The Catholic Education Foundation is hosting its second annual seminar on the role of the priest in today’s Catholic school at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia from July 19 to July 21. The intended audience is bishops, priests and seminarians and is based on the conviction of Fr. Peter Stravinskas, executive director of CEF, that the viability of Catholic schools is directly proportionate to the presence and activity of priests. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston and CEF board member concurs: “This is a most needed initiative, and I hope for a healthy response from the dioceses.”
Topics being covered in the three-day program include: conciliar and papal teaching on Catholic education; the history of Catholic education in the United States; the priestly presence in the school; financial concerns; models of governance and best practices. In addition to Fr. Stravinskas, some of the presenters are: Bishop George Murry, SJ, of Youngstown and a former high school principal; Sister Maureen McDermott, IHM, superintendent of secondary schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Anthony Pienta of the Philanthropy Roundtable. Through a cooperative effort with Holy Apostles Seminary, participants will also be able to earn graduate credit.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia sees his archdiocese as “ideal for such a gathering, given the history of our local church in the growth of Catholic education,” citing St. John Neumann’s role in the establishment of the U.S. Catholic school system and the fact that the first school superintendent of any diocese in the country was a priest of Philadelphia. He sees the seminar as “important in offering priests from around the country the skills they need to fill their essential role.”
CWR recently spoke with Fr. Stravinskas about the program.
CWR: How did last year’s conference enrich priest educators? How many participants attended?
Fr. Stravinskas: Without exception, every of the 25 priests who attended said that he appreciated the conference. Many said they learned things about the Church’s teaching on Catholic schools they never knew; others said that they received a shot of courage to be more proactive in challenging their parishioners to support our schools.
CWR: Can you provide some background on what the conference seminars entailed? What did priests get to experience and learn during the seminars? Which stood out to you as particularly helpful?
Fr. Stravinskas: We covered the history, theology and philosophy undergirding Catholic education. A number of sessions offered practical advice on how to exercise a priestly presence in the school. Many remarked that being in a pro-school environment gave them the assurance that they are not alone in promoting Catholic schools.
CWR: What are the most essential qualifications for an educator in a Catholic school? Is there a quality or skill that is most important? Why are priests uniquely suited for an educating role?
Fr. Stravinskas: Of course, a Catholic school teacher must, first of all, be a top-notch professional educator. Along with the necessary knowledge and skills any teacher should possess, the Catholic educator must be imbued with a deep faith and a sense of mission. Catholic education ought to be seen as the primary engine of Pope John Paul II’s “new evangelization.” Therefore, being a Catholic school teacher is not a job but a vocation, an apostolate. According to the Council of Trent, the very first responsibility of a priest is to teach and preach; it is a charism given us in a unique way through the Sacrament of Order.
CWR: Are there any differences between this year’s conference and last year’s? Is there an estimate for how many participants the conference will have this year, or hopes to have?
Fr. Stravinskas: The first and most obvious change is that I shall not be the one-armed paper hanger this year. Last year, I made all the presentations myself; this time around, thankfully, I have been able to assemble an excellent team to cover all the bases. One consistent request made by last year’s participants was to expand the conference from two days to three days – which we have done. There will also be more detailed attention given to financial matters. I hope we can double our number of participants.
CWR: An increasing problem in Catholic schools is “gender issues”, as many Catholic schools and educators are being pressured to kowtow to a secular understanding of gender by instituting same-gender restrooms, locker rooms and sports teams. How do you think a priest’s presence in a Catholic school could help with this issue?
Fr. Stravinskas: The priest is the chief spiritual leader in any Catholic school, responsible for the vision and direction of the school and, therefore, responsible for the education and formation of the entire school community: students, parents, faculty and administration. The priest’s input on “hot-button” issues is essential if the school is to maintain its Catholic identity.
For further information and registration, visit CEF’s website: catholiceducationfoundation.com.
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