“PERSISTANCE”: An Interview with Jonathan Catalan

Recently hired by Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, a prominent multi-program social service agency, Jonathan Catalan (CRSM ’14, Loras College ’18) agreed to sit down with Cristo Rey for an interview to talk about his journey from Cristo Rey, to Iowa and back again. He stopped by Cristo Rey St. Martin on his way to work in Round Lake Park, IL.  The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

Thanks for stopping by today. I know you have a hectic schedule, including training to become a trainer.

Very busy. But it’s no problem, Cristo Rey has always been like part of my family.

Tell me about the new job.

Mano a Mano’s mission is to empower immigrant families across northeastern Illinois to become full participants in American life. I was hired to extend our reach to more families and offer personalized support and counseling to them.

That’s quite a challenge, was it always clear that you would end up in social work?

Not at all. Although I was very involved with Campus Ministry at Cristo Rey, I was considering many different options, even culinary school. When I arrived at Loras College I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, I was taking a lot of different classes, computer science, theology – various liberal arts classes, until I attended a social welfare intro class; that’s when I knew.

You were accepted into quite a few colleges, why Loras?

As I approached graduation our family was experiencing serious financial setbacks, and it was pretty clear that college was not going to be an option for me. But thanks to the people here at Cristo Rey, who helped me navigate the application and financial maze, Loras College offered me an exceptional scholarship package. So here I am with a degree in Social Work, a minor in criminal justice – working in northern Illinois.

Sounds like it went pretty smoothly after college graduation.

It was not smooth. I applied for many, many jobs. There didn’t seem to be any openings for me. It would have been much easier for me to work out of state, Iowa was in desperate need of bilingual social workers. But my goal was always to come back home, to be with family and to contribute here.

So, what did you do?

I kept applying. I used the training I received from my mother and from Cristo Rey. I worked at jobs that gave me the flexibility I needed to get to job interviews. I didn’t give up. My mother is an exceptional woman; a great example of the word “grit.” She’s a former policewoman, tough as nails with a heart of gold. She taught me to persist, to rely on my own resources.

What are your interests outside of work? You’ve talked about Japan.

I’m a big fan of Japanese culture. I hope to travel there someday. I’m also kind of an import car nut, working under the hood with my hands is relaxing for me…so Japan would be a great place to visit for both of those interests.

What’s your favorite memory of CRSM?

Cristo Rey St. Martin had a huge impact on me. Among my favorite memories are the closeness that we experienced every morning when we got to school, “hey, how’re you doing!?”; the opportunity to volunteer with Mr. Dippold in Campus Ministry; the chance to work with my CWSP job at the Botanic Garden – even during the summers.  I could go on and on.

Future plans?

Well, first I want to be instrumental in the growth of the Mano a Mano program. And I have a new car…now I have to pay for it [laughing]. An advanced degree is probably in my future. A Bachelor’s is a big deal in the Latino community, but a Master’s Degree is even better!