Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Schools’

Revive Our Catholic Schools

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Here is a great piece on Catholic education from the New York Daily News by Peter Meyer:

Church officials and educators have not given up, and there are numerous initiatives that have been launched in the last 20 years meant to staunch the hemorrhaging. The church’s extensive network of religious orders have picked up some of the educational slack, expanding their networks of schools, especially for the poor…

These are promising initiatives, but in this Holy Season, Catholics should consider their history, especially those times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when they were not the dominant American religion, but an outcast group. And it was in 1884, at a Baltimore enclave of Bishops, that church leaders ordered every Catholic parish to create a Catholic school and all Catholic parents to send their children to them, creating one of the most successful grassroots church revivals in history.

Read the rest here.

NY Post: “Catholic schools’ secret: love”

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Here is a wonderful piece on our Catholic schools–during Catholic Schools Week–in the New York Post by Bill McGurn:

We don’t speak much about love in education, not even during Catholic Schools Week. Instead, we focus on more tangible measures of success: how 99 percent of Catholic school students get their high-school diplomas; how a black or Latino child is 2.5 times more likely to graduate from college if he or she has attended a Catholic high school; how Catholic schools manage to do all this at a fraction of the cost of public schools…

Back when he was playing for the New York Jets, Damien Woody sent his children to St. Vincent’s even though his family wasn’t Catholic. At a Christmas concert, a fellow parent asked him why. He answered, “My wife and I believe that a school where they love God will love my children.”

Read the rest here.

Grit, Pride, Love, and Determination: What Makes Our Catholic Schools Succeed

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

As we begin Catholic Schools Week, let me send an early Valentine to all our wonderful students, teachers, principals, staffs, volunteers, boards, benefactors, parents, parishioners, and clergy who, with God’s grace and the sound heritage we’ve inherited, keep them strong.

We’ve been through a lot of trial. Forty-five years ago, especially as it became obvious that we would soon no longer have the precious resource of a numberless supply of our beloved Sisters, Brothers, and Priests, many predicted the demise of Catholic schools.

My predecessors would not let this happen. Not only were Cardinals Cooke, O’Connor, and Egan personally fervent about the inestimable value of our schools, but they knew you were as well.

Our schools got their problems for sure. But, they’re still the best thing we got for passing on our faith and for providing a first-rate education. Everybody – - friend and foe alike – - acknowledges this.

I sometimes wonder if the trials and hardship that come with our Catholic Schools are actually what make them so good. When you’ve got boards, principals, and priests who have to scrape for every dime; when parents have to sacrifice luxuries and even some essentials to keep their kids in our schools; when grandparents and volunteers pitch in to paint classrooms and repair leaks; when you’ve got teachers who could make a lot more money elsewhere, but freely choose Catholic schools; well, then you’ve got grit, pride, love, and determination.

Hits keep coming. Two weeks ago, the renowned Sisters of the Sacred Heart made the deeply painful decision, in concert with their dedicated board, that their splendid Mother Cabrini High School would not be able to open next fall. And another high school that’s already fighting hard just to stay alive, Monsignor Scanlon, was damaged severely by fire.

Sometimes we feel like saying with St. Theresa of Jesus, “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have very many!”

Yet, the signs of hope are radiantly there. Our regionalization, while still in first gear, is working. The boards that now govern our regional and archdiocesan high schools have brought energy, competence and a sense of ownership. Pathways to Excellence – - our strategic plan for Catholic education – - continues to be implemented, with special attention to renewed Catholic identity, strengthened academic performance, financial stability, and more effective marketing. And there seems a very good chance that Albany will finally come through and approve the Education Investment Tax Credit.

As Sister Diane told me a couple weeks ago when I spent the morning at Santa Maria school in the Bronx, “I love our kids. When I get, tired and discouraged, wondering if it’s worth the massive effort, all I do is look at them. It’s all worth it. We can’t let them down.”

Thanks, everybody, for not letting our kids down.

Ways to Love the Poor with Pope Francis

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Pope Francis is an excellent teacher.  He’s a classical Jesuit, and has himself taught in high school (chemistry and literature, I hear) in Argentina.

An effective pedagogue sets a few clear goals for his class.  “Professor” Francis sure has done so for the Church, for the world, for all God’s children.

Among his goals is a call to love and serve the poor.  No surprise, since this is a clear, clean goal of Jesus in the gospels.

This month of January presents us a chance to grow in our love and service of the poor.

January 20th is the birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, a man admired by Pope Francis, a man prophetic in his summons to racial justice and equal opportunity for the poor.

Then, January 22 is the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn Baby.  Is anyone more vulnerable, more fragile, more in need of love, care, and protection than the unborn baby in her mother’s womb?

January 26 – February 2 finds us again in the Feeding Our Neighbor Campaign, as we come together in the cold to collect food to stock our shelters, soup kitchens, and parish pantries, responding to the Lord who said, “When I was hungry you gave me to eat.”

And, January 26 – February 1 is Catholic Schools Week.  The experts tell us that one of the tried-and-true ways of helping the poor escape a trapped-life is by educating the children in one of our excellent Catholic schools.  They’re really the best “War on Poverty” programs around.

Not bad messages — from Jesus and Pope Francis — this first week of the year.

Great Supporters of Our Schools

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

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!”


Our Precious Catholic Schools

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

It’s Catholic Schools’ Week.

With what we’ve just been through, some might think that we’d more appropriately observe it the week of All Souls’ Day, or Memorial Day, both occasions when we remember the dead!

Last week’s sad closings could lead some to conclude that our beloved Catholic Schools are dying, or, to repeat the term I’ve used before, that our excellent schools are in hospice, a terminal patient we’re just trying to keep comfortable until they pass away.

Not so!

Jesus observed that a vine must be pruned if it is to continue providing good fruit.

Our precious Catholic schools are a vine that produces exquisite fruit: the best academics; a safe, secure, loving, disciplined atmosphere; an emphasis on faith, virtue, and character.

This vine must be pruned. This hurts. To be blunt, if we did not close some of our splendid schools now, pretty soon we’d be close to shutting them all down.

The schools we now have, after the somber decision to close the twenty-four last week, will be fuller, even better, and more financially sound. Thus, please God, we should not have any more long lists of closings in the future.

Thus, our schools are not in hospice, but in the recovery room, with a future filled with health, vitality, confidence, quality, and hope.

This hardly takes away the sting from the children, teachers, parents, priests, and parishioners of the schools that have to close, all of which, by the way, were first rate schools. They didn’t have to close because they were academically inferior — quite the contrary — but because they were at low enrollment, and were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. In fact, last year alone the archdiocese gave these schools $8,323,689 just to stay open. We don’t have that kind of money!

Thanks to all those who now mourn, who struggled so hard to keep their good schools going.

Not that our schools are just a business. Not so! None of them make money! If we only kept schools open which were in the black, we’d have none.

Our parishes, benefactors, and the archdiocese will always have to — and want to — support our schools. It’s just that we have to use the money of God’s people wisely, not on schools that are losing children every year, and show no signs of financial stability, or an increase in enrollment.

And there’s our main challenge: to increase enrollment! Each of the schools that grimly have to close could have remained open if more parents had sent their children there.

And, we must re-double our efforts to make sure we follow through on our pledge to provide a Catholic education to any child who seeks one, particularly those whose schools will close in June. We have placement counselors available in all the regions of the archdiocese, ready and eager to assist parents in learning about the other schools in their area, so that they can make the best choice for their children. What’s important, these counselors will remind the parents, is not that their child attend Catholic school in a particular building, but that their child attend a Catholic school, particularly one that looks forward to welcoming new students (and they all do), that has high academic standards and a record of achievement (and they all do), and provides a solid formation in the faith (and they all better!). Two years ago, when we had our first round of school closings, nearly two-thirds of the children were re-enrolled in other nearby Catholic schools. Not bad, especially when you consider that in the past we were happy if we got 50% to move to another Catholic school. With experience, we’re hoping to do even better this time around.

Why would Catholic parents not send their children to a Catholic school? Beats me. But, we better find out.

Remember the days of waiting lists and jammed classrooms? What happened?

One hears an abundance of replies: Catholic schools cost too much; the public schools in my area aren’t that bad; the school in my parish is hardly Catholic at all. Add to that our society’s de-emphasis of religion, and the decimation of the intact Catholic culture of five decades ago, and I guess we have a buffet of reasons.

Yet, the fact remains: in academic excellence, preparation for life, and formation in the faith, for all their worries, nobody does it better than Catholic schools.

Pardon the cliché, but that’s why we want to change the mourning into morning.

Our strategy is clear:

. . . Catholic schools are our “pearl of great price”;

. . . we will struggle and sacrifice not only to see that they survive but that they flourish;

. . . to do so, we can’t do “business as usual”;

. . . our system of Catholic schools may be a bit leaner than before, but it is stonger;

. . . every Catholic, every parish, must support a school;

. . . our schools will remain A+, accessible, and, affordable.

Happy Catholic Schools’ Week!

The New York Post Celebrates Catholic Schools

Monday, January 28th, 2013

As we begin National Catholic Schools Week, I’d like to share with you a wonderful editorial published by the New York Post today on our beloved Catholic schools.

In short, the Big Apple’s Catholic schools are doing the job so many public schools are failing to do, and doing it at a much lower cost. Here’s just one comparison: The average cost per pupil for an elementary student in a Catholic school is $6,800 per year. By contrast, taxpayers pay $6,900 just to bus a kid to public school.

Plainly, the 105,398 students in our Catholic schools (about 10 percent of the public-school population) benefit mightily from the education they receive. This, after all, is a system that boasts two alums on the Supreme Court: Justices Antonin Scalia (Xavier Prep in Manhattan) and Sonia Sotomayor (Blessed Sacrament and Cardinal Spellman in The Bronx).

The Catholic schools are also a bargain for New York taxpayers. Multiply those 105,000 students by the city’s average spending per pupil, and the savings easily hit $2 billion a year.

Read the rest here.

Tearful News

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

As much as I enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend, especially with my mom, brother, sister-in-law, and their three children here with me, I was very preoccupied.

Because I knew that Monday would bring very somber news: 26 of our beloved schools could no longer make it, and would be prepared for closing in June after this school year.

I dread this! I’d rather be opening new schools, not closing some! Those poor children, teachers, parents, parishes, and high schools! They love their schools! They fight hard to make them work! Some have just settled into these schools after the previous closing of others. This is very sad . . .

No denying it . . . yes, it is very sad, for all of us, me included. It’s bad news.

So, I try to concentrate on the good news, as clouded as it might be by the somberness of the closings.

For one, these tough decisions were long in coming, after over a year of study, discussion, consultation, and debate by priests, parents, and experts close to the scene.

Two, we did everything we could, with the archdiocese alone investing tens of millions of dollars into the schools, in addition to grants from generous parishes, benefactors, and parents sacrificing to pay tuition.

Three, and very importantly, near-by every sadly closed school is another splendid Catholic school, with room, eager to welcome every student from a closing school, with counselors from our school office ready to expedite this transfer.

Four, our long range plan, Pathways to Excellence, continues. Remember when this promising project began three years ago, we were candid with you that we would face two sets of school closings, since, sadly, “the vine must be pruned if it is to grow.” The first wave of closings came two years ago, and now, grimly, we face the ones announced yesterday.

Five, though, this should be it! While I can’t promise you that, in the future, a school might have to close, I can at least tell you that we envision no more “Black Mondays” like yesterday when we have to announce dozens of them.

Finally, keep the goal in mind: a strong, vibrant system of excellent Catholic schools, accessible and available to all our children, continuing the two-century legacy of private, faith-based, character-forming education, with a track record the envy of all!

To those tearful over the closings — and I include myself — I say, “I am very sad and sorry your own school, after a valiant effort by so many, can no longer make it. Thank you for your devotion. But, do not be afraid! While your own beloved school might not be open next September, our Catholic schools will, and there is a desk for you! The address of your school might change; the quality and welcome of a new one will not.”

God’s Work of Art

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

A year-or-so-ago, on Pentecost Sunday, appropriately, I had one of those rare-but-dramatic moments of divine illumination.

I had just finished celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for about two-dozen of our special needs children.

None other than the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, had attended that 10:15 Mass at St. Patrick’s that morning, and was very moved by the ceremony.  She graciously asked to meet each of the children and their beaming families.

As I began the introductions, I bought her to our first child.  “Madam President” I began, “this is a wonderful Down Syndrome young man.”

The proud parents, with all the courtesy and respect possible, wisely and properly corrected me.  “Oh, no, Archbishop Dolan and Madam President!  This is Mark, who happens to have Down Syndrome.”

That was a moment of inspiration for me!  I am eternally grateful to those parents.

I trust you understand the essential distinction those loving parents made:  Mark’s identity is a child of God, made in God’s own image and likeness, redeemed by the Precious Blood of God’s only Son, Jesus.  Mark, God’s work of art, happens to have a condition called Down Syndrome.  But, he is hardly identified by the condition that he has.

Get it?  I tell you who expressed it well:  Blessed John Paul II, who said, “Being is much more significant and essential than having or doing.  And the greatest temptation we face is to prefer having and doing more than being.”

Once, as a parish priest, I had the heart-wrenching duty of sitting with a family sobbing over their husband and dad’s suicide.  This young father had sunk into a deep depression six-months previously when he had lost his job.

He had left a note, somberly writing his wife and kids, “I’m of no use to you anymore because I can’t work.”

Never will I forget his ten-year old son tearfully whispering, “But he was still my dad.”

That boy got the distinction: his dad might not be able to do what most dads do — work, so the family could have what they need.  But, he was still his dad.

Being is more important than having or doing.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught — pardon the Latin! — agere sequitur esse – “actions flow from being!”  What we do springs from who we are.

A recovering addict once shared with me that, before the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, after a three week binge that had left him literally in the gutter, he prayed “I am nothing but a helpless, desperate, worthless drunk.”  He kept repeating it, he told me, working himself into a more dungeon-like gloom.  Until he came to his senses, clearly through God’s grace and mercy, and exclaimed, “No, I’m not!  I am child of God, unconditionally loved by Him, made in His very image, destined for an eternity with Him — who happens to be addicted to alcohol!”

His identity was much more than his addiction.  The reaffirmation of his identity led to his recovery.

We are not defined by our addictions, wealth, nationality, color, sexual attraction, urges, popularity, grades, health, age, property, background, résumé, political party, or stock portfolio.

We have an inherent identity, a dignity, from God.

Everything we do, or don’t do — morality – flows from the belief about who we are — provided by our faith.

Today we often hear, “I sure appreciate all the things the Church does — its charities, schools, healthcare, even its worship, feast days, sacraments, and traditions.  But I could care less about what the Church teaches, and can’t understand why our religion is so ‘hung up’ on all that doctrinal stuff.”

I’m afraid those who claim that you got it backwards: all the good things the Church does flows from who we are, the faith we have which provides us our very identity.  We do good stuff precisely because of our faith.

Who we are is infinitely more important than what we have or do.

Keeping the Faith

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

I was not that surprised to read it, were you?

The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago had a fine piece by Peter Beinart, very effectively making the point that, if Jews in the United States are worried about their children and grandchildren keeping the faith – - and are they ever worried! – - well, the best course of action is to support Jewish grade and high schools.

Mr. Beinart convincingly shows that Jewish children who attend Hebrew private schools are statistically much more likely, as adults, to practice their Jewish faith, attend synagogue, marry a Jewish spouse, and pass on the faith of Israel to their own children.

He remarks that American Judaism is at a crisis, with more and more Jews leaving their faith, and not raising their own children as faithful Jews.  A strong Jewish school system, argues the author, will correct that.

Sound familiar?  We Catholics have known this for years:  there is no more tried-and-true way of passing on our Catholic faith to our kids than by sacrificing to put them in a Catholic school.  Data proves they persevere in the faith at higher rates, pray better, are more faithful to Sunday Mass, live gospel values, are more generous to their parish, even have happier marriages, volunteer more, and transmit the faith to their own children, than those not in a Catholic school.

In our nation’s history, Catholic schools had two goals:  to educate excellently, and to form children in the faith.  Both are essential.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with leaders in our Catholic high schools.  They observed that, in some of their areas, the public schools were, thank God, offering a good education.  Lord knows, they remarked, their facilities, and the frills in the government schools, were more dazzling than the Catholic high schools.

So, they asserted, there was only one reason for a parent to sacrifice financially to send his/her son/daughter to the Catholic high school:  formation in faith, values, character, discipline, and religion . . . along with a first class education.

In other words, Catholic identity is a priority.

If our schools are not visibly and robustly Catholic, let’s save a lot of money and close them in areas where our children can get a decent academic education free of charge.

Our Jewish neighbors have come to know that; we had best rediscover it!