California’s first Catholic school sparks controversy by removing statues

“Over the last few years we’ve had fewer Catholic students as part of the community and a larger number of students of various faith traditions. Right now about 80 percent of our families do not identify as Catholic.”

Statue of St. Dominic. (Image: Alf van Beem/Wikipedia)

San Anselmo, Calif., Aug 29, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Parents are concerned after a California Catholic school has removed several religious statues from its campus in an effort to be more inclusive of other faiths.

San Domenico School in San Anselmo, California removed several religious statues from display on campus, donating some and relocating others to storage.

Many parents and members of the school community expressed worry  that this could signify an erasure of the school’s Catholic identity.

Shannon Fitzpatrick, whose 8 year-old son attends the school, voiced her objections to the removal of the statues to the school’s board of directors, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

“Articulating an inclusive foundation appears to mean letting go of San Domenico’s 167-year tradition as a Dominican Catholic school and being both afraid and ashamed to celebrate one’s heritage and beliefs,” she said.

Cheryl Newell, who had four children graduate from the school, echoed concerns that attempts to be inclusive were actually erasing the school’s identity.

“They’re trying to be something for everyone and they’re making no one happy,” she told the Marin Independent Journal.

San Domenico was the first Catholic school in the state of California, founded by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael in 1850. It now operates as an Independent Catholic school, meaning that most day-to-day decisions and operations are decided by the school’s board and administration, not by a parish or a religious order. The Dominican sisters maintain sponsorship of the school, as well as the approval of certain decisions like board members or the budget.

The school is within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, but runs largely independently of the archdiocese, archdiocesan spokesman Michael Brown told CNA. The canonical responsibility for the school falls to the Sisters.

Brown added that the archdiocese would have further clarifying conversations with school officials about the removal of the statues.

“We are going to be in contact with the school, just to clarify what the situation is, but it isn’t in any sort of crisis mode,” he said. “There’s just been a lot of publicity and public concern, so we’ll be having private conversations with the school hierarchy.”

School officials have maintained that the removal of the statues was in compliance with a plan that was approved unanimously by the school board, and that it was part of an attempt to be more welcoming to the growing number of non-Catholic students at the school.

“Over San Domenico’s 167-year history as California’s oldest independent and Catholic school, we have adjusted the number of statues on campus many times, and our recent effort is part of that continuum; the recent political climate and conversation have served to distort our intentions,” Kimberly Pinkson, Director of Marketing and Communications for the school, told CNA.

Pinkson added that previous numbers and photos shared by the media were misleading.

“For the record, there were 16 statues on campus prior to the school year and today there are 10 statues on campus,” she said.

She added that another photo of a statue that had been published had actually been in storage since 1965.

“In addition…at the start of this school year we moved our statue of St. Dominic to a more prominent place at the center of our school and put up a plaque honoring St. Dominic as our School’s patron saint. The plaque was placed the first week of school, prior to this news cycle. There has been and there is no plan to move any other statues,” she added.

Fitzgerald said she was concerned that the removal of the statues was only the latest in an overall backing away from the school’s Catholic identity, including “the word ‘Catholic’ has been removed from the mission statement, sacraments were removed from the curriculum, the lower school curriculum was changed to world religions, the logo and colors were changed to be ‘less Catholic,’ and the uniform was changed to be less Catholic,” she said.

Cecily Stock, Head of School, told the Marin Independent Journal that the removal of sacraments from the curriculum was on account of a lack of interest from families, not an attempt to erase the school’s Catholic identity.

“Over the last few years we’ve had fewer Catholic students as part of the community and a larger number of students of various faith traditions. Right now about 80 percent of our families do not identify as Catholic.”

Kate Martin, Director of Communications for the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, told CNA that the publicity surrounding the removal of the statues has sparked a “good but hard” conversation about how to be welcoming of everyone while maintaining a Catholic identity.

She said the question can be especially difficult in a place as religiously and ethnically diverse as California, where Christian and Catholic values are not common.

“The Dominican values are still being taught (at the school) every minute, but there are lots of other families that have been coming to the school. How do we reach out and embrace everybody who wants this Dominican education?…how do we continue Catholic education and have lots of different families of different backgrounds?” she said.

Martin added that she did not believe the school “intended for this kind of upset” and that the sisters would be looking into the situation more deeply in the coming days, including exactly how many statues were removed or remained, and what will happen to the statues that will no longer be displayed.


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    • As best I understand the faith, Jesus was the most inclusive person in all of history. Anything that attempts to minimize his presence is exclusionary, not inclusionary.

      • Jim : I don’t believe you understand the Faith. Simply read any of the Gospels –I’m reading John right now –I’m halfway through. Jesus is without doubt not inclusive! On the contrary he is exclusive. Read for yourself. Read just one Gospel through. he is very hard on the Jews particularly. He calls them liars and refers to their Father as the Father of lies ( Satan , the devil ). he also refers to their synagogue as the “synagogue of Satan”. Does that sound exclusive to you ? Hear what He and the apostles have to say about Sin and False Religions. –It’s not pretty !

        • Dennis–Jim is right, although your point is not irreconcilable with his. Jesus was the most inclusive person in the sense that he calls everybody- and the most exclusive in that he calls them to ONE truth. A Catholic school can accept members of all faiths, but with goal of evangelization in mind!!!

        • Dennis: Jesus was a Jew. He,his mother Mary and father Joseph were also Jews and lived Jewish lives. Jesus was not referring to Jews in general but to the Pharisees and Sadducees who did not love their brothers and sisters. Jesus taught love for everyone. He preached to the gentiles, not just Jews. He wanted everyone to “love God with all their heart, mind, and soul, and to love their neighbor as themselves.”

        • This is just nutty. Jesus never condemned the Jews at all. He was a Jew, and he said not a jot of their law would be changed. You apparently failed biblical interpretation 101

          • Jesus most certainly condemned the leaders of the Jews. Calling them children not of Abraham as they claimed but the Devil – which is why they pushed Pilate to crucify him.

      • Jim, it is not “either or” but “both and”. I teach at a Catholic school in the Bay Area and we are proud to have a strong Catholic identity and we are inclusive and respect all people of different faiths. That’s how we can evangelize others, by witnessing to our inclusivity but without compromising who we are; just like Jesus did.

    • I would imagine that non Catholics are sending their children thee BECAUSE it is supposed to be a Catholic School and all that represents in this crazy world. Why ruin it for THEM?

  1. To be more welcoming to the growing number of non-Catholic students? Or a sell out to the world and a turning away from Christ? More likely the latter.

  2. A few points – there is no mention here of which saints were removed. Second, it seems a bit silly to speak of Dominican values when the school has clearly forgotten its Dominican “mission” which is to have classes that evangelize the faith. It is more likely that the school has fewer Catholic students because it cares less about promoting Catholicism and hence can make the poor excuse that no one is interested in certain classes about what the school itself seems to have lost interest in long before. Third: just some friendly advice – can the director of marketing and hire a Latin teacher.

  3. “‘The Dominican values are still being taught (at the school) every minute, but there are lots of other families that have been coming to the school. How do we reach out and embrace everybody who wants this Dominican education?…how do we continue Catholic education and have lots of different families of different backgrounds?’ she said.” The answer is a no-brainer for anyone possessing an apostolic spirit and normal Christian discernment. Those who do not possess this spirit and whose identity is less than Christocentric have no business running a Catholic school–indeed, no right under Heaven, human mandates notwithstanding. If a group of Cathar or Waldensian parents had approached St. Dominic and the nuns at Notre Dame de Prouille about educating their children response despite reservations, the response would have been clear: Unambivalent joy with loving effort to win their hearts over to the Catholic faith. Fundamental Dominican values are the same as they were 800+ years ago. … Purpose?: LAUDARE-BENEDICERE-PRAEDICARE. By what means?: CONTEMPLARE ET CONTEMPLATA ALIIS TRADERE. Centering on and handing on what?: VERITAS In what manner?: VERITATEM FACIENTES IN CARITATE.

    • Thank you, father. The state of Catholic Schools is very painful. If they indeed would have the spirit of St. Dominic they do welcome all students but not to keep them in darkness and under the yoke of falsehoods and heresies but to the Truth and Life of Christ Our Lord.

    • As a Dominican Friar I am deeply distressed that a Catholic institution has chosen to succumb to the pressures of our secular society, which wants to deny the objective truth, Veritas, that God is present among us. Statues are a constant reminder that God is with us. Centuries ago stained glass windows were erected to tell the story of Christ when an agrarian-peasant community could not read. In this moment in our history when we are living in a post-Christian culture these statues represent a continuity with our past, in other words our TRADITION. The beauty of these statues are meant to lift our minds and hearts to God and the things of heaven. We need these sacramentals to inspire us to things above rather than what is on earth when our culture is slipping into depravity. In my opinion, those who have made this decision on behalf of inclusivity are seeking to promote a private school focused merely on placement in secondary schools of higher education. This is totally inconsistent with their desire to promote inclusivity. Inclusivity has nothing to do with test scores, advancement, and the cost of private education. I was a pastor with a school of 800 children. Not every child was Catholic but they were not offended by the Christian symbols, theology classes and celebration of mass. They and their parents knew what to expect when they enrolled them in a Catholic school. This is true inclusivity when children of different faiths can appreciate the similarities and differences among them while searching for the truth about themselves and God and what God desires for them. In the four years that I was there a number of the children along with their families converted to the Catholic faith. A little child shall lead them. Please pray for the conversion of these school administrators and for our country.

  4. And the non-Catholic families continue to enroll their children because…? The cafeteria’s menu is superior? The Friday Seafood selection is to die for? Are the 80%-ers unappreciative of the connection between Catholicism and a superior education, assuming that still exists at San Domenico?

  5. The Catholic parents will do nothing. They will roll over and accept this betrayal and pay 30K/yr anyway.
    The Catholic parents will whine and cry but will not remove their children from this secular school.
    So, they get what they deserve and their priests and bishop will remain silent with a variety of excuses for doing so.
    I hope I am very wrong here. But I doubt it.

    • Unfortunately, this type of watering down of the Faith and Catholic environment has been going on for decades. The only major reason that I can see for parents of means, in sending their children to one of these in-name-only-Catholic-schools, is that a diploma from there still appears reputable and a way in to elite colleges and a comfortable life. If a student went into the school as a Catholic, it is highly unlikely that he or she would leave it Catholic. The world is all about feelings and inclusiveness these days. This is more important that gaining Heaven by the Cross.

      A look behind the scenes of the lives and background of the major donors of the school would probably reveal a lot in the reasons behind these actions.

    • $30K per year? I looked up tuition at the school, you’re right.
      Aren’t Catholic schools, especially high schools, becoming “private schools for the wealthy with 1 or 2 children?”
      Are they really catholic anyway?

  6. Experience taught me Catholic Medical Centers turned over to secular management that eventually the only semblance remaining of Catholicity is nominal. The name of the med center. Dominican Fr Seid is correct. I studied at the Angelicum [Pont U of St Thomas Aquinas] in Rome that had beautiful statues scattered about campus. And there were non Catholic students including a Turkish Muslim or two. No complaints whatsoever. What better way to unobtrusively convey the faith. San Domenico School is example of secular sellout of Christian values for secular values and increased cash. The Dominican Sisters nonetheless are at fault as were the Franciscan Sisters at the Catholic medical that turned management over to seculars. Shirking their responsibilities for greater comfort. The thirty pieces of silver has wide currency.

    • Fr Morello, thank you for your observations and your frequent appearances online in favor of the faith. I hope that your negative experience at the Angelicum was not within the past 10 years. If so, I will speak my confreres there at the next opportunity. I can attest that at least the American Dominicans presently assigned there to teach are zealous, spiritual friars who know and love God and are not the least bit PC. I am of the view that it is fine to have some Muslims studying at a Catholic school as long as (1) we are evangelizing them–which, sadly, has to be very discreet for reasons that we all well know; and (2) we are challenging them strongly in the classroom if their true motive is to obtain knowledge and credentials to undermine the universal Faith. We should be greedy for the souls (‘ salvation), not their tuition money.

      • Thanks Fr Seid. I was at the Angelicum from 99 to 02 and there were no issues whatsoever regarding the Faith, statues and so forth. In fact they had a daily Mass that many students attended and a beautiful liturgy. As said in Swahili [following my doctorate I taught at a seminary in Tanzania] Asante Sana.

    • Re-reading your comment Fr. Morello, I see that your intention can be read in two different ways. I apologize for the mistake if you were actually conveying the idea that non-Christians, including Muslims, receive a positive and helpful witness through the presence of vibrant Catholic art and that non-Christian students don’t necessarily have the problem that a certain kind of misguided “progressive” Catholic assumes.

  7. “Cecily Stock, Head of School, told the Marin Independent Journal that the removal of sacraments from the curriculum was on account of a lack of interest from families, not an attempt to erase the school’s Catholic identity.”
    But it will still do so quite handily thank you.

    It seems to me that no one need bother in an attempt to “murder” Christianity in the West, its already committing suicide by slow strangulation.

  8. Why do we even bother any more? Just wrap it all up and close it all down and put a for sale sign in front. Catholic church – had a good run, closed due to poor management.

  9. “…the head of San Domenico School, Cecily Stock, claimed the decision was made “to make sure that prospective families are aware that we are an independent school.””…I trust that the Archdiocese will terminate any and all financial support so the school may be truly “independent”

  10. So these parents who chose to send their children to a catholic school did not take that into account when making their decision whether or not to attend? I am thankful parents are speaking up against this creeping policy to remove all catholic references.

    They have slowly over the years removed statues and now when it has gotten to the point of threatening catholic identity people have spoken up. I have yet to hear from the sisters who are still involved although less so than in years past.

    I think there needs to be a full replacement of the administration as well as the board of directors if they believe being catholic means not being inclusive.

  11. The first words of the article tell you what the problem is: “Over the last few years we’ve had fewer Catholic students as part of the community and a larger number of students of various faith traditions. Right now about 80 percent of our families do not IDENTIFY as Catholic.” Where else do we see this language? You can change your “identification” for gender, religion, whatever, as you wish. “Now I’m a ‘Catholic,’ now, I’m not! Presto-chango! It’s magic! I can ‘identify’ as anything I want, just by calling myself that! I’m a man! I’m a woman! I’m a ‘Catholic!’ I’m a pagan!” More grotesque confusion in the Bay Area.

  12. “Take away the supernatural and what remains is the unnatural.” – G.K. Chesterton

    “Tolerance is the virtue of man without convictions.” – G.K. Chesterton

    “It is not that when men cease to believe in God they will believe in nothing, they will believe in anything” – G.K. Chesterton

    “Take away the supernatural and what remains is the unnatural.” – G.K. Chesterton

    “Tolerance is the virtue of man without convictions.” – G.K. Chesterton

    “It is not that when men cease to believe in God they will believe in nothing, they will believe in anything” – G.K. Chesterton

    “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ.”
    -Venerable John Paul II

    Saint Thomas More said, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”

    “God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.” – Mother Teresa

  13. Imagine suggesting to the owner of a Kosher Deli that he serve ham sandwiches because many of his customers aren’t Jewish. How do you suppose he’d respond? “What, you can’t get ham at the Subway down the block?” The job of a Catholic School is to provide a Catholic education to its students. If they object to the “Catholic” part of that education (which embraces more than simply course material, but environment as well), there’s certainly another place those students can go that will not offend their religious sensibilities or those of their parents. Are none of those responsible for the operation of San Domenico School invested in CATHOLIC education? Unless they are, perhaps they should consider opening a Charter School that disassociates itself from the Dominican tradition, which is clearly about communicating the mysteries of the Catholic faith to its students.

  14. You should be telling your students ALL of them this is a CATHOLIC institution. We will be teaching CATHOLIC religious education, be aware that ALL your children no matter what religion they are– will be learning the Catholic principles including sacraments. If you want to be a private secular school go for it– the Dominican Nuns should then have no part in it. They should be ashamed.

  15. It ought to offend the non-Catholics to have the school think that removing statues that are part of the catholic identity of the school will help increase their sense of being welcomed. If I were to have my children attend a school with a different tradition I would respect that they value that tradition and wouldn’t expect or want them to diminish it for my sake. Perhaps it is the non-Catholic parents that need to step up and educate the school leaders!

  16. It’s sick to remove the saints from the school. In our local area we had a problem with the local “Catholic school ” when they removed Latin for Chinese and had a art teacher come who draws profane and blasphemous images of our Lord that would be far too horrible to mention on this blog. When the art teacher’s profane art was brought up to the local Catholic authorities from a concerned parishioner, the parishioner was verbally yelled at in turn and rebuffed. The Catholic school wanted the money and didn’t give a care about that “art teacher” and their profane drawings of our Lord because the art teacher had a connection to big bucks for the school…
    I think we need to be very Catholic at our schools, if someone takes offense at our saints then they can take themselves onto some other school.

    Pray a rosary…. make a difference.

    • It seems as if Francis’ warnings against prioritizing money and a business mindset in the running of churches is falling on deaf ears in some quarters. Though that was inevitable ; surely, some parish administrators will ‘take it on board’.

  17. Georgetown Univ. Jesuit of course did the same thing. It happened about the same time students in Poland were protesting to have crucifixes brought BACK into their classroom. When the Son of man returns will he find any faith on earth?

  18. When I was a freshman at Dominican University (then Dominican Cllege of San Rafael) and in the process of coming back to Jesus and into the Catholic Church after getting involved in Buddhism and Hinduism with not so good results, I found great comfort in finding crucifixes in every classroom. I would often focus on the cricifix when anxious or afraid. That was in 1994. A year later, as I understand it, the Domenican Sisters of San Rafael who still had some say in the administration of the school, authorized the removal of all crucifixes across the campus. The reason given? To be inclusive and sensitive to those not of the Catholic faith. At the time a former Catholic turned Buddhist was the head of the School of Religion. I was reprimanded for removing posters promoting Planned Parenthood “services” from the stalls of a student restroom. I elected not to attend my graduation ceremony as they invited a widely known pro- abortion woman to be the commencement speaker. Pray for us all to remain faithful to Christ and to share faithfully the truth He came, suffered and was crucified for so that all might live.

  19. Surely, the low Catholic attendance at the school is all the more reason for the statue to remain there. It’s not exactly in your face proseltyzing, ina ny case. Just a subtle background presence, which is more than merited on any account.

    No. This is not a result of complaints froom other religious groups, but the work of the Usual Suspects : the militant atheists.

  20. Am I the only person left with the impression that these nuns seem to have no conception of the meaning of the word, ‘mission’, or ‘witness to a religious faith’. Christians have never done either by joining agnostics and atheists in their absence of faith.

    Most of the Apostles were crucified, rather than ‘cave in’ to the status quo. That they are Domincan sisters seems all the more incomprehensible. It’s not as if the pupils are being actively proselitysed, either.

    They seem to little understanding of the long-term effects of all manner of witnesses to the faith. In adolescence many devout children will lose their faith, but return to it later, often being able to reassess what they had learnt, when older and more mature in their understanding.

  21. This “removing of statues” because of the many religions present is also the reason statues, bibles, pictures of christ, 10 commandments, and all the other religious displays are removed from public schools. They can’t favor one religion.

  22. Sadly the millions of murdered Native Californians wont ‘t see the irony of how wealthy jews took over this school.
    Oy Vey!

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