by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Could you tell us about your background regarding the many degrees and certifications you have? How does your principalship make such an important part of your life? How about all you do in music?
Dr. Menden: My educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing with a minor in French from Saint Xavier University.
I also earned a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from Saint Xavier University and an Ed. D. in Curriculum and instruction from Loyola University. I am currently taking classes at the University of St. Francis for completion of a Superintendent’s licensure. For the first 15 years of my career, I taught French and chorus at the high school level. I was able to lead some amazingly talented students in the ability to find their own voices. When I decided to make the choice of moving from the classroom and music podium on a fulltime basis to the administrator’s office, it was still important that I help students to find their voices. It was also important that the music still be a part of the relationship I have with the children
Leading a school is a very important part of my life because I love children. I love their smiles, joy, and exuberant laughter each day as I greet them at the door or hold morning meetings with them. Children are the face of God for me and it is a joy to go to St. Nick every day. Every morning, I cannot wait to be in school to see the children, teachers, staff, and parents. Each person has a different story and adds so much to my life. Being a part of the activity that helps each find a voice and success is very important to me.
Music is such an important part of my life as it is what centers me and brings harmony to my life and work. I loved to play in an orchestra and sing in a choir because I felt such a connection to others as we blended our musical gifts.
I continue to sing in our parish choir or for various events such as weddings or funerals, as well as play the trumpet for special remembrances. I teach music to all nine grades at St. Nicholas, direct all students in two concerts/shows a year, and take great pride in conducting our Middle School Choir.
Dr. Knight: You have worked for and in the Church for many years.
What stands out for you as meaningful?
Dr. Menden: I have served in Catholic education only for my entire 30-year career. I have a strong love for the Catholic School system and the Church. For me, the central focus has always been on sharing my faith with the students, their families, and the faculty and staff.
Whether it is in leading song at mass, teaching the students about our faith, or making Christ known and loved in this world, this is how I lead my life.
Dr. Knight: You seem to have a great love for the future Church especially regarding Education what brings you joy? Could you tell us about that? Are you studying to be a Superintendent?
Dr. Menden: There are so many aspects of my role which bring me joy and humble me each day. It is a daily occurrence for me which begins each morning as I greet the students and welcome them into school. It continues into the hallways and the classrooms, whether I am doing a building walkthrough, classroom visits, or teaching music. It ends with dismissal as I say goodbye. I love to see their faces and smiles and to see a parent bless his or her child before the student enters school. What a wonderful witness of faith – a parent blessing a child. I love it when the students participate in weekly mass. I love it when they read scripture and petitions, serve at mass, or sing. The children do this with such reverence and when they participate in Adoration, on their knees, saying the prayers with such sincerity, it makes my heart leap and my soul smile. This is God’s kingdom experienced through the eyes and voices of the children.
Yes, I am currently finishing classwork for district-level certification. It is my desire to serve a Catholic diocese in the future. As I complete my coursework, engage in conversations with peers, and take part in personal reflection and prayer, I know that I am ready to serve Catholic education in a new way wherever God calls me to be.
Dr. Knight: As a woman involved in building the future Church how do you bring your faith to what you do in your school?
Dr. Menden: It is quite simple. My faith is intertwined with how I live, teach, act, lead, and serve. My faith guides all of my interactions. It is seeing the face of God first in all with whom I interact daily.
Dr. Knight: Do societal changes affect/effect what your faith means to you in a global sense?
Dr. Menden: My Catholic faith enables me to view the world and the societal changes through the eyes of Jesus. I especially like following Pope Francis on Twitter because he is a role model for all of us as we navigate and make sense of our Catholic faith within the world.
Dr. Knight: In what ways do you try to focus on bringing your deep faith of the Eucharist to all the children and parents in your school?
Dr. Menden: My faith is infused into everything that I do as I serve my school community and families. It starts with modeling and being visible within my parish, St.
Nicholas of Tolentine, practicing my faith alongside my students and their families whom I serve. It is very humbling to be invited to the quinceanera of a student or asked to be the musician for a wedding or funeral.
These are very personal, family events, and as the principal, to be invited into that space and to be allowed to grieve or celebrate with my students and their families are such powerful experiences and are what Eucharistic means to me.
Dr. Knight: How is the Catholic Church helping young people to stay connected to Christ and His Church?
Dr. Menden: I think that the way to stay connected is through the new Evangelization and Alpha which meets people where they are in order to bring Christ to them through sharing a meal, a personal experience, and an encounter with Christ and scripture. For some reason, the connection was severed, and this is a way to repair and rebuild the Church. It is going to take time, energy, and a lot of prayers but it will happen.
Dr. Knight: Do you think that the focus of our school should be the four pillars? As well as on Evangelization?
Dr. Menden: I believe that we are always focused on the four pillars: Creed, Prayer, Sacraments, and Morality which are the roots of our Catholic Faith. My thought is that evangelization is not a pillar but rather what we do and how we act through the pillars. Evangelization takes place when we act based on our faith.
Dr. Knight: What seems to be the hardest aspect of raising a family according to your school interactions considering your faith?
Dr. Menden: A difficult aspect of raising a family, which I have witnessed in my role as principal, is balancing the role of technology a social media. Both are great communication tools, however, face to face conversations are lost and that relational piece of truly seeing the other person is muddled when we forget to look up at the dinner table because we are texting a friend or streaming a video. The art of verbal conversation and true presence with one another in a family is lost. Not to mention that in the variety of family situations such as when both parents are working trying to provide the best life for themselves and their children, or when it is a single parent trying to balance it all, the concept of family time and interaction is challenged and becomes a very difficult aspect in raising a family.
Dr. Knight: What are the most difficult responsibilities you have had in your work? What are some of the most pleasant responsibilities?
Dr. Menden: I am not sure what to say in this area. The difficulties can range from comforting a child who faces a death in his or her family to tell a parent that we do not have the services to meet the needs of his or her child. The most pleasant of responsibilities range from part mass in which the third-grade students receive the Eucharist for the first time to shaking the hand of a student to whom I am handing a
Dr. Knight: What mantra do you have about your school that you would like people to remember?
Dr. Menden: I would say that St. Nicholas of Tolentine is a very welcoming place. All are greeted with a smile and made to feel special from the moment that our eyes meet. It is a place where we give witness to the fact that God is love and that all things flow through Him.
Dr. Knight: What other issues would you like to bring up regarding being a woman as a principal today?
Dr. Menden: It is very rewarding to lead and to serve a Catholic elementary school. As a Catholic woman of faith, this is part of the way in which I not only minister to the children but serve my Church. It has never been that I think to myself that I must go to work today but rather that I get to be at St. Nick and with the community today.
Dr. Knight: What are the most promising aspects of your students when they go to high school?
Dr. Menden: I know that they have been given a great base in learning how to learn. I know that they are ready to continue to share their faith and to make Christ known and loved in this world. They never forget St. Nick because it was the place where they were taught by people who loved them and cared about them. It was the place where they received the sacraments and learned about Christ and what it means to serve others and to act and walk justly. They leave us with a firm and solid foundation that holds and sustains them as they continue to grow in their learning and their faith.