Feature Photos

Holy Trinity principal praises new role

By From page A1 | January 06, 2016

Holy Trinity School's new principal Christopher Nelson brings a dynamic, hands-on approach to the role. Village Life photo by Julie Samrick

Christopher Nelson hasn’t always been Catholic, but Holy Trinity School’s new principal has taken the reins to lead the school with gusto.

“Catholic schools brought me into the faith,” he said. Baptized Methodist, Nelson said he wasn’t practicing when he became a teacher in his native Southern California. The UCLA grad taught public elementary school, but once budget cuts came during the recession he was “low man on the totem pole” and unsure he’d have a job the next year.

At about the same time Nelson and his wife Rebecca were married at St. Monica’s parish in Santa Monica. The pastor kept in touch with the couple and asked if they’d share their experience, especially Nelson’s as a non-Catholic, with other couples. “I talked about how I felt welcomed there,” Nelson recalled. He shared with St. Monica’s pastor his concerns about his teaching job the next year.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?” Nelson said. “He pulled out his phone and called the principal.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

“Working in that environment, being in it every day, going to Mass with the students, teaching religion, scripture and Old Testament … really piqued my curiosity and set me off on a faith journey,” said Nelson, 33. “An aunt I was close with died around that time and I saw how her faith community circled around the family and supported my uncle. That made an impression on me too. I decided to take the leap.”

He went through RCIA and soon students began asking him if he’d be their confirmation sponsor.

“That was very special,” he said. “It was perfect timing.”

His faith would be strengthened again when his father battled esophageal cancer.

“He was my best friend,” Nelson said. His father had remarried earlier and the two were even best men at one another’s weddings.

“Having that renewed faith was just so important during that time,” Nelson said. He traveled with his father to the Catholic pilgrimage town of Lourdes, France, three months before his father died.

“I don’t know how I would’ve handled that loss if I didn’t have the faith. It really put me in a good place because I knew he was going to go on to heaven,” Nelson said. “I miss him, but it’s a hopeful thing because I know we’ll be together again.”

He described that experience as gaining gratitude. “That is what made me want to dedicate myself to Catholic education and giving back,” he said.

The move to Northern California was also fortuitous. While at a religious education conference Nelson was struck by a book title: “Saint Joseph – the Father of Jesus in a Fatherless Society.” He began to study the saint and took it as a sign when there was a job opening for principal at St. Joseph’s school in Auburn.

“I wasn’t looking to leave St. Monica’s,” he said. “I was assistant principal, but did feel my calling was to be a principal.”

He had applied for other principal positions, but felt his young age kept him back. He was thrilled to get the job at the pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade school and loved the slower pace of life in the Sierra foothills. After spending two-and-a-half hours on the freeway every day, “Getting out of L.A. and city living has allowed me more time with my family,” Nelson said.

He spent two years at St. Joseph’s before coming to Holy Trinity. “I was happy at St. Joseph’s,” he said.

Still when former principal and friend Tricia Uhrhammer told him she’d be retiring, he was intrigued.

“I have always admired Holy Trinity School and parish,” Nelson said. He was especially interested in how Monsignor James Kidder built a stewardship modeled parish, which includes a stewardship way of life. The culture of the parish all ties back to the idea that everything is a gift from God.

“Tricia also had a lot of wonderful things to say about the Holy Trinity School, staff and community,” Nelson said. He and Rebecca believed it might even be a better fit for their three children Wyatt, 5; Caroline, 3; and Bernadette, 1, and have since become Cameron Park residents.

Nelson has been the principal at Holy Trinity, a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school with 300 students since August and is often found away from his office. He might be found teaching a classroom lesson. If it’s lunchtime he may be outside throwing a football with students or running cross country practice with them after school.

He calls famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s book “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court” his favorite book of all time. “Coach Wooden teaches that industriousness and enthusiasm are the cornerstones of the pyramid of success,” it states in Nelson’s bio. “This is a teaching that (Nelson) tries to embody as he strives to foster a Catholic environment where students learn to live others-centered lives filled with passion and purpose.”

When asked if there’s anything he’d like to improve or build upon as Holy Trinity School’s new leader, Nelson said he has been impressed by one particular thing that makes the school really special and he plans to keep it that way.

“I have been struck since the beginning by the school’s culture of hospitality,” he said, no doubt beginning a long tenure at its helm.

Julie Samrick

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