Antonio Trujillo is principal of a small Catholic elementary school in northwestern New Mexico that was struggling until he arrived six years ago and saved it from the brink of closure.
Located in San Fidel in the Diocese of Gallup, St. Joseph Mission School was founded in 1923 by the Franciscans and built with support from Catholic Extension to serve the Pueblo peoples of Acoma and Laguna and the surrounding Hispanic communities of Cubero, Seboyeta and San Fidel.
The school is situated in a region that is poor, has no big population centers and few employment options. In recent decades student enrollment had greatly declined and the school almost shut its doors until Trujillo became principal in 2011 and completely revitalized it.
Bringing together community members, parents and educators, Trujillo convinced them of the importance of Catholic education and gained their commitment to re-energize the school.
When he arrived, only 12 students attended the school. Now there are 60, from pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade. Ninety percent of students are Native American; 10 percent are Hispanic.
“We have few resources, but we make the best of what we have,” he said. “We touch the hearts of children so that they get to know Jesus and feel His love. When this happens, they blossom and everything else flows. They are joyful, smiling and happy.”
In addition to offering a strong curriculum, the school has a faith-filled environment and holds weekly Mass in its chapel. “The evangelizing process is integrated into daily life,” he added. “It is not compartmentalized between school and Church, it is all one — and all sacred.”
For Trujillo the purpose of a Catholic education is to form the mind, body and spirit. “Through Catholic traditions, we allow God to enter our hearts first, before anything else begins,” he said. “We allow the spirit of each individual to grow so that it permeates how they think, the way they study and how they treat each other.”
By hiring dedicated teachers and fueling a Catholic identity among students, he has created a beacon of hope for the young people of San Fidel, who face many hardships in the remote, impoverished area.
And his efforts are bearing fruit. Eighty percent of St. Joseph’s student go to high school and finish college. They go on to jobs in business, health care, tribal leadership and the state legislature. One graduate even came back to teach at St. Joseph.
To further his own leadership skills, Trujillo recently completed a graduate-level certificate in Catholic school administration at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, through an initiative sponsored by Catholic Extension.
When working with Trujillo, one frequently hears him quote St. Francis of Assisi, “Do what is necessary, then do what is possible and then you will find yourself doing the impossible.” Another of his favorite sayings is, “Our destiny always begins with our thoughts.”