By Ignatius Plato
As head of the Boys Division at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., Karen Wuertz strives to ensure an excellent educational experience for students. But, as she will tell you, Regis Jesuit is more than just another school; it carries with it a legacy that is important to Regis Jesuit families, past and present.
“Like the Jesuits and other educators I work with, I’ve come to realize that the unexpected things that happen each day are often the most important parts of my job,” Wuertz said. “In being present to the unexpected events and interactions, I also bring God’s love into the lives of our students and my colleagues.”
Wuertz recalls one such unexpected moment that has stuck with her: “A man stopped by Regis Jesuit one day and told me that his dad and uncles went to school here, and he wanted to look around. As we walked down a hallway lined with Photos of Regis Jesuit graduation classes, our guest was able to point out his relatives and consider the legacy they belong to.”
Moments like these remind Wuertz of the profound significance of her work. Wuertz takes every opportunity to ensure that the academic atmosphere of Regis Jesuit lives up to its history. But she also finds the culture of Regis Jesuit to be just as important.
Regis Jesuit offers single-gender instruction to both young men and young women. It is the only Jesuit school in the country to teach both genders but in separate classrooms. It is only the second Jesuit school in the world to offer an all-girls education.
“Preserving the cultures of the Boys and Girls Divisions is important,” she says, “but I also like to work with our teachers to explore how we can help the students unpack all the messages that are being fed to them through social media and pop culture.”
These priorities are what drive Wuertz and other leaders at Regis to find ways in which the school’s Boys Division and Girls Division can collaborate to build social and cultural awareness.
“We regularly consider what the culture of the Boys Division is,” Wuertz says. “We then ask ourselves what parts of that culture we need to sustain and what parts we need to disrupt.”
Parts of the school’s culture, Wuertz observes, will inevitably be affected by the prevalent culture of society. She recognizes the rising influence of social media and its impact on a new generation of students.
“You can’t fight the influence of social media and other things like it – that’s a losing battle. But you can contextualize it. You can teach the younger generation what to make of it – how to embrace the positive aspects of information culture and sift through the negative.”
Wuertz finds ways every day to bring her work back to the unexpected opportunities that help students to recognize and share God’s love.
“I’ve found that this goes beyond each student’s academic needs,” she said. “It’s more about being with them on a personal level: greeting them every morning, knowing their names, keeping them on track through to graduation. Those small things aren’t necessarily on my to-do list when I come in every day, but it’s in those unexpected and out-of-the-way moments where I feel the most connected to the students.”
Beyond her work at Regis Jesuit, Wuertz is also a part of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province Women’s Advisory Committee. “Knowing and valuing the experiences of women working in Jesuit institutions enables me to be a better leader for young men,” she says. “Helping to form them to be better colleagues, friends and partners is essential to my vocation.”
She will direct the Women and Jesuits Spirituality Conversations Retreat in St. Louis this spring.
“I read a quote recently that said, ‘Instead of asking a kid what they want to be when they grow up, ask them, ‘What problem do you want to solve?’ That’s how we’re passing on the Jesuit charism in what we do at Regis Jesuit,” says Wuertz. “We’re asking students what problems they notice in today’s cultural climate and preparing them to use their gifts in pursuit of solutions. Essentially, we’re helping them to see their worth and, in the process, to change the world.”
Wuertz recently discovered that her first cousin twice removed was a Jesuit from Ireland, Fr. Michael Morahan, SJ. Among many other things, Fr. Morahan helped to establish the first primary school in the village of Aberdeen, Hong Kong, in 1947. Wuertz was pleasantly surprised. “It turns out that the call to Jesuit education and Ignatian Spirituality was in my blood the whole time!”