New Cathedral High School President Rob Bridges
Writer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
Photography / Brian Brosmer
Robert Bridges was chosen as the sixth president to lead Cathedral High School by the Cathedral Board of Directors in October 2015 and began the new role July 1. Bridges knew from a young age that he wanted to do something that would have an impact. Trusting the desire to make a difference, he put in motion several life experiences that impacted his life and made the opportunity to work at Cathedral his fate.
Bridges made the decision at the age of 16 that he wanted to have an impact on the world, so he contacted the Peace Corps to inquire about the program and held onto the information until after college. The Peace Corps gave him the opportunity to do film, but the handicapped children he met left a mark on his heart and turned his attention toward education.
Upon his return to the United States, Bridges taught school in the New Jersey prison system and the toughest public school system in New York through a Peace Corps Fellowship at Columbia University where he also earned his Master of Education from Teachers College at Columbia University. After teaching and coaching at a high school in Grand Rapids, Bridges turned his attention back to seek an international teaching experience. Turns out this opportunity would change his life both professionally and personally.
Bridges’ application was accepted, and he was assigned to work for the American School in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, one of the most populous Catholic communities in the world. Another teacher had recently applied and was accepted to teach at the American School. Marcia, a Brazilian native, spoke English, so they connected right away. Marcia had spent several years playing water polo at the University of Utah and was the captain of the Brazilian National Water Polo team when they met. Their common interests in teaching, their Catholic faith and sports gave the couple a lot to talk about. They married in Marcia’s native Rio de Janeiro, and two of their four children were born there. Eventually, the family returned back to Michigan where Bridges returned to teaching and leadership positions, and their younger two children were born.
“Seven years ago when it was announced that Rio would host the Olympics, we made a decision to make this a family trip. Our children are bilingual, and we made a promise to return to Brazil as often as we could to stay connected with Marcia’s family. This worked out well for them because Marcia’s father and three brothers live right there, and they have apartments two blocks off the beach from Copacabana. Over the years, we have created our own exchange program, bringing her niece and nephew in from Brazil to live with us for the summer and sending our kids to Brazil to live with her family for the summer.” The family had the privilege of being comfortable travelling around Rio and also being American where they connected with a lot of the U.S. athletes like Michael Phelps and made for some pretty tremendous photo opportunities.
The opportunity to pursue the role of president at Cathedral actually started in 2009 when Bridges attended a Catholic leader’s conference in New Orleans when the Indianapolis Colts played the Saints in the Super Bowl. It was Mardi Gras week and Lent. It was a huge week, and everyone was wearing Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ “Who Dat Nation” shirts and his jerseys. Everyone, that is, except two guys, Steve Helmich and Dave Worland, who were decked out in their Colts jerseys. “I introduced myself, and this was the beginning of a professional relationship that ultimately led to my even being aware of the opportunity at Cathedral last summer. I loved my school in Michigan, but Cathedral High School is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
The decision was not made lightly. Bridges knew the opportunity would be great professionally, but that also meant considering how his children, Robbie, 18 , a senior; Gabi, 16, a sophomore; Daniella, 14, a freshman; and the youngest Sammy, 11, would feel transferring into a new school. This was not an easy task, especially since the family was happy with their community, and Bridges was comfortable in his role as Head of Muskegon Catholic Central, a K-12 school system in Michigan.
But Bridges, a doctoral student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., knew that even though he was leaving an amazing opportunity, many things fell into place for this position, confirming that Cathedral was the right choice.
“I am humbled and honored to be selected as the next President of Cathedral,“ Bridges says. “My family and I are excited to join a new Catholic community with strong traditions of high achievement and service to others. I am committed to ensuring Cathedral’s continued viability and vibrancy for another generation of students in the Holy Cross tradition.”