The Catholic Education Foundation was founded several years ago to preserve, promote, and expand “an extremely important asset that is in danger of disappearing”: the Catholic secondary school. The goals of the Foundation, states Founder and President A. Joseph Indelicato on the CEF’s website “include providing meaningful assistance to Catholic high schools through teacher formation programs [and] recruitment and retention of quality educators through competitive compensation.”
It also includes seminars aimed at informing and equipping church and school leaders to better carry out the vital mission of Catholic education. In August, the Catholic Education Foundation is holding a seminar, “The Role of the Priest in Today’s Catholic School”, in Long Island, NY. CWR recently corresponded with Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, CEF’s Executive Director, about the upcoming seminar and the work of the Foundation.
CWR: Who is this upcoming conference for, and why this particular topic?
Over the past several years, our Catholic Education Foundation has received consistent input from teachers, administrators, parents and bishops that most priests either do not know or fail to comprehend the critical importance of Catholic schools in the life of the Church, particularly as a vehicle of the new evangelization.
I recall the presentations of Archbishop Lucas and Bishop Flores at last year’s fall meeting of the USCCB. After noting that “the Bishop and the Pastor have an important role” in Catholic school maintenance and development, Bishop Flores remarked that to many, this may sound like a “throw-away” line. Unfortunately, that is not the case as all too many clerics over the past three decades have grown weary with the struggle to keep our schools viable, appealing and accessible. If it is true that “personnel is policy,” then the next statement of Bishop Flores is key: “As Bishops, we must make every effort to assign pastors to parishes with schools who are champions of Catholic schools.”
My own experience offers yet another dimension, namely, that the majority of the “junior clergy” are most supportive of Catholic schools, however, they do not know exactly what they can or should be doing to advance the cause, either because they did not attend Catholic schools themselves or went in an era when clerical involvement was low or even non-existent.
CWR: Can you tell readers a bit about the presentations and content of the conference?
This conference for priests and seminarians will take place at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Hungtington, Long Island, from August 18 to August 19.
It is an overnight program – “The Role of the Priest in Today’s Catholic School” – which includes workshops dealing with the following topics: Conciliar and Papal Teaching on Catholic Education; The History of Catholic Education in the United States; The Priest’s Presence in the School Community (Students, Faculty, Administration, Parents); The Priest as the Public Relations Man of the School; Financial Concerns; Models of Governance and Best Practices.
CWR: How important is the role of the clergy in the vitality and success of parochial schools? How and why has that changed over the past few decades?
In one of Cardinal Newman’s lectures, which became his famous Idea of a University, he makes the point that without the presence of the “institutional” Church in life of a Catholic university, the project is bound to lose its moorings. That is equally true of Catholic education at the lower levels. In the 1970s, it was not uncommon for liberated nuns to tell priests they were not welcome in the schools and that their only role was to pay the bills. Many priests of that generation became quite embittered and harbor those resentments to this day.
With the absence of priests, orthodoxy and Catholic identity waned in many places, leading to a further crisis in the schools. The mass exodus of women religious from the schools is yet another reason why the presence of priests is even more important than ever.
The involvement of a priest, however, is not simply or even primarily that of a watchdog; his involvement is needed to provide pastoral support for faculty and administration, to teach religion or other subjects according to his abilities, to be part of the lives of the students on the playground, in the cafeteria, for social and athletic events and, of course, for sacramental/liturgical services.
Not a few bishops – precipitously and foolishly, in my opinion – withdrew priests from high school work, yet the presence of priests there provided one of the most effective “recruitment” devices we ever had for priestly vocations. Dioceses that have kept priests there – or which are putting them back – know that.
CWR: What are some of the more common challenges facing priests in dealing with Catholic schools?
The first is that of regularly reminding his people that the Catholic school is an essential element of Catholic life – whether or not there is a parish school, whether or not individuals have children of school age – and, therefore, deserving wholehearted support.
Secondly, he must say some very unpopular things, for instance, that attendance at the government schools (the so-called “public” schools) places the souls of their children in jeopardy. Thirdly, he must ensure that no child is ever denied a Catholic education for want of financial resources. Fourthly, and this is often a very neuralgic piece of the whole project, he must help parents establish clear priorities: Is a winter vacation more important than a Catholic education for one’s children?
And so, we can see why CEF board member, Cardinal Sean O’Malley would say: “This is a most needed initiative, and I hope you obtain a healthy response from the dioceses.” I am happy to say that we are indeed obtaining a strong response from several dioceses.
CWR: How can readers learn more about the conference and register?
It would be wonderful if readers would promote this program with priests and even underwrite its costs. Further information can be found on our website: catholiceducationfoundation.com or by calling: 732-914-1222.
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