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Success in the city

Milwaukee Legate Zeus Rodriguez expands educational opportunities for Hispanic children

Zeus Rodriguez

Zeus Rodriguez

Zeus Rodriguez may have taken the most unconventional path ever into education.

The former certified surgical assistant ran a staffing agency that supplied temporary registered nurses to hospitals in Wisconsin. He then helped form a non-profit — Hispanics for School Choice — to advocate on behalf of Latino families who wanted more educational options for their children.

Inner-city success

In 2011, Rodriguez accepted an offer to become president of St. Anthony School in Milwaukee, the largest K-12 Catholic school in the nation, despite not having previously worked in education.

“I had a lot of doubt in the beginning. My wife kept telling me, ‘You should do it,’ and I was laughing at her,” said Rodriguez, 40, a member of Legatus’ Milwaukee Chapter.

He had been working with the parish priest at St. Anthony Church to find a new school president when the priest and Rodriguez decided that he would assume the position.

He never looked back.

During Rodriguez’s four years as president, St. Anthony School’s enrollment grew by more than 33% to over 2,000 students. Many low- and middle-income families took advantage of Milwaukee’s voucher program to send their children to the school.

Situated in a heavily Hispanic area of the city, St. Anthony School expanded to include a full high school, a multilingual program, preschool and daycare services, and a new school governing board, among other improvements.

Rodriguez and his wife Dana also founded the Padre Pio Clinic, an onsite pediatric clinic at the school. Dana Rodriguez serves as the director of the clinic, which was Wisconsin’s first independent school/faith-based health care center.

In many ways, St. Anthony School became a true “community school.”

“I am in no way suggesting that someone else couldn’t have done as good a job or even better than I did,” said Rodriguez, who resigned from St. Anthony School on April 1 to focus on expanding Hispanics for School Choice. “Looking back, we are very proud of our work, and I am sure I was the right person at the right time.”

Rodriguez said he plans on expanding Hispanics for School Choice to other parts of the country, including Texas where there continues to be a struggle for a school choice program. The Texas legislature recently considered legislation to create an educational tax credit system to provide scholarships for mostly low-income students to attend private and parochial schools, but it failed to pass. “We plan on helping Latino families in Texas obtain more educational options,” Rodriguez said.

Advocating for school-choice programs, whether in the form of vouchers or educational tax credits, is among Rodriguez’s key goals to help provide a quality education to disadvantaged children — especially young Latino Catholics who are increasingly becoming the face of the nation and the Catholic Church in the United States.

“The vast majority of Hispanics are traditionally and culturally Catholic,” Rodriguez said. “So I would say that education in the Catholic tradition is very important for the future success and cultural preservation of the Hispanic community as a whole. Not to mention, it’s absolutely critical to the future of the American Catholic Church.”

Expanding opportunity

Rachel Campos-Duffy

Rachel Campos-Duffy

Rodriguez said he is also planning to establish a network of faith-based schools rooted in Catholic tradition. People who know Rodriguez and his entrepreneurial spirit believe he will be successful in his endeavors to expand educational opportunities for children and their families.

“I think he understands that education is a human right, and that access to it is a fundamental right,” said Rachel Campos-Duffy, national spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative, a nonprofit that educates and advocates for the economic empowerment of Hispanics through limited government, entrepreneurship and self-reliance.

Campos-Duffy, wife of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), worked with Rodriguez to create more economic and educational opportunities for Latinos in their home state. She toured St. Anthony School three times while Rodriguez was its president, and she walked away impressed.

“What Zeus has done there is truly remarkable and should be commended,” Campos-Duffy said. “That’s how good the school is. That’s how awesome, faithful and authentic it is. Zeus and I believe that our Catholic schools are a gem. They’re the jewel we have as a Church.”

Campos-Duffy added: “We also have to understand that a Catholic education is one of the greatest evangelistic tools the Church has.”

Rodriguez, who is also the Milwaukee chapter president of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL), has the energy, passion and vision to accomplish his goals in education, said Diana Richardson Vela, CALL’s president and CEO.

“He shares his views in a very compelling way,” Vela said. “He doesn’t push people away. On the contrary, he makes them fall in love with his vision.”

Vela applauds Rodriguez’s efforts to make it easier for disadvantaged youths, especially Latinos, to attend quality Catholic schools.

“We believe that Catholic education is the best gift that any student and family can have,” Vela said.

Spiritual journey

Rodriguez, who grew up in Arizona, said he can relate to many of the kids he’s trying to help attend better schools.

“I grew up in a single-parent household with a single mom for most of the time — growing up in a bad part of town, around drugs and gangs” Rodriguez said. “For me, it’s not that I’m trying to give back to the community. It’s that I identify with a lot of the struggles that are going on.”

Rodriguez also grew up nominally Christian until he joined the Family Pentecostal Church in Wisconsin at age 17. Rodriguez described himself as a “fervent reader” of scripture who debated anyone who would listen — especially Catholics.

“At that point in my life, I sincerely thought all Catholics were going to hell,” Rodriguez said.

But after meeting his best friend and future Godfather, Mike Bubon, a numerary of Opus Dei and the director of the Layton Study Center in Milwaukee, Rodriguez would embark on a spiritual journey, studying the Church Fathers and the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II, which ultimately led Rodriguez to enter the Catholic Church in 2007.

“I was touched by God’s grace and He opened up my eyes to the truth I’d been fighting for many years,” said Rodriguez, who joined Legatus’ Milwaukee Chapter last year.

Rodriguez said he and his wife of 10 years, Dana, a nurse practitioner with a PhD, enjoy joining their fellow Legates for edification and fun.

“Being in Legatus helps people who are busy to have that work-life balance,” Rodriguez said. “You need to take time to stop and breathe, edify yourself in the faith with others who believe the same.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Arizona chaplain fights battle for marriage

Fr. Jim Wall

Phoenix Chapter

Arizona isn’t exactly a battleground state, but Fr. Jim Wall is in the trenches this month trying to win ground as his state decides on a state constitutional amendment to protect marriage. The director of the Mount Claret Retreat Center and the diocesan vicar for priests, Fr. Wall has been the Phoenix Chapter’s chaplain since it was chartered in 2004. He just celebrated his 10th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, and he’s going all out to help Catholics understand the importance of preserving traditional marriage.

Tell me how you first got involved with Legatus.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted asked if I would serve as the group’s first chaplain in 2004. When he did that, I read up on Legatus as much as possible. I knew a few of the couples who were charter members, so that helped as well. The parishes I was involved in (two that were right next to each other) had quite a few Legatus members.

What do you try to bring to the members each month?

Primarily the sacraments. Offering the sacrament of Penance for the members prior to the Mass. This is the most important thing I can bring to them — spiritual nourishment so that they can go out into the world and be ambassadors for Christ. For me, that’s my whole goal — to strengthen their relationship with Christ and his Church so that in the public sector they can be people who are deeply rooted in their Catholic faith and make decisions according to their faith.

Tell me a little bit about the retreat center.

It’s in the middle of Phoenix at the base of Camelback Mountain. We have our monthly meetings there, including confession, rosary and Mass. We have a Serra House there — a place for men discerning the priesthood. The center also has the diocesan office for Cursillo and four private houses for retired priests. I live there as well.

I just had my 10th anniversary of ordination. I went on an eight-day Ignatian retreat in South Dakota with a buddy I was ordained with. Bishop Carlson started it when he was there. It’s a great retreat center; they have a family camp there as well.

In your opinion, what has been Legatus’ greatest contribution to our country and the Church?

In the business world, practices aren’t always virtuous. When members are deeply rooted in their Catholic faith and their consciences are properly formed, they bring the light of the Gospel into a lot of darkness — which our world needs. Just look at what our world is going through right now.

Your state, Arizona, has a marriage amendment on the ballot this year. How is your diocese educating voters on Church teaching about this issue?

On Sept. 14, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, Bishop Olmsted prepared a video statement to be played at all the Masses in the diocese. He talked about marriage, its sacredness, and that society can’t re-define it. He gave some beautiful quotes from the Holy Father and strongly encouraged Catholics to vote in favor of Proposition 102. So we’ve got a really big push on that in our state.

I was just listening to an inspiring talk by Dr. Peter Kreeft on what the Church stands for. He mentioned that the Church is the only institution that does not change its beliefs to fit its practice. There’s no bending on this issue.

For my part, I preach about the sanctity of life, that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I preach about these essentials, these truths, so that when Catholic voters go to the polls they are able to make good, informed decisions.