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A Catholic you want to know: Manuel Ordoñez

Trinity teacher who faced violence in El Salvador takes his mentoring role seriously

Published: September 23, 2019   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Manuel Ordonez teaches Spanish II to ninth graders at Trinity Junior High School Sept. 9.

Why you want to know Manuel Ordoñez: Trinity Junior High School’s new Spanish teacher aims to inspire students to excel not only in Spanish but in life. In a classroom filled with positive messages, he wears a T-shirt saying, “Never Give Up.”

Growing up during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, Ordoñez spent much of his childhood indoors. When the war ended, he attended Don Bosco University for three years and worked as a radio DJ and television audio engineer.

He came to Fort Smith when he was 24, working first as a dishwasher and later in a chicken plant. When he met his future wife, ESL teacher Julie McFarland, she encouraged him to get his degree, earning his bachelor’s degree in Spanish education while working toward citizenship.

While he was teaching at Howard Elementary School, Mayor George McGill asked him to start a mentoring program, Golden Knights, for young boys.

Parish: Christ the King

City: Fort Smith

Age: 41

Family: Married to Julie McFarland-Ordoñez; one 8-year-old son, Aaron.



What feeds you spiritually?
I am inspired by Matthew 23:37-38 to love God with all my heart and soul and love my neighbor as myself. I pray every night to be God’s instrument and encourage others to keep working and never give up. Trinity’s weekly Masses, daily prayer and emphasis on service bless me every day.


How do your community involvements reflect your desire to be God’s instrument?
My goal is to reach children with positive messages because there is so much negativity in the media. When my brother came here in 10th grade, my friends told me to put him to work to help me with the bills, but I knew that education is more important. He is 27 years old today, an assistant principal in a middle school, having earned two master’s degrees.

I began the #BetterMe Project to encourage kids to read. I worked with Bookish to put a bookshelf filled with children’s books in The Barber Room. Every child who reads to the barber while getting a haircut gets $3. We are bringing the program to a second barber shop in a few weeks and hope to expand it throughout Fort Smith.

I have talked to the guidance counselor and administration at Trinity to begin a mentoring program based on the Golden Knights program I participated in at Howard Elementary. We will start with five kids and meet to talk about social skills, struggles and real life stories of people who overcame obstacles.

I am visiting area churches to speak to the Hispanic community about voter registration.


What is the guiding principle of your life?
When I was a child, my parents took me on a bus to San Salvador to go to the hospital. Our bus was shot on, and they threw me on the floor, covering me with their bodies. When we got off the bus at San Salvador, the sides of the bus were riddled with bullet holes. When I grew up I saw so many young people become drug dealers with MS-13. I didn’t want to be part of a gang and mess up children’s lives. God protected me for a reason. God made me wait to become a teacher to test my faith, experiencing so many setbacks, disappointments and frustration, but through all those I learned that God had put greatness in me as well. I want my students and all children in our community to believe in themselves and achieve their life goals.

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