SAN BERNARDINO—When she began her career, Patricia Vesely never envisioned herself leading the Catholic schools system for one of the nation’s largest dioceses. In fact, she never even saw herself as a school principal.
But Vesely was called, literally, to a career in Catholic school administration that uncovered gifts and talents that enriched the lives students, families, teachers and fellow administrators.
“I didn’t pursue it,” Vesely says of her initial thoughts on being an administrator. “I thought I was meant to be a junior high teacher.”
Eight years into a career as the eighth grade teacher at St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Riverside, she was encouraged by outgoing Principal, Sister Marilyn Huegerich, OSF, to apply for the job. She was hired and it went so well that eventually she was made principal of two schools—St. Catherine and Queen of Angels, Riverside—at one time.
Vesely says she had to learn to broaden her leadership scope from classroom management to an entire campus, including learning finances, physical plant and even neighborhood relations. She continued to hone her skills in the areas of curriculum and finance, as well as the mentoring of staff and extending pastoral support in times of trouble.
“I’ve always admired her compassion in dealing with really difficult personal issues,” says Notre Dame High School Principal Matt Luttringer. He specifically recalled a moment in 2015 when he learned that one of his students had been killed in a car crash. The two shared an emotional 4 a.m. phone call that Luttringer says helped him through the crisis.
Ann Meier, Principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Riverside, has known Vesely since her kids were in Vesely’s eighth grade class at St. Catherine’s.
“She’s just fair and level-headed, and very spiritual,” says Meier. “Everything is centered around prayer.”
That comes in part because a personal tragedy taught Vesely to put the ups and downs of school life in perspective. Just days before she signed a contract to begin her teaching career at St. Catherine’s her first husband, Tom Ballesteros, was killed in an auto accident.
“If not for that experience certain problems would have become tragedies,” she said. “But I would just look at these problems that would come up and say, ‘there’s no blood and there’s no flame.’ ”
In 2005 she came to the Diocesan Pastoral Center to serve as Associate Superintendent for Curriculum. Five years later, the calling to higher leadership came once more when Bishop Gerald Barnes asked her to consider applying for the Superintendent of Schools position. In her retirement year, Bishop Barnes bestowed upon Vesely his Episcopal Amar Es Entregarse Award.
“No one could understand all the niches that this Diocese touches without working in this building,” Vesely says of serving in Diocesan leadership. “The breadth of work we do; the number of people we reach.”
In her time as Superintendent, Vesely has worked to help individual Catholic schools stabilize their finances amid flat or even declining enrollment. She’s encouraged principals and pastors to participate in national programs to make the Catholic schools more accessible to Hispanic communities in the Diocese. She acknowledges that Catholic schools are financially “on their own” and that some measure of revisioning is needed for them to remain sustainable.
At the same time, the families, teachers, staff and administrators who are attending and serving in the schools are a source of hope for her.
“In the struggle, the people who are engaged in Catholic education are there for the right reasons,” she said. “There’s a real commitment to that vision of leaving something for the future—and forming that future.”