Living Our Witness

Q: Everyone has a different faith journey. How did yours start?
A: I am a cradle Catholic. I have always been and will forever be in love with God. Some of my earliest memories are going to Mass with my family at St. Gregory the Great, sitting in the soundproof family room, and asking my dad, “but what does it taste like?” on our way back to the pew after he received Holy Communion with me in his arms. I have been blessed to have grown up following the example of a strong, devout and humble Catholic: my mom, Lidia Bonilla. It is because of her great example and love for God that I have been an active member in our parish since I was 8 years old and sang the psalm at Mass for the first time at St. Adalbert.

Q: Music has been a big part of your faith journey and who you are. Tell us about that.

A: Throughout middle school and high school, I was part of the first-ever Hispanic ministry at the Basilica of Holy Hill, where I sang and played violin in the Holy Hill Spanish Choir. I also sang in the St. Rafael the Archangel 10:30 a.m. Sunday choir (and) Jesús Villanueva’s ever-changing archdiocesan choir. I returned to St. Adalbert in 2018 to lead the children’s choir, Ángeles de María. Most recently, in 2020, I was part of a group of amazing young Catholic leaders that established a youth music ministry called Apóstoles En Acción, which is an extension of a children’s music ministry that dates back to 2014.

Q: What else can you tell us about Apóstoles En Acción?

A: Apóstoles En Acción meet two times a week during which we pray, learn more about the faith and rehearse for Holy Masses and retreats. We also serve God by teaching catechism, singing two Sunday Masses, and leading encuentros and retreats. For example, we help the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with the Hispanic Youth Encuentro and most recently led “Vaso Nuevo,” St. Adalbert’s three-day Confirmation retreat.  As a part of Quiero Proclamarte Con Mi Canto (proclaiming the word through song), our goal is to evangelize to as many people, particularly the youth, as possible. We began with eight youths and have grown to more than 40 members, led by our leadership team: Brendita and Francisco Botello (my sister and brother); Briss Nicolas (who is currently on a missionary trip in Mexico); Andrés, Diego and Melanie Leija; Andrea Pavon-Cruz; Yahir Ramirez; and myself.

Q: In what other ways are you active in the parish?

A: In addition to Apóstoles En Acción, I am also a Confirmation catechist and youth leader. Every aspect of my involvement in the parish has the end goal of bringing as many young souls to God as possible. One fact I would like to point out is that I am not alone in this effort. We are blessed to have an amazing team of youth leaders at St. Adalbert Parish, led by the Lechuga sisters, the Mercado siblings, the Leija siblings and the Botello-Bonilla siblings. Without them, all that we’ve done would have not been possible.

Q: You are also a teacher at the parish school. What has that been like?

I have been working at St. Adalbert School for four years and I am currently teaching eighth grade. It has been a dream. I am given the privilege of helping my students grow academically, as well as in their faith. St. Adalbert School provides our students with opportunities to pray every day, become well-versed in the liturgy of the Mass and engage in Catholic social teaching. I am overjoyed to say, because we have sparked their interest in the Catholic Church at school, I have had a lot of current and former students begin to attend Holy Mass and serve at St. Adalbert outside of the classroom or become a part of Apóstoles En Acción. Professionally, I am always supported and pushed to grow as a teacher and a mentor by our amazing leadership team. All of our staff have a “student-first” mindset.

Q: Your sister also works at St. Adalbert — is that right?

A: Yes. One of my amazing co-workers is in fact my younger sister, Brendita Botello. She joined the team in the 2021-22 school year, and our middle schoolers have only benefitted from her presence. She is an amazing ELA teacher that pushes her students to believe in themselves and has seen tremendous academic growth as a result. She integrates faith in all of her classes and helps her students navigate their own spiritual journey. In addition to all of her hard work in the classroom, she also coaches our after-school sports. In fact, last fall, thanks to her coaching and dedication, our seventh- and eighth-grade boys soccer team won the Southside Catholic League championship.

Q: Your sister is obviously a big part of your life. What role has your family played in nurturing your faith?
A:  My mother, Lidia Bonilla, is the reason I am where I am today. She is the spearhead of our family and the reason we have been able to help so many youth find their way closer to God. My mom is the most dedicated, devout and humble person I know. She is constantly giving all of herself to serve others, teaching the next generations about God and our Catholic faith, and helping anyone that is going through a difficult time. My brother, Francisco Botello, is also a huge part of my faith life. He has helped bring into reality every ambitious task the Holy Spirit sends our way to help the youth. From being an Apóstoles En Acción leader, Confirmation catechist, and leading our first youth English choir at St. Adalbert, he is an inspiration to all our young men that with God as your compass, your life always has a purpose.

Q: For parents or other adults, what advice would you give about how to connect with young people about the faith?

A: My biggest advice would be to listen, respect and talk to them with the truth. Our youth are thirsty for the truth. When they find someone that truly cares about them who speaks with the truth, they are willing to listen. (They are) not only willing to listen, but also engage in the conversation. Don’t be afraid to talk about issues that matter to them. Many don’t even realize it, but they are searching for the truth. Most importantly, the youth, like anyone, value genuineness; thus, we need to lead by example and with love.