One hour into his new role as principal of Bellarmine-Jefferson High School on Monday, Michael Stumpf was planning his message that “Bell-Jeff is here to stay.”

As outgoing Bell-Jeff principal John Matheus planned his departure from the school in March, he publicly expressed then that “I hope the school moves on.”

Now Stumpf inherits the school that had little more than 200 students last spring after a period of dwindling enrollment. One of his goals is to change that.

“Part of the job is to get the word out that we’re staying, and we’re going to grow,” he said.

Stumpf recently sent an email inviting parents to meet on campus. As he gets to know the staff and students, he’s hoping the school can create new traditions and “look at what excites the students,” he said.

Stumpf, 41, grew up in Erie, Penn., and went on to become an offensive guard for Indiana University in Bloomington. He later earned his masters in education administration from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

He landed in California eight years ago when he became assistant headmaster for student life at Villanova Preparatory School in Ojai.

After more than 15 years as an educator, Stumpf said he doesn’t equate his new role to “a job.” He defines it instead as “a ministry for our students.”

“Ever since I’ve worked at Catholic schools, it’s been important for me to be authentically Catholic,” he said. “The reason we’re here is our faith in Jesus Christ…to share that love with our students and our families.”

Although Stumpf acknowledges that teenagers will question their faith, “when they question, we have to have a loving answer for them.”

“God loves us and wants us to love him back,” he said. “We do that loving God and serving others. It’s not easy to give yourself to God and others. It’s easy to understand that concept; it’s not easy to do.”

He also said he knows not every student will graduate high school with a strong sense of God.

“They may not find God in high school,” Stumpf said. “But something that we do might change their hearts a little bit. That’s what we’re here for. Something we say now, later on in life, they might get it.”

-- Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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