Longtime educator Rafael Vega is awarded the Mother Joseph statue

A Providence High School treasure

Rafe Vega accepts Mother Joseph award
Providence High School educator Rafael “Rafe” Vega receives the Mother Joseph statue from Sisters of Providence Judith Desmarais (right) and Anita Butler.
(Providence High School photo)

Rafael “Rafe” Vega retired in June after 44 years at Providence High School (PHS) in Burbank and 49 years of teaching.  Among the things he took with him was a miniature bronze statue of Mother Joseph that he received on June 25 from the Sisters of Providence and Providence Ministries, the sponsors of the Providence Health & Services health care, education and social services ministries.

The statue Rafe received at a special Mas and reception in his honor is one of only 100 cast by Felix W. de Weldon, who created the statue of Mother Joseph that has been housed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol since 1980. The statue depicts Mother Joseph kneeling next to tools she used to make architectural drawings for construction of hospitals and schools in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and southern British Columbia.  The mini statues are presented in recognition of significant accomplishments and/or contributions to the Sisters of Providence.

Rafe began teaching at PHS before the school was 15 years old. He arrived in September 1968 and, except for a four-year period, dedicated himself to touching the lives of students in U.S. history and U.S. government classes.  He introduced them to social ethics/justice in their junior year and to world religions in their senior year.

Returned to teaching at age 65

Beyond the classroom, he chaired the Social Studies and Religion departments, was part of the Administrative Team, and dean of students for five years, three of them as vice principal. He also served as director of campus ministry.  At age 65, when many people would be preparing for retirement, Rafe asked to go back to classroom teaching and to his beloved students. After retiring, he will continue his connection to Providence High School as a member of its Board of Regents.

“Through the years, Rafe has been a part of the spirit and mission of Providence,” said Provincial Superior Judith Desmarais, who traveled to Burbank from Renton, Washington, to make the statue presentation, as did Providence Ministries sponsor Sister Anita Butler.  A surprise guest was Sister Jacqueline Fernandes, who knew Rafe from her years working as an administrator at the high school.

Career marked by generosity, love of life

Rafe has visited the Sisters of Providence motherhouse in Montreal and has toured the archives and the footsteps of Blessed Emilie Gamelin, foundress of the religious congregation.  “His generosity, love of life and ministry, so characteristic of Mother Joseph, as well, is memorialized in the Rafael Vega Endowed Scholarship Fund, developed by his students and colleagues,” Sister Judith said. “It is an initiative that truly warms his heart because it will provide many students with the opportunity to grow and develop within the spirit and guidance of Providence.”

Rafe also has served the Catholic Church at the local, regional and national level.  He has been involved in parishes and liturgical ministries, the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Commission and its Religious Education Congress, and a committee of the National Campaign for Human Development.

“With gratitude and love, the Sisters of Providence and the sponsors of Providence Ministries gave Rafe the small statue of Mother Joseph to acknowledge him as a person of Providence,” Sister Judith said. “He will continue the mission wherever he is in the future.”