When you’re a mission school in one of the poorest Dioceses in the country, raising the money just to keep the doors open can be a full-time activity. So it’s safe to say that for Antonio Trujillo, principal of St. Joseph School in San Fidel, a lot of hopes and dreams were riding on the success of his school’s biggest annual fundraiser.
“A Night Under the Stars” is just what it sounds like: a weekend gala, art and wine auction, held outside on the school grounds. In the weeks leading up to the event, a record number of tickets were sold, and the school was expecting its biggest turnout ever. On the day of the gala, the tables were set, the art was in place, and students stood ready to give personal tours of their school to guests.
Then it began to rain.
“We had put this amazingly beautiful event together for outside,” said Krysty Ronchetti, the gala’s main organizer. “And it rained, like cats and dogs.”
She recalls her deep disappointment, especially since she was married to one of the event’s emcees, Mark Ronchetti, a weatherman for KRQE in Albuquerque.
“We were prepared for the worst, but I’m telling you, we got there, and Antonio was like ‘Hey! We love rain, rain is good, we’re gonna roll with it!’ So he actually brought the mood up for everybody.”
And indeed, looking back, Trujillo could not be happier with the turnout, despite the weather. Everything was moved inside to the school cafeteria, and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch.
“It was a blessing despite the downpour that we had,” he said. “The food was great, the entertainment was great, the kids did a phenomenal job or articulating and presenting what they’re learning here at St. Joseph Mission School. It was phenomenal.”
Even the guest speakers were unphased by the weather.
“We had the Governor of Acoma, Kurt Riley. He’s an alumni of St. Joseph School,” Trujillo said. “He came here from 1960 to 1966, and talked about how the education here prepared hum to become a pharmacist later on in his life, and now to be a leader here at Acoma, as their Governor.”
Ronchetti, too, views the event as a success. She’s not Catholic, but she describes “falling in love” with the school after a friend brought her along to an open house event at the school, and after receiving a tour from students.
“That’s what sold me on it, was seeing these kids in action, was seeing their school and how proud they are,” she says. “Even the families of these students are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. It’s a genuine place, which is what God calls us to do with our tithing, he calls us to put it towards the good of people. And I believe this is the perfect example of a place to do that.”
For Trujillo, the whole purpose of a Catholic education is to form the mind, body, and spirit of students, which is why, even with local public schools available, parents return each year to the school as the provider of their children’s education.
“We offer a sense of allowing God, through our Catholic traditions, to enter our hearts first, before anything else begins, and that’s how we’re different, that we allow spirituality, the spirit of each individual, grow, so that it permeates the way they think, the way they study, the way they act towards each other, the way they are respectful, and how that proclaims Jesus in the world. We’re basically bringing these children to know God intimately first, so that it permeates everything else they will do, and the gifts that they’ve been given by God.”
Ronchetti, who runs a marketing firm that has worked closely with the “New Mexico True” campaign, believes that this spirituality symbolizes the heart and soul of the people of New Mexico.
“I volunteer in the public schools all the time, and those kids don’t jump up, and greet me, and look me in the eye, and say ‘thank you for coming’, or tell me how their day is or welcome me. These kids – it’s ingrained in them already. You can see the difference. This is one of the poorest schools I’ve ever walked into, ever. And it is obvious they need our help. And we are a state that supports – we want to be proud of New Mexico? This is an actual situation where we can be really proud of people who were born here in New Mexico, who are trying to make this a better place to live, and these kids are going to be the next generation, here in New Mexico.”
Trujillo recalls that as the gala drew to a close, people still lingered, with smiles on their faces. Despite the weather, the wine and art auction was a huge success and spirits were high.
For this little school in a remote corner of New Mexico, the call to educate and to serve continues to be answered.