Making connections in heart and soul

Plank Article Jaiveer Gahunia ’20

Director of Liturgy and Theology Teacher Ms. Charlene Cardenas started teaching at Jesuit High School Sacramento in 2002 when the Class of 2020 were infants or yet to be born. Now, as the Class of 2020 graduates, she prepares to retire.

Before joining as a faculty member, Ms. Cardenas sent her sons to Jesuit, so she was already a member of the Jesuit community as a parent. She heard about a position at Jesuit from Director of Campus Ministry Mr. Paul LeBoeuf, applied, and was hired by then-Principal, now-President Rev. John McGarry, S.J. In her time at Jesuit, besides teaching theology, she has also served as theology department chair and director of liturgy for several years.

Current Theology Department Chair Ms. Annie Crew-Renzo is appreciative of Ms. Cardenas’ leadership during Ms. Cardenas’ time as department chair.

“[Ms. Cardenas] led us through a major curriculum change and other momentous changes in the department,” Ms. Crew-Renzo said. “She always did so with grace and calm and patience. Working for her was a pleasure!”

Choir Teacher Mr. Rex Rallanka ’96 is grateful to have one last opportunity to work with Ms. Cardenas in Liturgy Workshop after having first met her when he was an accompanist for choir while she was teaching Liturgy Workshop.

“In my first year working with Ms. Cardenas, we would have long discussions in the choral office about Church, the laypeople, and the liturgical life of the Church,” Mr. Rallanka said. “Those discussions have been deeply formative for me, especially in how I view my faith and my role in the Church as a lay minister. What a blessing for me when it was announced that Ms. Cardenas would be once again teaching Liturgy Workshop during her last year at JHS. This year was an opportunity to rekindle the friendship and collegiality developed in 2013.”

Nathan Bingham ’20, a student in Liturgy Workshop, is also grateful for Ms. Cardenas. Specifically, he is grateful for the opportunity to close out a hectic senior year in her class.

“Honestly, I went in expecting an easy choir class, and found one of my favourite classes in the process,” Nathan said. “When we went into quarantine, Mrs. Cardenas adapted our work, and gave us a series of reflections that helped me organize my thoughts about a bunch of things. It was a perfect class to cap off my senior year, even if it didn’t quite end the way it was supposed to.”

Mr. Rallanka also found that Liturgy Workshop and Ms. Cardenas were calming influences in stressful times when they taught the last in-person Liturgy Workshop class of the year. 

“Just being around her cheered me up and allowed me to tackle the rest of the day with a positive attitude,” Mr. Rallanka said. “Liturgy Workshop played ‘Liturgical Jeopardy,’ and Ms. Cardenas provided Girl Scout cookies for everyone. I didn’t know at the time that it would be my last class with Ms. Cardenas.”

Ms. Cardenas finds that her time at Jesuit was something unique and transformative, and that the people she met here formed relationships with her that have affected her deeply.

“The relationships you forge at Jesuit are not typical friendships,” Ms. Cardenas said. “You are together because of the work and because of the mission. As you work together, there are ups and downs over the years but that all goes into forging some pretty wonderful connections. And those are the kind of connections that stay with you in your heart and soul.”

Once she retires, Ms. Cardenas plans to still stay involved at Jesuit by attending more sporting events, which she couldn’t as a teacher due to lesson-planning and grading responsibilities.

In her time at Jesuit, Ms. Cardenas was well-loved and well-respected. Although she will no longer be teaching here, she will still remain part of the Jesuit community, and hopes to introduce her grandson, who will be born in August, to the community as well.