Feast of St. Augustine, Year of Faith
The approach of Labor Day means that school starts soon!
As the doors of our Catholic grade and high schools re-open to welcome 75,000 of our children and youth, it’s a good time to praise God for the gift they are, and to thank God for the passionate promoters, leaders, and benefactors who have fought, advocated, cajoled, and begged to keep these schools strong, excellent, affordable, and accessible.
In recent months, we’ve lost three giants in that crusade to sustain our Catholic schools: Ted Forstmann, Paul Woolard, and Peter Flanigan. I was honored to know them all, and commend them to the Lord for their radiant generosity to our schools.
Ted Forstmann would tell you that it was his brother, Nick, and his then archbishop, John Cardinal O’Connor, who coaxed him into advocating for our schools. The Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic Schools was established by Cardinal Terence Cooke, and, later, then auxiliary Bishop Edward Egan, and Nick was one of the pioneers over three decades ago, and he eventually lassoed his at first reluctant brother, Ted, into it.
Ted would confess that he came aboard later just to get Nick “off his back,” and because Cardinal O’Connor bluntly asked him at breakfast, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” Yes, Ted admired our schools for their splendid academics and emphasis on character, virtue, and faith, but he also admitted that, as a successful businessman, he considered support for our struggling schools to be a shrewd investment, producing competent, reliable leaders for the community, and because private schools served as healthy competitors to the unhealthy monopoly of public education. This is what lead him to co-found the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to students in Catholic and other private schools throughout the country.
Paul Woolard was there at the start, again with Cardinal Cooke, and Sister Eymard Gallagher, and he felt himself, he told me, a salesman for our schools. He and Sister would spend all day going from office-to-office, visiting prominent business and civic leaders, Catholic or not, to ask their support. Much of the credit for the vast network of loyal, ongoing investment into our schools that is characteristic of this community, evident in our sparkling and effective Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic Schools, and, through many of the donors that Paul brought to our schools, the creation of our Partnership for Catholic Schools, all due to Paul’s relentless salesmanship. With his ever buoyant wife Ruth at his side, he would “not let up.” Due to his passion for our schools, we now have second and third generation supporters we can count on.
Then last month we buried Peter Flanigan. The same indefatigable energy he gave to serving his country, to politics, and to business, he showed to his beloved Catholic schools. He was a man of ideas, of alternatives, of principles, and a “dog with a bone” when it came to our schools.
An intensely loyal and committed Catholic, Peter’s fidelity promoted him to tell the truth, especially to us bishops. Ever respectful, he was hardly unctious or subservient, and he was most effective in prophetically calling us to protect our schools, to never give up.
I must tell you that, at first, he was suspicious of our Pathways to Excellence, which called for painful closings of some struggling, half-full schools, resulting in fewer, but stronger, regional schools.
“Don’t close any of them!” was his early refrain. But, his more dominant mantra was, “It’s not about buildings, it’s about our kids!” Once Dr. Tim McNiff, Monsignor Greg Mustaciuolo, and I could show him that, as many, if not more of our children would benefit from our schools, even if in fewer buildings, he was on board.
Never did he let up on the injustice of the government’s refusal to allow parents to designate their tax money for the school of choice for their kids.
True to his own family background, Peter had a big Irish heart for our Catholic school children, and a steely German determination to keep them strong and successful!
Thank God, there are more like them, as the legacy of Forstmann, Woolard, and Flanigan goes on.
I dream that, when they met the Divine Teacher face-to-face, Jesus thanked them for “letting the children come to me!”