January 28, 2022

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

A surprising choice leads a family to a school and a faith-filled community that they cherish

Vanessa and LaDarius Mathis have found a home for their family at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. Here, the couple poses for a family photo with their children, LaDarius, Jr., left, Madison, Christian and Bryce. (Submitted photo)

Vanessa and LaDarius Mathis have found a home for their family at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. Here, the couple poses for a family photo with their children, LaDarius, Jr., left, Madison, Christian and Bryce. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

When LaDarius Mathis finished his time of service in the

U.S. Army, he and his wife Vanessa were at a point where they could choose wherever they wanted their family to live. The choice they made—and the reason they made it—would surprise many people.

After all, they could have returned to the Dallas, Texas, area where they had both grown up and still have families who live there.

They could have also chosen from some of the scenic areas which had been part of their lives during the nine years LaDarius served in the Army—including Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia.

Instead, they made their choice based on this reason:

During the nearly two years when LaDarius served at Camp Atterbury in Indiana—from 2014-16—the couple and their children felt so completely at home at Our Lady of the Greenwood School that they hated to leave when LaDarius was required to move to an Army base in Colorado. Longing to return to that Catholic community, they did just that in 2019.

“Everyone welcomed us with open arms the first time we moved here. I got the warm and fuzzies then, and my heart has always been here ever since,” Vanessa says. “When we moved back here, we almost pinched ourselves. ‘Is this real? Did we make this happen?’ I needed a sense of community, and we have it here. We’ve never been so happy.”

Her happiness includes being the social studies teacher for the middle school students at Our Lady of the Greenwood, where three of their four children attend. Bryce is in the eighth grade, Christian the first grade, and Madison in the pre-kindergarten class. Their oldest child, LaDarius, a graduate of Our Lady of the Greenwood, is a freshman at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

“This is my dream job,” says Vanessa, who also coaches boys’ basketball and volleyball at the school. “I get to be with my kids, and there are awesome kids here. This is why we moved back—because of this school. My daughter loves the movie Frozen. As Olaf said in Frozen, ‘I’m living the dream.’ ”

A substantial part of the dream for her is that she gets to teach in a Catholic school and her children get to receive a Catholic education.

“Our kids have always gone to Catholic schools,” she says. “I’ve always liked the discipline that’s being instilled, the expectations, the fact that they can go to Mass and see everybody go to Mass as part of the school. With going to Mass being a routine part of life for them, I hope that will carry over into their adult life.”

She also savors being able to talk to her students about God.

“Whenever we talk about God, we can have an open conversation about God,” she says. “Kids this age have doubts. They have so many outside forces from the secular world. It’s so cool that we can have these conversations about God, that we can talk about their doubts. If I don’t have the answers, I can talk to a priest and get answers for them.”

That approach dovetails with another role she has at the school—as a member of the Jesus Squad. It’s a group of teachers who meet regularly with the parish’s pastor, Father Todd Goodson, to enhance the Catholic identity of the school.

“How can we truly live by our Catholic faith?” she says, summarizing the question that guides the group. “We meet with Father Todd to talk about the needs of the students. I think it’s pretty cool that I’m on the Jesus Squad.”

The school community feels blessed that Vanessa is part of the staff, says principal Kent Clady.

“She’s just a natural,” he says. “I love that she treats the kids as she treats her own children. She teaches them as a teacher, but loves them as a mom. She holds them to the same expectations she has for her own children, and I love that about her. She’s a gift to us, for sure.

“I’m glad God brought her and her family back to us. They could have gone anywhere in the United States as a family. They decided they wanted to be here. We’re glad they are.”

So is the Mathis family.

“We feel blessed to be here,” Vanessa says. “This place feels like home. We’re loving it.” †

 

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