On a recent Wednesday in the St. Elizabeth Seton gym in Rohnert Park, the majority of Cardinal Newman High School’s junior class sat in groups of five and six around tables. Theology instructors Ryan Corriveau and Alice Meyer had combined six periods of classes into one, and all of those students were awaiting their assignment.
The hall is so vast Meyer used a microphone to be heard.
The assignment was simple. From a list of 30 virtues like patience and faith, each table was assigned a different word at random. Students were to write about what that virtue meant to them, where they have seen it practiced in their lives and who they know that exemplifies it.
At a back table, where Marcus Vidaurri and Brad Slender, were sitting next to each other, the word “resilience” was written in colored marker.
It was an apt choice for Vidaurri and Slender, who are among the 95 Cardinal Newman families who lost homes in the wildfires that took 23 lives in Sonoma County last month and destroyed 5,130 homes. In all, 110 students — about a sixth of the Newman campus — and three staff members lost homes in the fires, according to Principal Graham Rutherford.
Loss for the Cardinal Newman community extended to the Catholic Church-affiliated Ursuline Road campus, which suffered heavy damage: 19 classrooms, the main office, the counseling office, the library, and the baseball and soccer fields were destroyed. Twelve of Newman’s 620 students have since enrolled elsewhere.
Rutherford, a Cardinal Newman graduate, had built his office as a veritable museum of personal and professional school memorabilia. It, too, is gone.
The gymnasium, the wrestling room and the football field went untouched but surrounding devastation is so severe that no student will be allowed back on the campus until at least January. Until then classes are scattered at four sites across the county, including Rohnert Park. Athletic events are held on the road.
Just about every virtue Corriveau and Meyer put up on the worksheet that day — including courage, integrity and gratitude — have been tested in recent weeks.
“Out of this I think I have learned to definitely just be thankful for everything that I have,” said Slender, 16. “It really just makes me appreciate everything I was blessed to have: my family, my school, my home.”
This not how Maiya Flores, 17, thought her senior year would play out. One of the most decorated athletes ever to play for the new but incredibly successful Cardinal Newman girls’ basketball program, the four-year starter is coming off a season which saw the Cardinals go 30-4 and play in the open division of the California State Championship for the first time in school history. The previous year, when Flores was a sophomore, the squad claimed a state title.
But after the fires displaced her from her home, her school and her home court last month, Flores is trying to find a new normal. Basketball helps.
“When I play, I totally ignore the facts of what happened,” she said.
When she left her home for the last time in the early morning of Oct. 9, she grabbed few belongings. Her state tournament medals, her section champion medals, they came with her.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here