Mahers take over directorship of Lasallian community

In 2007, Sarah Jane (Engle ’07) Maher left Saint Mary’s University with a degree in pastoral ministry and music and with plans to become a Lasallian Volunteer for two years.

Six years later, Maher remains committed to the Lasallian mission as she and her new husband Daniel Maher take on the unique title of community directors of the Christian Brothers’ San Francisco District in Portland, Ore. They are the first lay people — much less married couple — to take on the responsibility. As the Christian Brothers’ numbers become fewer, they are reaching out to committed, qualified and caring lay people to help further their work.

And the Mahers answered the call.

“At Saint Mary’s, I had Dr. Mary Fox ’75, M’89, my freshman and senior year, and she was a huge inspiration. She taught me that being a layperson and a woman I could be just as strongly impacted by those Lasallian charisms,” Sarah Jane Maher said. “I wanted to open my mind up and see where it took me. I knew it was a greater call; I had listened intently in my Lasallian classes and wanted more. It was about letting go and letting God, but my inspiration came from the Brothers and from Mary Fox.”

After graduation, she went to Brooklyn to begin her two-year commitment with the Lasallian Volunteers at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. There she lived in community with two Christian Brothers and served as a full-time campus minister, organizing retreats and service projects. “It was a wonderful two years,” she said. “It was challenging and difficult and hugely beneficial, all at the same time, and it led to my vocation, to what I wanted to do with my life which I didn’t know before.”

It also led her to Daniel, who was also serving as a Lasallian Volunteer.

The two continued to date throughout graduate school, despite the two-hour difference between them — Sarah Jane attended  Villanova University in the Philadelphia suburbs for two years to get her master’s degree in theology and religious studies, while Daniel attended Manhattan College for special education. While at Villanova, Sarah Jane served as a campus ministry intern, leading service trips abroad and acting as a “dorm mom.”

In October of 2011, the two were married, surrounded by a large number of Christian Brothers and Lasallian Volunteer alumni. “It was a small wedding, but our wedding was everything we had gained from experience as Lasallian Volunteers. It had simplicity; we had it at a Brother’s house; everything was borrowed; our friends who owned an Italian restaurant made the food; the Brothers did blessings.”

And Maher’s father gave a meaningful presentation in which he expressed his happiness that his daughter had found someone as Lasallian as she was.

Shortly after the wedding, it was at a layover in an airport that the foundation was laid for the newlyweds to begin working within the San Francisco District.

“We were committed and ready to help out wherever needed,” she said. “De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland was losing their campus minister and was in need of an IEP coordinator, which — by the grace of God — were the areas Daniel and I got our master’s degrees in.” And they needed someone to take over the Lasallian community, assisting new Lasallian Volunteers after the departure of the Brothers who left some big shoes to fill.

The two arrived in Aug. 17, and despite getting used to the climate change and being up to their eyeballs in final exams, they are happily adjusting and making their home. Of the first four Lasallian Volunteers to arrive, two (Kacey Gavin ’12 and Maddie Kettner ’12) are Saint Mary’s alumni. “We have a Saint Mary’s magnet on our fridge,” Maher said with a laugh.

“We live in community. We pray and eat together. Our main job is to help first-year volunteers transition from college to being professionals in a shocking and new environment, one focused on poverty they’ve likely never seen, in a part of the country they’ve never seen. And we focus on living intentionally and what that means.

“My husband and I hope we offer something. We’re letting them know we’ve been here before and this is how you learn from it. I just went through this five years ago, so it’s nice to be able to offer that advice.”

About 320 students attend De La Salle North, which follows a Cristo Rey model, through which students work one day a week to offset tuition costs.

“I love this age group,” Maher said. “Teaching religion has been a new challenge … but it’s a way to interact with students and learn from them that I never expected to be so plentiful and so great. I get to see them during retreats and service projects and things outside of the classroom.”

Maher admits it’s been both intimidating and a little sad to think that she and her husband are filling a role that for decades has been filled by Brothers.

“We never wanted to come in here and use language like we’re replacing the Brothers. We’ve stressed all along that this is just something new and different,” Maher said. “We are always wary of disrespecting and tread lightly, but we work very hard and we’re not afraid to ask for help. We’ve received so much support.”

Maher said she and her husband are content in their new surroundings and happy to settle down. “I can see myself here long term and so can Daniel. He and I both enjoy this school very, very much.”

Giving true meaning to the words “together and by association,” the Mahers, along with the Lasallian Volunteers, are keeping the spirit of Saint John Baptist De La Salle alive.

Featured photo caption: Sarah Jane (Engle ’07) Maher and her husband Daniel are joined by Lasallian Volunteers including Kacey Gavin ’12 and Maddie Kettner ’12.

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