Though born and raised Catholic, Andy Sainrnand Paulina Gandara had never attended Catholic school until enrolling in 2014rnas freshmen at Chaminade Preparatory High School in West Hills.

But despite some initial trepidation, eachrnstudent — nearing graduation in June — now speaks warmly of their Catholicrnschool experience, one that has seen both become active in numerous campusrnactivities, including sports and campus ministry.

“It’s been awesome,” said Andy, a shortstoprnon Chaminade’s baseball team, which is expected to do well in Mission Leaguernplay this spring. “There is so much support on campus, a family spirit andrnamazing opportunities to grow as a person and practice your faith. I love wherernI’m at.”

“It’s been a great experience,” addedrnPaulina, a guard on Chaminade’s girls’ basketball team currently battling forrnthe Mission League title. “I’ve met lots of different people, which I enjoyrnbecause it’s a campus of diverse cultures that allows you to see who God is.”

Faith, education and sports

Both student-athletes were born in the SanrnFernando Valley — Andy in West Hills, Paulina in Northridge — but grew up inrnother nearby communities. Andy attended Willow Elementary in Agoura, near wherernhis family attends St. Jude Church in Westlake Village.

“It was my mom Allison [a religion teacherrnand former graduate of La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks] who encouraged mernto attend Catholic high school,” said Andy. “She knew its advantages, but I wasrnreluctant because it meant leaving my public-school friends. And the initialrntransition was hard, but the Link Crew [older students helping younger studentsrnget acquainted with Chaminade] really made a difference.”

Paulina, the oldest of three children in arnfamily that belongs to St. Didacus Church in Sylmar, attended Egremont Schoolrnin Chatsworth, an independent elementary school that encourages criticalrnthinking. Like Andy, Paulina said her mom Leticia — who runs a tech company inrnthe north San Fernando Valley — encouraged Catholic high school for herrndaughter.

“She wanted a school for me that was close to her work, and shernloved the atmosphere at Chaminade, how it combined faith and education,” saidrnPaulina. “And I’ve found that to be very true.”

Currently, she is a leader in several campus clubs, includingrnArchitecture, Water Project and “Staying True Together” (STRUT), and serves onrnStudent Council as commissioner of Campus and Community Relations, through whichrnshe has helped raise funds to support victims of recent disasters.

Academically, she said, “math is challenging but it’s my favoriternsubject — that and Spanish.” She’s undecided about where she’ll attend college,rnbut wants to focus on business.

“I’m open to various career options, but I’ve already decided Irnnever want to work for anyone else,” she said with a smile. “I’ll help dad withrnhis trucking business, find out what I feel passionate about and go fromrnthere.”

Andy is likewise deciding where to attend college, although hisrntop choices are Notre Dame, Villanova and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where hernhopes to study criminal justice and perhaps establish a career in psychology.rn“It’s subject to change,” he said, “but I’m getting a good foundation at Chaminade,rnbecause academics are the most important part of being here; they come beforernall else.”

Even baseball, which he’s played since age 4,rnand which he plays now to celebrate “my God-given abilities. I just try to dornthe best I can with what God’s given me.”

Last season, batting mostly in the fifthrnspot, Andy hit .348 for the Eagles, and looks forward to this season thatrnbegins in mid-February. “I love my teammates,” he said proudly. “We have arnclose group of guys, we pick each other up, and we’re grateful for all thernopportunities we have.”

Paulina has played basketball as long asrnshe can remember, currently part of a “travel ball” team that plays throughoutrnSouthern California, and having served as junior varsity co-captain. Now in herrnsecond year with the varsity, her Eagles (through Jan. 26) were 13-6 and No. 8rnin the rugged CIF-Southern Section Division 1 rankings.

“We’re looking forward to the rest of thernseason, and hopefully to doing well in the playoffs,” she said.

Living out their faith

The Catholic school experience, say Paulinarnand Andy, has allowed them to strengthen their faith on a daily basis.

“The retreats we have here are amazing,rneven life-changing,” said Paulina, who attends the 1 p.m. Sunday Spanish Massrnat St. Didacus with her family, prays the rosary regularly with her grandfatherrnand has participated in feeding the homeless through her parish. She’s alsornvolunteered at Catholic Charities’ Guadalupe Center in Canoga Park, and tutorsrnothers through the California Scholarship Federation,

Faith, she added, is an important part ofrnwho she is, on and off the basketball court.

“Faith is a mark of hope,” she saidrnquietly. “It’s having a friend who can help you through tough times and helprnyou find a happier place in your life. And Catholic school provides a nicernenvironment where you can build a family spirit that nourishes your faith.”

Andy, who participates in Chaminade’s LIFE Ministry that serves atrnschool liturgies and faith-based events, serves on the confirmation team at St.rnJude and participates in special needs ministry. At Chaminade, he is part ofrnthe Link Crew that assisted him when he was a new student, wanting “to givernback in the same way others gave to me.”

“Faith,” he continued, “is at the center of my life. To be able to livernit out and share it with others in service is really important to me. Andrnattending Chaminade has been such a blessing, allowing me to affirm my faithrnand stand by it.”

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