Salvation Is the Bottom Line: Catholic School Principal Ed Andrade Tells It

MOLLY MULQUEEN

Ed Andrade is an up-front kind of guy. He is so refreshingly candid about his passions - faith, family, friends, and Catholic education - that there probably have not been many conversations in Ed's life where he needed to be coaxed along with "Come on Ed - tell us how you really feel."

Ed Andrade is an up-front kind of guy. He is so refreshingly candid about his passions — faith, family, friends, and Catholic education — that there probably have not been many conversations in Ed’s life where he needed to be coaxed along with “Come on Ed — tell us how you really feel.”

Now in his fifth year as a Catholic school administrator, Ed eagerly told me that this is how he really feels about Catholic education:

The education field is the new battleground in our country, and the battle is particularly in the Catholic schools. We have the opportunity to say that this is not just about being good citizens, but being open to God’s grace to get into heaven.

Helping your students to stay on the path to heaven entails a lot more responsibility than simply instructing them in the three R’s. But Ed embraces his job as principal of St. Patrick Elementary School in Largo, Florida, with vigor and enthusiasm.

“Our opportunity to be a part of the students’ lives can never be taken lightly,” Ed stated. “We need to be quite serious about that vocational role.”

Ed came to his vocation as an educator by a circuitous route. He graduated from Providence College with a degree in history, which, he jokes, prepared him for “playing Trivial Pursuit and watching ‘Jeopardy.’” He worked successfully in radio and TV advertising for several years before leaving that behind to discern a religious vocation.

“I ended up with a group of men founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta that was based in New Orleans. It was a contemplative order that lived among the poor,” Ed said. “I was 30 at this point, and I went from being in advertising and having three televisions on all the time and looking at every magazine, into an environment where we didn’t have a television and they let me get The New York Times only once a month. It was a place of prayer for most of our day and we would go out three hours a day in ministry.”

In New Orleans, Ed continued a ministry he had been involved with since college as a substance abuse and addiction counselor. He did not remain with that religious community, but did carry on in counseling. Eventually, he became the coordinator of substance abuse and HIV counseling for the Diocese of Steubenville. During that time, he completed a master’s degree in counseling at Franciscan University.

“I have been blessed with a sense of humor and with a very joyful, persevering spirit, so discouragement does not come easily to me,” Ed explained. “But after years of helping to put people back together, I knew I had to get into another part of it. I began to give presentations on self-worth, communication skills, and listening skills for parents and children. I was doing more than 300 presentations a year for schools and professional organizations.” Then five years ago, a call came from a Catholic elementary school in Ohio, asking Ed to take the job as principal.

“They wanted me to bring a sense of Catholic identity back to the school and to help with discipline,” Ed said. “God’s sense of humor in bringing me into education is just incredible. As a kid, I really didn’t like school. I only went to school to play sports,” Ed recalled with a laugh.

But now, Ed goes to school every day with a smile on his face. Almost two years ago, Ed moved his family — his wife Holly and their five children — to Florida to take his current position, where, he says, he has “never been happier in his life.”

Ed has a lot of ideas about what makes Catholic education work. He said that the commitment of the staff, from the pastor on down, to the mission of the school is the key. And supporting the staff is one of his primary roles.

“As I tell the teachers all the time, ‘You be true to God and open to His grace, and be true to yourself, and everything else is workable,’” Ed commented.

“Teachers probably make 100 decisions a day, and if they get even five of them wrong, I like those percentages,” Ed explained. “If it is your child you are calling about because their teacher made a mistake involving them, then there’s a teachable moment. What can we learn from this? As a family we need to work together to support one another.” That notion of a family atmosphere in the school is one that Ed has worked hard to foster. His two oldest children attend St. Patrick’s. And like any good father, he leads by example.

“I am very big on modeling, especially to the eighth grade. And I tell them all the time, ‘You will not outdo me in generosity if you model Christ-like behavior to the rest of the school.’ They need to understand, from kindergarten to seventh grade, the whole school watches them,” explained Ed.

Ed is a tough disciplinarian with high standards for the 260 students in his care. He has zero-tolerance for disrespectful behavior: “If you answer the teacher back in front of the other students, you don’t even have a listening ear from me.” But it seldom comes to that, because Ed is so visible to the students.

“I bring the children down [to the principal’s office] for their birthdays and we have a Coke and a Kit-Kat bar together. I ask them about their birthday, and what they are going to do, and they ask me questions at that time. I thank them for letting me be a part of their life.”

“I try to know those students who might be a little bit more colorful and challenging in the classroom. I try to sincerely befriend them right away,” Ed told me. “My belief is that if they are more challenging, they may have other issues going on in their lives. If I reach out first and say, ‘I respect you, I want to get to know you, let’s work together on this,’ then if they are sent to my office for a disciplinary reason, they will not be antagonistic when they come into my office. They come in embarrassed because I have a relationship with them. They come into my office basically saying, ‘I was wrong,’ and then we move forward from there. I continually encourage our children that I would rather see them get a ‘D’ in religion and live the faith, than get an ‘A’ in religion and sometimes cheat or be mean to the student sitting next to them.”

Ed acknowledges that Catholic education is not always what it should be, but he is very firm in his belief that, built on the correct principles, it can be a vitally important partner to parents who want to raise their children in the ways of God and the Church.

“I’m very open to home schooling, and I think home schooling is good for some people . . . but I don’t doubt that Catholic education can work, because I saw it work where I was in Ohio, and I’m seeing it work now,” Ed commented.

“As Catholic educators, we need to help the students hunger to learn and hunger for the truth. If we remain true to the truth of Jesus Christ, if we live it joyfully, if people can come into our building and, before even seeing our crucifixes, know that we are children of a living, loving God, then I believe that Catholic schools are the greatest thing that ever happened for the youth in our nation.”

“We live in a society that gives role models to our children that they are supposed to be smart-mouthed with a wise-guy attitude and do unto others before they do unto you,” Ed stated. “And here we are as Catholic schools saying, ‘Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, and do it all in love.’”

According to Ed:

Our greatest battle oftentimes is not with society as a whole, but helping the parents come on board. If you send your child to a Catholic school, do it because this is what you believe. Don’t send them to Catholic school because we have a great tradition of high academic standards and discipline, so you have a good chance of getting your child into a good high school. And if you get into a good high school, you are going to get into a great college, and if you get into a great college, you may make a lot of money through your life. If those things happen, Amen.

“Instead, send your children to a Catholic school because we offer the greatest gift you can give to your children. Catholic schools are meant to be a tool or instrument that God uses to help them get into heaven. Salvation is the bottom line for us.”

And that’s how Ed Andrade really feels.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Mulqueen, Molly. “Salvation Is the Bottom Line Catholic School Principal Ed Andrade Tells It Like.” Lay Witness (April, 2000).

Reprinted by permission of Lay Witness.

Copyright © 2000 Lay Witness


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