From Brazil to Michigan to Cathedral and home

Bridges family tells their story of becoming Irish


Cathedran file photo

President Dr. Robert Bridges fires up the freshmen at last year’s orientation.

Maddie Wirth, Reporter

392 miles. It’s 392 miles between St. Francis High School in Traverse City, Michigan and Cathedral. It’s 392 miles that President Dr. Rob Bridges would move his wife and four kids to their new life. 

It begins in Detroit where Bridges would spend the first years of his life before moving to Traverse City. From the age of 6 to his St. Francis High School graduation, he would call that place home.

Something his kids never got to experience when he uprooted his four from their home and told them their family would be moving to Indianapolis.

Going to a new school. Making new friends. A new life. Starting over. 

Bridges attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer. He said he absolutely loved it. Besides majoring in communications and broadcasting, he was busy with sports. He flexed his intramural basketball and football championships and recounted the good times of broadcasting football games for the school’s station. 

Laughing, he said, “This makes me sound old, but we actually did it on tape delay. We would record it on a cassette recorder and then we would drop it down the press box to a guy that was waiting for us. Then, this guy, would run, like, a mile, half mile, back to the studio and play it for the school’s station. It was such a fun time.” 

St. Joseph’s College was closed in 2017 due to financial reasons.

Fast forward and now we are in Rio de Janeiro. Yes, Brazil. 

Marcia Adriana Lima Rolim was the national team captain of Brazil’s women’s water polo team. She and Bridges both worked at the American School. She was an elementary administrative assistant. He was a middle school resource center instructor and a coach. Loves his sports. 

They met. Their paths crossed. They fall in love. You know the whole cliché story?

No, no. This one’s different. Still in Brazil. It’s 1997. Nearly half the school comes to their wedding. Some 400 kids. Greeters, readers and loud singers. They sang along with Bridges’s brother to “Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver. Bridges said, “Everybody knew this song. Some didn’t even speak English, but they knew this song. It was pretty cool.” 

As he’s taken back to some of the most memorable times, he then shares that Brazil would be the birthplace of his first two. Robert “Robbie” Bridges ‘17 and Maria Gabriella “Gabi” Bridges ‘18 born in Rio.

The four of them moved back to Traverse City, Michigan. And then came the next two. Junior Daniela “Dani” Bridges and eighth-grader Samuel “Sammy” Bridges born on American soil. 

All four kids have dual citizenship in both the United States and Brazil.

It’s now 2006. Twenty years after Bridges’s high school graduation and he becomes principal of his alma mater. 

Now you’re probably wondering how he could have possibly ended up here. Wait, it’s coming. 

Bridges even says, “It’s not a good story. It’s a great one. Are you recording this?”

It’s 2010. Dr. Bridges heads to New Orleans for the Catholic Leadership Conference. Bridges was in Louisiana in the heat of both Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl. And by chance, at the exact same time, it would be the Indianapolis Colts playing Drew Brees and the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. 

“There’s about 200 high school principals and leaders in this room. Mardi Gras week. Super Bowl week. There’s a lot going on. But everybody from around the country is here, in New Orleans, fired up about the Saints ’cause I mean, we’re here right? Everyone’s got their Saints gear on except there’s these two.

“And finally after a day or so, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I really respect these Midwestern guys. I’m going to have to introduce myself.’ And so I did.”

It was none other than Principal Mr. Dave Worland and former President Mr. Steve Helmich. 

He shares how incredibly friendly the two men were and the relationship he was able to begin with Helmich. Helmich even invited Bridges to visit. 

And it would be Helmich, too, to email Bridges about his resignation and the open position as President of Cathedral High School.

Bridges’s answer was, “Thanks, but no thanks. I have three in high school next year and I always tell people not to move their kids during high school. That is not very nice.”

Helmich’s answer: “But, Rob, it’s Cathedral High School.”

“So I drove down again. I parked on the circle. Visited. I said to myself, ‘This could be nice.’” 

And so he applied for the job. He got the job. And the big 392-mile move was coming. 

This is his son’s senior year, mind you. “I told my kids. Oh, they were not happy. They hated me. I just said, ‘Trust me.’”

The six would move to Indianapolis just two weeks before school started. But they would spend nearly all of this time at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Back in Brazil. Their plane lands at 2 a.m., just hours before their first day. After a long day of traveling, they walk into a house full of boxes, no idea where anything is. 

The first day comes. 

“Gabi and Dani came into my office together, shut the door, looked at me and started bawling. I wasn’t sure what to do. I gave them a hug and just told them, ‘Tomorrow will be better.’” 

Gabi admitted that she cried multiple times her first day. She said she ate lunch in the bathroom alone. 

Robbie tried to stay positive his senior year, but he was going to hang his head low and just get this year over with. But on Sept. 16, Bridges announced to the whole school gathered in the Welch Activity Center that it was Robbie’s birthday and asked if the school could join in singing “Happy Birthday.”

Bridges said, “I didn’t know how tough it was for (Robbie) until he was in college and did a speech over an obstacle he had to overcome. He recorded it and sent it to me. But he ended up having a great year. He had a good group of friends that he stays in touch with. He was named prom king.”

Both Robbie and Gabi participated on mission trips. Gabi was on the swimming and diving team both years. They would be retreat leaders. They both attend Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. 

Just like other freshmen, starting high school and trying to find their place, Dani was able to be one of them, too. 

She said, “Without realizing it, it was easier for me than Robbie and Gabi. A lot of people were in the same boat. It was hard seeing groups of people that were middle school friends already. But I went in open-minded.”

Dani, like her sister, was a member of the swimming and diving team during their first school year on the Hill. She quit after a few months, but found her favorite part of Cathedral in India. She went on one of the summer Holy Cross immersion trips with theology teacher Mrs. Katie Lewis. 

Lewis said, “It takes a lot of bravery to go to another continent. When Dani was in India, you could see her spirit alive. She was just so good with the kids there.”

Dani said it was the best experience of her life and wants to head back for the summer of 2019. 

Lewis continued, “Their family as a whole has done a great job integrating themselves into our community. I really appreciate all they have done.” 

The sisters never imagined that their experience would be so great. Gabi said, “I truly felt apart of the Irish family and I wouldn’t change any part of my time there.”

As for Dr. Bridges’s experience, he highlights the school’s storied heritage and deep tradition. “To come to a school like this, especially just in time to prepare to celebrate the 100-year (anniversary), is so neat. The community of the school is true. It’s real.”

Bridges received his doctorate in Catholic education leadership and policy studies from the Catholic University in Washington, DC in December and arrived late to school the next morning. The office staff awaited his arrival with cheers, claps of applause and a decorated office full of balloons, and students signed a poster displaed on his office door. 

He said, “The way the people cheer on your success and pull you tight when things are tough makes Cathedral special. It’s just a great blessing.”

And it seems those 392 miles made the Bridges’ trip worth it.