Did you know in Arizona taxpayers have choices about where to direct their state taxes? If you have a desire to help families afford the education they choose for their children, sit back, listen and be inspired. You are listening to Creating Future Leaders with Catholic Education Arizona.


Introducing Sr. Mary Jordan


Nancy Padberg:

Welcome to Creating future leaders. I’m Nancy Padbury, President and CEO of Catholic Education Arizona, and I get to jump out of bed every day and know that we get to help children with education and build those future leaders along with our schools. Well, we’re a school tuition organization, and we turn tax credits in Arizona, from individuals and corporations into scholarships for students. We create future leaders.


Today’s guest is here to share some wonderful things that are happening at St. John Paul Catholic High School. Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, welcome. She has been with St. John Paul to Catholic High School since its inception, even before it had a building or a mascot. Just this past May, the school’s first graduates made history.


Welcome to the podcast Sister Mary Jordan, please tell the listeners about yourself and how you first came to be principal at the newest high school in the Diocese of Phoenix.


Sr. Mary Jordan:

Thank you, Nancy. It’s a pleasure to be with you today. How did I become the principal of this fantastic new high school in the far West Valley? Well, Aleta is closely tied to my life as a Dominican sister. Bishop Olmsted had asked my community to provide leadership and teachers to assist him at opening this new high school in the West Valley, and I was the one that was sent. I’m very happy to have been involved with this project, and the people that live in the West Valley, in building the school since 2016.


I moved here in 2016, and spent two years working with members of the construction planning team-the architect, the builders, and many people throughout the Valley to try to develop an interest and give people an idea of what a new Catholic school would do to change the lives and the hearts of people who live on this side of town.


What Sets St. John Paul II Apart


Nancy Padberg:

Well, we have been blessed with your leadership and with the incredible growth at the school. But there’s some special things happening there. You have been so focused on creating a specific school culture and making St. John Paul II different from other Catholic high schools. What makes your school stand out among other schools-private, public or Catholic?


Sr. Mary Jordan:

Well, Nancy, it stems a little bit from what I was saying in terms of even my vocation here. My community, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, were founded in 1860. So we’ve been educators for over 160 years. When I came here in 2016, I was standing on the reputation and the hard work of sisters who had gone before me for over 150 years. So we bring up our congregation to this educational system, and provide the vision and the mission for what the school can be.


So I think that it’s very clear that we would want to form our school in union with what the Church has said that a Catholic school should be or ought to be in the world, because it really is our church-the Holy Roman Catholic Church-that calls us to be Catholic educators. It really isn’t the people in the neighborhood, but the Church has long believed that Catholic education is very important for the formation of young people and for Catholicism in our world. And that’s why there’s a congregation for Catholic education in Rome.


How does Rome or a Catholic education from a congregation end up being lived in Avondale, Arizona? Well, it’s through the people that are here, putting it together, first and foremost, my community being tasked with that goal to create the curriculum and build the mission and vision, but then also by hiring fantastic people who share in this mission. There are four different Dominican sisters from my community here in Avondale at St. John Paul II, but a large number of faithful staff and teachers who are dedicated because they’re believers. And they, as believers, have something to share in addition to the curriculum that they teach. It’s who they are. And I believe that sets us apart.


It’s different to start a school from scratch. I mean, people ask me, “What’s unique about your school?”, but the easiest one is we’re new. And to a certain extent, we all like new things. People like new cars, they like new books, new notebooks, a new pen, and a new cafe. Pretty rare in today’s world. I think you might remember that in 2017, when Bishop Olmsted broke ground for this Catholic high school, we were the only Catholic high school under new construction in our nation. And that very same year 200 Catholic schools closed. And so, in Phoenix, clearly the people of the Diocese of Phoenix are believers that Catholic education matters.


So from the very beginning, putting the school together, we wanted the school to clearly be Catholic, to provide students with a place where they can encounter Jesus Christ, because there’s evidence that shows that when young people turn about 23, they’ve already made their decision for life whether or not they’re going to remain as Catholics or leave. And there’s also evidence that supports that students who attend K-12 Catholic education have a better chance of remaining Catholic, of praying daily, and being active members of their church. Well, what parent would not want their child as an adult to pray daily? I haven’t met a single one.


School Growth & Culture


Nancy Padberg:

It’s wonderful because we’re giving them the tools that they can have for life, because life has its ups and downs and to find strength, to find joy, is absolutely a gift for life. I know when I come out to the campus to visit you, yes, the building and the campus are gorgeous. But inside those walls, Sister, I feel such joy that your team brings to the school.


Sr. Mary Jordan:

Yes, every year we have grown in our enrollment. We began with 134 students when we opened. We have 333 students this year. We’re still a new business starting up in the West Valley, but we have a vision and a task that tells us that someday this campus could accommodate up to 1000 students. No one would want to go to a new school that opened with 1000 students, because there would be a crisis of culture there. But opening a school gradually with smart growth, we can develop traditions and customs that help us to evangelize through Catholic education, because that’s what our Bishop has tasked us with-the mission to evangelize through Catholic education.


This isn’t a public school. It’s not a school with public goals. It’s a school that wants to inspire a supernatural vision. We are a school that has a curriculum that’s Catholic, that has a Catholic worldview. This is what our students deserve. So 97% of our students are Catholic. This means only a few of them aren’t when you have a population of 333. About 50% of them come from public schools, so Catholic families that are living in the West Valley but did not have the opportunity to attend a Catholic elementary school, and the other 50% have attended Catholic schools in our Diocese, which are many-St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Vianney, St. Vincent DePaul, Our Lady of Perpetual Help St. Agnes, etc.… There are schools from around the diocese that have sent their graduates to us or their graduates have chosen to attend here.


We also have students here that come from Catholic Parishes in the West Valley that don’t have a school. I’m thinking of St. Henry’s in Buckeye and St. Augustine in West Phoenix, and there are others. So we are providing an education for a wide variety of people who live in the West Valley. And what we have in common is Jesus Christ. And that’s evident. So when you talk about coming to a school and seeing joy, I can only thank God for that.


A Catholic Curriculum


Nancy Padberg:

The culture really is built on trust, respect, values, and Jesus Christ-and joy and truly is felt within those walls. To experience that on a daily basis has to be life changing and transformational-beyond the curriculum-right in the spirit, in the soul.


Sr. Mary Jordan:

We are the only school in the Diocese that offers a four-year Ethics and Culture curriculum. This was developed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia when we opened another new high school in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. And in addition to four credits of religion, our students earn two credits in Ethics at St. John Paul II. This means that our students are studying the philosophy of the human person based on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas as freshmen. Then as sophomores, they take a course called Principles of Ethics. When they’re juniors they study Bioethical Issues. So they’re learning how to apply what they learned in Ethics.


This is something that will help our students throughout their whole life because we live in a culture where many Catholics don’t understand the ethical implications of science on the human person. And by providing clear instruction and philosophy, we’re able to assist our students to think critically, especially about moral and medical issues that are going to be part of their lives.


And this is something that really can help families as well, because we know that every family also faces members of the family getting older and members of the family needing to make decisions regarding medical care. And our school is providing students with an opportunity to really think and learn about how to make decisions that adults have to make in life. Instead of just following the latest podcast which tells them to do this or that, we’re making them seekers of truth. We’re providing them with a curriculum that enables them to seek truth in all things. And that’s a foundation that will help them in every stage of their life.


Tax Credit Scholarships


Nancy Padberg:

I’m going to switch gears just a little bit and talk about tax credits. How did you first react when you learned that tax credit scholarships are available in this great state of Arizona to help families pay for tuition?


Sr. Mary Jordan:

I was really amazed. And admittedly, I’m still learning, because Arizona is a leader in this area. And it’s very unique compared to other Dioceses in the US-and I’ve been a principal in five Dioceses. But here in Arizona, because of the tax regulations, taxpayers and corporations are able to make contributions to help students to receive a great Catholic education. Ordinarily in the U.S., Catholic schools require families to pay high tuition. This is a reality. And in Arizona, we’re able to provide tuition at an affordable rate thanks to the tax credits that exists in our state.


Nancy Padberg:

We are incredibly fortunate here in Arizona, and we’re able to help the underserved. And the underserved can take on a lot of different definitions. It could be a family of six children, it could be a family of low income. There’s a lot of different scenarios that are present to be able to provide this kind of financial support, to have the kind of choice of schools that’s best for the child, best for the family.


Sr. Mary Jordan:

It makes Catholic education attainable for everybody in this way. It makes Catholic education and Arizona truly Catholic, because we’re not serving a population that’s elite only. We’re allowing families who want their children to have a great education to apply and to obtain the resources that they need in order to provide for their kids.


And I think this is one way that the tax dollars actually support the right of parents to choose education for their children, because parents are the primary educators of their children. The public system is not the primary educator of the child-the parents are. And as Catholics here with organizations like Catholic Education Arizona, we can support families in this way.


Catholic Education Arizona’s Partnership with St. John Paul II


Nancy Padberg:

We have had a few programs together. Catholic Education Arizona has worked with St. John Paul II on a couple different programs. Would you share a little bit maybe about how companies could get involved in supporting the school, students, and the families?


Sr. Mary Jordan:

Last year Catholic Education Arizona sponsored our first Corporate Breakfast at St. John Paul II. And we’re a new school, so right now there are only 37 alumni and they’re all under the age of 19. Typically, Catholic schools have alumni and friends and benefactors, from the many contacts from people who attend the school. At St. John Paul II, we don’t have adults who are alumni.


And so last year CEA sponsored a Corporate Breakfast, and we were able to invite corporations that knew about St. John Paul II and wanted to learn about how they could put their tax liability to the service of students and children throughout the West Valley. And this was successful for us because some of the companies decided to direct some of their tax liability toward Catholic Education Arizona with the intention of supporting students who would attend our school. So this was fantastic for St. John Paul II, and it’s one of the ways that we can work together to provide for the families in the West Valley.


Nancy Padberg:

I definitely want to thank Grand Canyon University. They certainly have been incredible partners of ours and I believe for your school as well. And just knowing that we have a story to tell-we have a lot of marketing to do, a lot of education to do, around corporate tax credits.


And this is one of the reasons for our conversation today, to let more companies know that it’s not an out-of-pocket expense. It’s something that they owe the state already. They can participate in a contribution-it’s a redirection of tax dollars, not a donation. When this happens and companies understand the benefits of corporate social responsibility-helping the future workforce, helping the underserved receive an education-if they say “Yes, how do we get involved with this?”, the more people we can share the story with and share this legislation, companies want to participate.


So tell us a success story, something that has happened at the school that makes you certain you’re doing what exactly you’re supposed to be doing.


St. John Paul II’s Events


Sr. Mary Jordan:

One of the most amazing things that has happened here in 2021, has been our first ever graduation. Nothing in our society, including COVID-19, would hold us back. And we were able to have our first graduation. Those students were students who transferred to St. John Paul II when they were sophomores, so it was a small group-the smallest we’ll ever have.


Thirty seven students graduated, 100% of them were accepted and plan to attend colleges or universities, and high percentage of them-it’s something like 88%-said that during their time at St. John Paul II, their relationship with Christ grew. Many of them said that they hope to go on to earn a Master’s Degree. And this is terrific because we know that not all of the students who graduated have parents who went to college, so they’re going to be the first from their families that are going out to colleges. And it just gives them a lot more opportunities than their parents had.


But I’m particularly proud of the fact that they were such a joyful group of graduates, students who had really learned to live here. And they absorbed our mission and they’re going to go out and they’re going to help other people to see what an education at St. John Paul II can do in the lives of individuals. God is good all the time.


Nancy Padberg:

Anything else you would like to add? A school website, upcoming events, etc… If someone wants to go on a tour, tell us a little bit about where they can find this information.


Contact the School


Sr. Mary Jordan:

We welcome visitors to our school, we welcome people to plan a visit. We don’t have a large enough staff to have someone show up at the door and just walk in for a tour. But we welcome people who are listening to this podcast who want to know more about St. John Paul II to contact the school. They can contact Matthew Gonzalez, the Director of Admissions. If they want information about the school and future attendance at the school, they can contact me. If they want to learn more about the way the school is run and the vision and desire for our graduates, we’ll set up a time to meet with individuals to share what’s going on at the school face to face because we know that this school is here to help everyone in the Diocese, it’s not just for the people who are attending right now. So they can contact us at the school.


The best way to find the numbers is through our webpage, which is at https://www.jp2catholic.org/. That’s https://www.jp2catholic.org/ or simply Google “St. John Paul II Catholic High School Avondale”, we’’ll be popping right up. We welcome visitors.


Nancy Padberg:

Anything you want to add?


Sr. Mary Jordan:

Well, we just had our first homecoming. Since we now have alumni, we could have a homecoming football game and homecoming dance. And our football team had a huge victory, 54 to zero. Wow, there are so many neat things associated with the first ever homecoming. It was the first time that we had a fight song. We had a pep band in the stands for the first time.


So we really are growing as an organization. And I know that the folks that have supported us will share our joy in these little things that help to create a culture that is firm. So that in 50 years or 100 years, St. John Paul II Catholic High School will still be doing what we’re doing today, creating a place of encounter with our Lord Jesus while providing an outstanding Catholic education that gives our students opportunities beyond what they would have if they went to their neighborhood school.


Nancy Padberg:

Thank you, Sister. To learn more about how you can create future leaders with Catholic Education Arizona, visit www.CatholicEducationArizona.org or call us at 602-218-6542. We can also help with those corporate tax credits, walk you through it and show you how you can contribute to Sister Mary Jordan’s School.


I want to thank Sister Mary Jordan for being a part of the podcast and for all she does at St. John Paul II Catholic High School. I wish you all the best this year. And thank you to our listeners for being with us today. And I always like to say, it’s a great day at CEA. See you soon.


You have been listening to Creating Future Leaders with Catholic Education Arizona. For more information visit us at www.CatholicEducationArizona.org.