool - our long term goal is a student body of 400, 100 per grade level. The goal is college prep, period. We have a two-year evaluation period, which examines our progress. We ask the parents for some service hours. What is your makeup? We have 55% Latino and 45% African America students. We strongly need a full-time student counselor, and may achieve that next year. That new person will help them design a parent program. Do you have dropouts? Yes, we started this year with 280, and now have 240. Every graduate will be accepted into college, and 75% into four year colleges. What sports are you in? We used to have better teams, but the one-day work time has affected all athletics. If they have a game on work day, work day comes first. Their sports are football, basketball, soccer, track and baseball. They now play smaller schools in the Catholic League. His last word was, Some days you will be a pigeon, and some days you will be a statue. Well done, Father Muller.