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

But despite some initial trepidation, each student — nearing graduation in June — now speaks warmly of their Catholic school experience, one that has seen both become active in numerous campus activities, including sports and campus ministry.

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

“It’s been a great experience,” added Paulina, a guard on Chaminade’s girls’ basketball team currently battling for the Mission League title. “I’ve met lots of different people, which I enjoy because 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 San Fernando Valley — Andy in West Hills, Paulina in Northridge — but grew up in other nearby communities. Andy attended Willow Elementary in Agoura, near where his family attends St. Jude Church in Westlake Village.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m open to various career options, but I’ve already decided I never want to work for anyone else,” she said with a smile. “I’ll help dad with his trucking business, find out what I feel passionate about and go from there.”

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

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

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

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

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

Living out their faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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