Dr. Robin Maas: Large Return on Small Investment

Dr. Robin Maas has come full circle. She began her teaching career in elementary education. Several graduate degrees and many years later, she became the academic dean of a prominent Catholic graduate school. Recently, she retired from that position to help found a new private elementary school. In a world that glorifies achievement and disdains sacrifice, she has chosen to put the needs of Christ’s little ones first. Like many women in her generation, she graduated from college with a degree in elementary education. She married Jack Maas, and helped to support the family by teaching while he went to graduate school. When asked about her early years of teaching, Dr. Maas said, "I loved children and I loved to learn. It seemed like the natural thing to do at that point in my life. "I have always been committed to exposing children to the very best our culture has to offer them — classic texts that stress human dignity and heroism, the works of great thinkers and artists, scientists and other figures who have really made important contributions in the cultural development of mankind," she said. "A young, teachable mind is a precious gift. It deserves the best we have to offer it." Jack and Robin Maas were not exactly the average couple. After Jack graduated, they participated in a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) program that supplied teachers for teacher-training colleges in East Africa. They were at a school run by the Canadian White Fathers for three years ("Busubizi" at Mityana, in Uganda). During this period, two of their three children were born. They later returned to Uganda for another three years. This time they lived in the capital, Kampala, where Jack completed his research for his doctoral thesis and taught at Makerere University. At the same time, Robin began studies for a master's degree in sociology and later taught part-time in the American School in Kampala. Once Idi Amin came to power, security deteriorated rapidly. The Maas’ family , who had been happy living in East Africa decided to leave. Returning to the United States, they settled in Arlington, where Jack had secured a position at the World Bank. As her three children grew and went off to school, Robin was able to turn her attention again to a long-deferred dream of graduate school. "Ever since graduating from college, I wanted to pursue graduate education in theology. My particular interests were in Scripture and historical theology — always in the service of sharing these treasures with the laity." She received a master's degree in theology from the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, and later completed a doctorate in religion and religious education at the Catholic University. She returned to teach at Wesley, a United Methodist school, in 1985. An interesting turn in her path loomed, however. "Once I was on the other side of the desk, so to speak, I discovered that over the years, through my own personal reading and graduate study, I had acquired a Catholic point of view. Teaching has a way of clarifying one’s own convictions. In the end, the issue was not could I be 'Catholic' but, rather, could I remain a 'Protestant'?" She could not. Robin became a Catholic in 1987, and has never looked back. She points to it as the highlight of her life. "The Catholic faith has been the 'pearl of great price' in my life — and I was willing to spend all I had for it," she said. She is a daily communicant at St. Agnes Parish in Arlington and is active in their Perpetual Adoration Society. She has also assisted with the RCIA program and high school CCD. Although she continued to teach at Wesley for a decade, the most satisfying development in her career as a teacher began in a Catholic group, the Women’s Apostolate to Youth (WAY). In 1990, Dr. Eduardo Azcarate of the Youth Apostles Institute was looking for a Catholic woman to begin a sister organization to his organization for youth ministry leaders in the Diocese of Arlington. His search ended with Robin, then a recent convert. He convinced her to take on the task, even though she was reluctant and unsure of her qualifications. "Bishop John Keating, the bishop of Arlington at the time, had repeatedly questioned me on the issue of a sister community to Youth Apostles," Azcarate said. "As I got to know Robin Maas, I was most impressed with her vibrant faith, her wisdom and her balance. Although she laughed heartily at me when I first suggested that she begin the Women's Apostolate to Youth, I am sure the Holy Spirit asked her to say ‘yes.’ I personally am grateful for her willingness to take the risk and I am thankful for the existence of WAY." Her new charges took to her leadership gratefully. "As director of WAY, Robin Maas has been a beacon of guiding light to all its members by challenging us individually in the spiritual direction most appropriate to our state in life and by her inspiring talks which keep us focused on the community's Rule of Life," said Jane Adkins, a long-time member of the community. The community’s statutes were provisionally approved by Bishop Keating in 1996, and its current membership includes 20 women who have made formal commitments, as well as number of associates. (See box below.) More surprises awaited her. In 1998, she was asked to serve as the academic dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies. As Maas relates, " I had greatly enjoyed teaching there, but it never occurred to me that I might be asked to run the program. The memory I will treasure most, I am sure, was being present at a special audience the faculty had with the holy father in August 1999. The opportunity to serve the mission of Pope John Paul II to families through the work of the Institute has been a huge privilege." Among her many grateful students is Caroline Duffy, now a religion teacher at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. Duffy said, "One thought that Dean Maas branded on my brain (and heart for that matter) was that the most powerful impact a Catholic can have on the world is not heroic actions, eloquent words, or an impeccably logical and well articulated argument, but rather the example of a holy life." It is this emphasis on holiness that Dr. Maas has shared with her students, WAY members and colleagues. Maas has never lost her love for children, nor her concern for their spiritual and intellectual formation. In response to what they perceive as a calling from the Holy Spirit, WAY is opening a new independent school this fall. Angelus Academy has found temporary quarters in Springfield and will serve children in grades K-5, adding a grade each year. Although Maas will continue to teach part-time at the John Paul II Institute, she resigned from her position as dean to devote most of her energies to her role as chairman of the Board of Trustees, and as director of formation for Angelus Academy. WAY’s charism strongly emphasizes devotion to both the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the basis for an apostolate focused on the Incarnation; and the school is intended to be a faithful reflection of this charism. Along with a strong focus on the lives and teachings of the saints — what Maas calls "the human face of Catholic teaching" — its founders are also committed to bringing the transcendent power of the visual arts, music and drama to the task of religious education in a unique way. On the basis of strong personal conviction, Maas emphasizes the faith of the adults in the lives of the children. "I tell parents and catechists that, no matter what they think they are teaching, in the end, they are the 'curriculum.' What our little ones will remember is not any one lesson or experience but the person who made them want to live a life of faith. We teach what we are; and we become what we love."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2000