Office of Mission
The Office of Mission promotes and enhances the mission of Saint Mary’s College.
We support the participation of faculty, staff and students in an array of activities such as research, curriculum development, immersions, service programs, retreats, discussions and institutes at SMC, in the Lasallian District of San Francisco/New Orleans, the District of North America and in the International Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.
Outstanding Lasallian Educators 2023
Jennifer Herzog (Staff) and Roy Wensley (Faculty) were chosen as the Outstanding Lasallian Educators for 2023 for their dedication to the mission of Saint Mary's College and the five Lasallian Core Principles.
In a quiet conference room of a Franciscan Brother’s retreat house in New Mexico, I sat in a prayer circle with other Lasallian educators. The organizers asked me to recite a poem authored by Archbishop Oscar Romero, “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own,” which read in part:
This is what we are about:
we plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between
the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Upon reading the poem I immediately added it to my daily meditation as it seemed like a natural extension to my favorite parable.
A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And others fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bore fruit a hundredfold.
St. Luke 8: 5-8
As I later said to the other teachers, it was during the study of those two lessons that I realized my calling as a Lasallian educator was, in fact, a sacred duty.
During the July of 2005, through the efforts of St. Mary’s College and the Catholic Institute of Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) I attended, along with other SMC professors, the Lasallian Social Justice Institute’s Conference on Global Economic Justice in Texas, Ciudad Juarez (Mexico) and Mesilla Park, New Mexico. The first half of the week-long workshop was conducted as an immersion program in Mexico where we spoke with Mexican and Central American migrants and non-profit organizers on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. The latter half of the week was spent in New Mexico where we attended several workshops regarding the economic realities of globalization for citizens of both Mexico and the United States; evening sessions focused upon the teaching of St. John Baptist de La Salle and our role as educators in Lasallian institutions.
As I focused on Archbishop Romero’s words and the Scripture, I began likening my teaching to that of the Sower. While the seeds of lessons I plant may immediately bloom, sprout at a later date, or simply not take root, I believe that my teaching methodologies and philosophies provide the students with the foundations necessary to learn, grow, and adapt. It my privilege to teach at a Lasallian institution where such work with students is valued and I can carry on in the spirit of St. La Salle.
- Dana R. Herrera, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Anthropology
Juarez, MX is considered the murder capital of the world; drug
violence is out of control. There are daily reports about the violence
that is terrorizing the lives of the residents at this border town;
Americans are warned to stay out of Juarez. But life goes on there –
there are children to educate and parents who need help to support
their children. Who is helping them? This is a story of how one
remarkable woman and a group of Lasallians are making a difference
in the lives of children in a small colonia outside of Juarez.
If you had visited Anapra in 1999, you would have found an
impoverished desert community just outside of Juárez, Mexico where
many residents lived in makeshift homes often constructed from
wood pallets, cardboard, tires, and tar paper. Day and evening,
children played in the dirt streets; there were no playgrounds,
recreation centers, libraries, or athletic fields.
That same year on one of those streets you may have noticed that
instead of playing in the streets, the children who lived near Cristina
Estrada began dropping by her house after school. You would have
seen them clustered around plastic tables in Cristina’s yard reading
and doing their homework. Cristina was there too, offering help and
encouragement. Had you been watching all of this, you would have
found yourself wondering how Cristina was handling the ever-
increasing number of children crowding into her yard and her home.
Today if you visited Anapra, as we did as participants in the Lasallian
Social Justice Institute, you would see children working in one of the
three educational buildings; the older students are tutoring the
younger ones. There is now a small library and computers available
for the students. Cristina and other adults also teach the children
about their culture – through dance, costume, and music. Cristina
additionally serves as mentor and surrogate mother to many of the
If you had not been in Anapra since 1999, you might be shocked to
see that Cristina now works with over 250 children and that her
students are graduating from high school and going to the university.
There are now ten youth in post-secondary education, training to be
nurses, psychologists, and teachers. You would realize what an
impressive accomplishment this is, given the demographics and past
history for educational achievement in Anapra. You would recognize
that, against all odds, Cristina is creating an educational miracle in
The Anapra Education Project
Though Cristina was working a miracle, she could not do so without
financial support, and that is why we created the Anapra Education
Project. We are educators, students, staff members, and graduates,
primarily from Saint Mary’s College, who were influenced by the
Lasallian Social Justice Institute in El Paso/Juarez where we first
became familiar with the work of Cristina Estrada. While visiting
Anapra, we were confronted with the stark poverty there, yet
heartened by Cristina’s work to educate every child in the
impoverished colonia. Inspired by Cristina’s commitment and service
to her community, we dedicated ourselves to raising funds to provide
scholarships to pay for the children’s education there.
Over the past five years, with the donation of one generous benefactor
and many smaller, yet signficant donations, we have raised over
$250,000 to help Cristina’s children. Our work began because we
were introduced to the Lasallian mission in the dusty colonia of
Anapra, MX; we continue because we want to keep the lessons
learned there about poverty, injustice, and hope alive by Living
As teachers, we often speak of our goal as the transformation of the student. That is, we don’t simply want to communicate facts to young women and men; we want to foster the kind of educational environment that allows for radical changes in their perception of the world—a world that they thought they knew. These are the proverbial “a-ha” moments. As I look back on my own intellectual and spiritual growth, I count myself fortunate to have had a few such experiences where data and knowledge suddenly became wisdom and insight. One of the most poignant occurred in the summer of 2005. I had just completed my first year as a faculty member at Saint Mary’s, and I had been invited to learn a little bit more about the Lasallian mission by joining a cohort of educators on the U.S.-Mexico border for a week of education and immersion into the issues of immigration and social justice. I learned a great deal in the course of the week about politics, about economics, about Catholic Social Teaching. I also met some wonderful people on both sides of the border whose faces I can still see. However, I already knew people who were immigrants and knew their stories. I also knew something about the complicated legal, social, and economic realities that face our world. What I did not know—or better, had never understood—was the reality of a border, what it is like to live on the boundary of Worlds.
We spent the first several days of our trip on the Mexican side of the border, in Ciudad Juarez, sleeping at a shelter that existed to allow migrants to gain their strength, before they attempted the hazardous journey across the deserts of southern Texas and New Mexico. It was a stark and uncomfortable reality of poverty and heat, but not radically different than the Mississippi delta region that I call home. Indeed, the shelter was still within the city limits of Juarez, which resembles cities in the United States in many ways, with neighborhoods, megamarts, and highways. It was only when we left the ciudad that the world changed. On the outskirts of Juarez are the colonias, shanty towns of squatters who live at the ends of civilization. We had the opportunity to spend some time with the people of one such colonia named Anapra. Concrete blocks and metal siding, along with an assortment of scattered trash from our world, made up the homes of the people there. Wires littered the dusty streets as the people siphoned electricity from nearby electric poles. There was no sewer, no city services. It was a hard life of struggle, though there were rays of hope in a local priest and a local teacher, who were doing so much to serve the community. As hard as it was to see such poverty, the drive home was so much harder. We climbed into our vans, thankful for the comfort of air conditioning in the sweltering heat of northern Mexico, and we drove the several miles of dust back to the paved highway that led to the city. At the junction between dirt and concrete, I looked up just to my left, to see a beautiful building of stone and glass, shining in the afternoon sun no more than a hundred yards away. I asked the driver what the building was. His response – It was part of the University of Texas at El Paso. The “a-ha” hit me hard. It suddenly dawned on me, the reality of their world, the reality of a border life. It was not just that the people in Anapra lived in abject poverty and struggle. That is sad, and it is terrible. But what is unthinkable is that they live in such poverty quite literally in the shadow of such wealth—and no matter how close it is, they can never touch it. It just towers over them, enticing, shaming, mocking and—I am quite sure—completely unaware of those who live in the valley below.
Karl Marx once said that no man knows that he lives in a shack until his neighbor builds a castle next door. Before my trip to the border with the Lasallian Social Justice Institute, I had no idea what this meant. Now I cannot see the world in any other way.
Associate Professor of Theology & Religious Studies
Saint Mary’s College of California