By Malie Hudson
On April 7 at the J.W. Marriot Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert, Bishop Gerald Barnes will recognize seven individuals with his Amar Es Entregarse Award.
The award is given to individuals or groups who embody Bishop Barnes’ episcopal motto Amar Es Entregarse, “Love is the total giving of one self.” This two-part series profiles these extraordinary individuals.
Superintendent of Schools Patricia Vesely
As the first lay woman to serve as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of San Bernardino, Patricia Vesely oversees three high schools, 24 elementary schools and three preschools. A parishioner of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Riverside since 1958, Vesely attended the parish school and in 1969 graduated from St. Francis de Sales High School in Riverside (now Notre Dame High School). She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of California, Riverside and pursued a Master’s in Educational Administration from Cal State San Bernardino and a Master’s in Pastoral Ministry from the Loyola of New Orleans Institute for Ministry.
For 35 years, she has served in Catholic schools as teacher, principal and in various roles in the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools. Vesely recognizes that one of the major issues across the nation is the closing of schools.
“I’ve spent the 13 years that I’ve been in the department really focusing on helping schools address their financial situation and getting them to look at the truth of the financial numbers,” said Vesely, who is retiring this year.
She collaborated with principals to make plans, develop a business mindset, make necessary improvements and cuts and make tough decisions so that schools remain viable. In her nine-year tenure as superintendent, she was able to tighten finances and keep school closures to one during a time when other dioceses were forced to close multiple schools.
“In order to look carefully at finances, we realized we need to do a better job of strategic planning so that we can better help our schools with their own strategic planning,” she said. “That’s been a project that we’ve taken on with our Education and Welfare Corporate Board the last few years to break the cycle of crisis management and look into the future.”
Additionally, since 2014, Vesely has devoted a lot of energy into developing a foundation to raise money to meet an annual $3 million tuition assistance need. During her tenure she has also improved training so that schools are prepared for accreditation.
Deacon F. Michael Jelley
Ordained by Bishop Barnes in 1999, Deacon Michael Jelley has since immersed himself deeply in both parish and diocesan ministry. He served at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino until June 2015 when he was granted Retired Deacon Status at age 75. In spite of his retirement from active diaconate ministry, he continues to remain active in the life of the parish.
His long history of serving in the Diocese includes several key positions. In the 1970s, before his entry into the Catholic Church, he helped to create a child abuse prevention center in Buena Park. That experience benefited the Diocese when, in 2002, Bishop Barnes invited him to head a new ministry to address the sexual abuse crisis that had come to light in the wider Church.
He was instrumental in the development of the Safe Environment Policies and the Code of Pastoral Conduct designed to protect children from abuse. He also began workshops for clergy, staff and volunteers working with minors. Today, this ministry is the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, which coordinates the Virtus program that equips every parish with trained individuals to coordinate child abuse prevention training for staff and volunteers.
This role led to other key positions such as Vice Chancellor of the Diocese, Director of the Department of Ecclesial Services and Vicar for Deacons. Dcn. Jelley is also a member of the Bishop’s Senior Staff and the Diocesan Curia, among many other committees and boards.
Since 2005, he has helped to lead diaconate retreats in the Diocese and also diaconate formation retreats in Los Angeles, Honolulu and Monterey. In 2006, he earned a Juris Doctor degree from California Southern Law School while working full-time for the Diocese.
He and his wife, Jackie, have led the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) Program for 19 years in three different parishes. To honor their work, Pope Benedict XVI presented them with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Gold Medal for their service to the Universal Church and the Pope.
Deacon Jelley believes that none of the work he has accomplished would have been possible without his wife “who puts up with the wide variety of activities in which I am a participant and often joins me in my ministry as deacon.”
He adds, “every accomplishment has been in collaboration with the many, many gifted people with whom I have had the pleasure of working. Thus this award is a tribute to them, to their faith and their hard work as well as my own.”
Sister Carol Nolan, SP, and Sister Loretta Picucci, SP
Sisters of Providence Carol Nolan and Loretta Picucci are both being honored for their dedication in working with the poor in the Coachella Valley.
In 2002, Sr. Carol established Providence in the Desert, a ministry that provides English as a Second Language (ESL) for adults, music lessons for children and other advocacy and referral services for families living in substandard mobile home parks. The classes are taught in their homes.
“It made for an intimate situation,” said Sr. Loretta, who joined the ministry a year after it was established. “You got to be in their house, see them with their families and their children. At one time one of the women said, ‘you’re not just our teacher, you’re our friends too.’ “
Her nearly 50 years of teaching children in low-income areas throughout the country has been instrumental to her current ministry in the Coachella Valley.
“Since 2002, we have helped about 1,000 individuals. This has been for me one of the biggest satisfactions. We are all friends. It doesn’t stop at the school house door,” Sr. Carol says.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master’s degree in Music and uses her skills and experience to teach music to the children.
The highlight of their year is organizing an annual Christmas gift drive for the children they serve. As a result, about 120 children under age 14 living in poverty are blessed with Christmas gifts each year.
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.