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Catholic educators have constructive, promising meeting with President Trump

The recent conference call to discuss the impact of the pandemic on Catholic schools included Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Michael Barber, and Archbishop José Gomez.

Sarah Joseph, left, and Clare Deely, students at St. John Vianney Parochial School in Nashville, Tenn., sing at the end of the all-schools Mass Feb. 1, 2017, in celebration of Catholic Schools Week. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

As regular readers of CWR know, I have spent my entire priestly life and ministry in the Catholic school apostolate. I am proud of the Catholic schooling I received, and I am proud of what Catholic educators are doing today. This past Saturday, however, I was exceedingly proud as President Donald Trump had a conference call with Catholic leaders and educators that spanned more than an hour of give-and-take between the President and these key workers in the Lord’s vineyard. I am told that more than 2700 people were tuned in, which might remind Americans of an earlier era of the “fireside chats” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The proximate cause of the event was the impact of the pandemic on Catholic schools. Throughout, the President was comfortable, engaging, and attentive.

Catholic leaders included four bishops and three educators. The President had on deck Betsy DeVos (secretary of education), Dr. Ben Carson (secretary of housing and urban development), and Kellyanne Conway (counselor to the President—and a Catholic school graduate).

President Trump kicked off with accolades for the Catholic schools of America, calling them “a source of strength, hope and opportunity,” where God—“the deepest source of our strength”—has a place. He noted that he grew up in the shadow of Mary Immaculate School in Queens, by which he said he always felt “inspired,” even if not a Catholic. He reminded all that he had insisted on the inclusion of Catholic schools in the recent financial compensation programs—although that paragon of Catholicity, Nancy Pelosi, had tried to exclude our institutions. He also noted his consistent work to advance the pro-life cause and religious liberty, as well as taking the muzzle off religious leaders with the easing of the restrictions imposed on us since 1954 with the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” which has been held as a sword of Damocles over clergy or religious organizations who spoke in favor or in opposition to a particular party or candidate for office. With those brief introductory remarks, he passed the baton to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, whose constant counsel he says he has sought and valued, especially in recent weeks.

Cardinal Dolan quipped that his 90-year-old mother complained that her son was spending more time on the phone with the President than with her. He then thanked the President for all his efforts to advance issues of concern to the Catholic community, noting, however, that promotion of parental rights and freedom of choice in education is not an exclusively Catholic issue. I was pleased that the Cardinal referred to what are commonly called “public schools” as “government schools,” which is far more accurate. The Cardinal pointed out that our schools perform twice as well as the government schools at half the price but sounded an alarm in that the financial downturn from the pandemic is suggesting some bleak prospects for the coming academic year as parents are unsure if they will be able to afford tuition in light of their perilous monetary situation. Acknowledging the President’s support thus far, he asked for even more assistance in the coming months. The President responded with promises of aid to parents and to schools. He didn’t miss the opportunity to stress the importance of the November 3 presidential election for Catholic issues.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston spoke next, asserting that no institution has been more successful than the Catholic school system in leading generations out of poverty to fulfilling lives. He also astonished the President by declaring that the Catholic schools of Boston save the taxpayers one billion dollars annually. He was followed by the Jesuit Bishop of Oakland, Michael Barber, head of the committee on education of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Bishop Barber underscored the fundamental importance of acknowledging that parents are the primary educators of their children and that educational choice ought not be contingent on parental ability to pay for that choice. He praised Secretary DeVos for her sensitivity to Catholic school concerns and then made a direct appeal to the President, in the face of the current economic crisis, to fashion tax policy which would allow parents to deduct their tuition expenses and, secondly, to promote legislation offering direct aid to families; he was quick to caution against direct aid to schools (lest there be governmental incursions tied to such aid). Interestingly, he thanked President Trump for his two Supreme Court appointments, proudly observing that they are both products of Catholic education.

Presentations by prelates concluded with that of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the USCCB. The Archbishop said that Catholic schools, which have existed even before the forming of the Republic, need to be considered “an essential part of the national infrastructure.” He also emphasized that access to an education in “excellence and virtue” should not be constrained due to parental finances. The President responded to the bishops by observing that the accomplishments of our schools are “highly unappreciated” and suggested that we do more to toot our own horn. Somewhat cryptically, he also remarked that attacks on the Church have, in the main, been “unfair and untrue,” urging the bishops to fight back with the aid of “tough lawyers.” He said he was sure everyone knew to what he was referring; I think we did.

Paul Escala, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, indicated that his school system is the largest non-public school sector in the nation and that the Catholic schools of California save the State’s tax-payers two billion dollars annually (the President was so impressed by that statistic that he interrupted him, asking if anyone had national figures); he also spoke with pride of the fact that the LA Catholic schools had their children in online instruction within 72 hours of the shut-down of the State’s schools—although not a few public school districts are not yet online! He expressed concern that his schools have experienced a 55% drop in tuition payments, suggesting storm clouds for the coming year if some kind of governmental assistance is not forthcoming. The Denver archdiocesan superintendent, Elias Moo, commented that three-fourths of the government school children perform below grade level, while Catholic school students not only outperform them but do so at one-fourth the cost. He made the salient assessment that Catholic schools see themselves as support for parents, not their replacement; he ended with that lovely citation from Pope Benedict’s address to Catholic educators in Washington in 2008, namely, that Catholic schools “nurture the soul of the nation.”

Formal presentations were ended by Sister Catherine Marie (of the wonderful Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist from Ann Arbor), principal of St. Isaac Jogues School in the Archdiocese of Detroit. She highlighted the four goals held out by Archbishop Alan Vigneron for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese, so as to “unleash” the schools; she stressed that the majority of her school parents constitute blue-collar families and thus are in a precarious position for the coming school year.

The line was then opened for questions or comments from listeners. One woman, very helpfully, responded to the President’s earlier inquiry about the national savings to taxpayers: $24 billion, also emphasizing that Catholic schools generally spend $6000 per child, compared to the government school rate of $12,000. A number of callers praised the President for his support of persons of faith and faith communities. President Trump warned that Joe Biden is being controlled by the radical left, who are very “vicious” people, “looking to harm you (Catholics)!”

Secretary DeVos ended the session by declaring: “We have heard you. We are walking beside you!”

I have been around the pony track on the issue of parental freedom of choice in education since 1980, wrote my doctoral dissertation on the Supreme Court and Catholic schools,1 and have heard a lot of promises, usually quite empty. This time I believe we have genuine cause for hope based on President Trump’s performance to date: He promised to be a pro-life president, and he has delivered; he promised to be a president of religious freedom, and he has been. Now he promises to be a president of school choice.

Promotion of parental freedom of choice in education has characterized Catholic social justice teaching for the past two centuries. On November 16, 1879, Cardinal John Henry Newman replied to a letter of the Archbishop of Sydney (Roger Bede Vaughan), who had thanked the newly-minted Cardinal for his support for the cause of Catholic education in Australia. St. John Henry summed up the issue very neatly:

It pleased me to find that you could make it [his intervention] serviceable in the anxious conflict in which you are at this time engaged in defence of Christian education. It is indeed the gravest of questions whether our people are to commence life with or without adequate instruction in those all-important truths which ought to colour all thought and to direct all action;—whether they are or are not to accept this visible world for their god and their all, its teaching as their only truth, and its prizes as their highest aims;—for, if they do not gain, when young, that sacred knowledge which comes to us from Revelation, when will they acquire it?

Yes, if not “when young,” then “when”? That has been the “holy obsession” of every saint of the Church in our nation—from Mother Seton and Mother Drexel, to Mother Cabrini and Mother Duchesne, as well as of the holy fourth bishop of Philadelphia, John Neumann. Through their intercession, may Almighty God use this non-Catholic President to bring this 200-year-old hope of the Catholic community to fulfillment.

[Note: Father Peter Stravinskas serves as the president of the Catholic Education Foundation.]

Endnote:

1An abbreviated version of the research project has been published by Newman House Press as Constitutional Rights and Religious Prejudice: Catholic Education as the Battleground.


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 149 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

50 Comments

  1. Quite promising. Let us hope that POTUS is able to deliver in light of the toxic environment in DC and across the nation.

    • IMHO, it will never happen unless the hellish Capitol Hill freezes over. Definitely needs a ‘climate change’. How about 11/3 voting to rid ourselves of these devils?

  2. The Catholic fathers never fail to shock the faithful in praise of a president who’s enormously un-Catholic history is in direct conflict with Catholic tenets. This article reveals just how the clerics and Pope, using rose colored compartmentalization to genuflect to the “promises” to a congenital liar and a disgrace to the faithful. Ms DeVos has been living a dichotomy with schools by apparently abandoning her charge of focusing on public schools with responsibility for improving schools with lower grades. Voss lost a $40 million yacht last year to a fire. Who could live so high while attending to poor children?

    “The President responded with promises of aid to parents and to schools. He didn’t miss the opportunity to stress the importance of the November 3 presidential election for Catholic issues. Bishop Michael Barber “thanked President Trump for his two Supreme Court appointments, proudly observing that they are both products of Catholic education. A number of callers praised the President for his support of persons of faith and faith communities. President Trump warned that Joe Biden is being controlled by the radical left, who are very “vicious” people, “looking to harm you (Catholics)!”
    Sister Catherine Marie said “This time I believe we have genuine cause for hope based on President Trump’s performance to date: He promised to be a pro-life president, and he has delivered; he promised to be a president of religious freedom, and he has been. Now he promises to be a president of school choice.”

    \

      • I wish that CWR had enhanced text so I could embolden and underscore just the following… “President Trump warned that Joe Biden, (vicious people) is being controlled by the radical left, who are very “vicious” people, “looking to harm you (Catholics)!”

        You must agree that this statement is a blatant violation of separation of church and state. I can’t imagine how any faithful Catholic will defend Trump with his disparagement of his apparent political foe. “Trump warned that Joe Biden is being controlled by the radical left, who are very “vicious” people, “looking to harm you (Catholics)!”

        I cannot defend a Catholic Church when the hierarchy falsely display “honor” to a man who has conned most in his path. He was seen draping his arm round Jeffery Epstein, the serial rapist of young women. Trump said that he likes young women!

        • You clearly has no conception of freedom of religion, which is not “the separation of church and state,” a phrase which is not in the Constitution.

          Joe Biden supports abortion. He is in favor of homosexual “marriage” and in fact presided over the “wedding” of two men. He supports the mandate that all employers provide contraception in their insurance plans.

          He is controlled by the radial left, or rather he has chosen to adopt the positions of the radical left in order to receive support from the Democrats so he can be elected. And yes, the radical left are definitely out to harm Catholics, and the Church.

          You don’t seem able to defend the Church about anything, so your statement here is no surprise.

          You ignore he fact that President Trump barred Epstein from Mar-a-Lago for inappropriate behavior. And having a picture taken with someone does not mean that one is aware of all that person’s secret behavior, that one approves of it, or that one should be responsible for it.

      • I agree- on the call President Trump kept repeating don’t forget November 3 don’t forget November 3. It was an obvious display of his narcissism and underscored how he does not display any Catholic values

    • “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18:11.

      “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3

      Don’t worry about Trump morganB. Focus on getting your own spiritual house in order. If you were a serious Catholic, that would be the proper focus.

      • I read your article with interest. I am a Catholic School Principal in a very violent and impoverished city. I am working daily with my families and students to counteract this president’s rhetoric and attacks on the very systems and supports that help my students and families. I wish I could have your same excitement about this president, and his support for Catholic Schools, but it would not be honest. I cringe daily at his immature behavior, bullying, and hurtful comments, which is now accepted by many because ‘that is just who he is’, but these same actions would land him and his parents in my office often at my school. I think he has a long way to go to be considered Pro-Life because that requires protecting a person’s dignity from cradle to grave. I pray for this president, but I also pray we can return to the high expectations and ideals of a president that include both a great respect for others and good moral leadership.

        • Yes, we need a return to paragons of virtue in the presidency like Kennedy and Clinton and Obama, the very embodiments of “good moral leadership.” Right. No thanks actually, we’ll pass on that.

        • “I think he has a long way to go to be considered Pro-Life because that requires protecting a person’s dignity from cradle to grave. I pray for this president, but I also pray we can return to the high expectations and ideals of a president that include both a great respect for others and good moral leadership.”
          ****
          Thank you for your service in Catholic schools. I’ve worked in one myself & served on a parochial school board. It’s a challenge for sure.

          I suppose each of us need to work on respect & charity. If you read comment sections online, respect for others can sometimes be in short supply. But one has to first be born to enjoy any benefit of dignity or respect. How much dignity does a child receive who suffers vivisection in their mother’s womb & is then disposed of as medical waste?

          No one I know voted for Mr.Trump because of his finesse or statesmanship. They’d already voted for those type of politicians for decades & were weary of the status quo.

          Sure, in a perfect world we might have a leader who keeps their promises, behaves in a mannerly & diplomatic fashion & whose personal life is without blemish. But to me, keeping promises is the part that makes the real difference in the long run.

    • I didn’t write that “Sr Catherine Marie said” that these promises of the President held out hope. I, the author, said that. If you’re going to pontificate, at least get the story straight!

      • Fr.-Morgan has the story straight and finding a loophole in her response does not lessen the point she is making. The article highlights how this president refuses to act Christian to all and to use the opportunity, which you highlighted, to politicize and insult Nancy Pelosi and Senator Joe Biden

        • Morgan is a man; and a man who has yet to post a single thing on this site that indicates support for Catholic teaching; and in fact a man who sometimes claims to be Catholic and sometimes not. You’re clinging to a broken support if you’re relying on him.

          “Politicize” Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden? Seriously? They’re already politicized, to the point that their political careers seem far more important to them than the teachings of the Church.

    • Thank you so much for your comment- I have never been so disturbed by this presidents lack of Christianity and Catholicism. Insulting Nancy Pelosi then digging into President Biden who is a practicing Catholic and calling public schools government schools. I am ashamed of anyone who calls this a constructive call

      • “Insulting Nancy Pelosi then digging into President Biden who is a practicing Catholic”

        Someone needs to tell Pelosi and Biden that sodomy and infanticide are both wicked sins.

      • a)He is not President Biden, and I can only pray that he never will be

        b)He is a “practicing Catholic” who supports abortion, contraception, and sodomy, which makes him not much of a Catholic.

        c)The President isn’t Catholic, so you can hardly chide him for a lack of Catholicism.

        d)It’s rather odd that you carp about the President’s Christianity but you support Mr. Biden’s alleged Catholicism.

  3. It is amazing that you would ‘normalize’ a President who abuses immigrants and who is destroying environmental regulations! It appears that you agree that my children and grandchildren should breathe polluted air and drink polluted water. Since when are these Catholic principles?

    • If Biden gets elected, you won’t have any grandchildren to worry about. Remember: you have to live before you can breathe clean or dirty air.

      • If Biden is elected you won’t have grandchildren? How can this unfounded senseless rhetoric get into print? Joe Biden lets his religion guide him while you seem to let fear? President Trump has done something Joe Biden has not -Trump has proven he does not care about life and all of its forms- he has been pro choice all of his life, abused power and taken a stance on immigrants that will have more of an impact on future children dying than your baseless prediction

        • “Joe Biden lets his religion guide him,” my foot. He ignores the Church’s teachings on basic things like the sanctity of life and the nature of men and women and marriage.

          President Trump supports the pro-life movement. He was, unfortunately, pro-abortion before, but learly isn’t anymore. I’ll bet you don’t read any of St. Paul’s epistles because he once persecuted Christians.

          As President of the United States, it is Trump’s job to protect Americans and America. Letting illegal aliens pour in without any limitations and without any background checks would be the moral equivalent of a father’s refusing to have locks on the doors or windows and paying no attention when people start climbing into the house uninvited, to the detriment and possibly the danger of the children for whom he is responsible.

          You really don’t care about the unborn babies who have been and continue to be butchered by the millions, do you? I guess you don’t think of them as children.

  4. Sorry, Fr. Peter Stravinskas, but your comment to me strongly suggests that you are “pro-birth,” but not “pro-life.”

    • D. I agree with you, This article was the most unCatholic rhetoric I have heard since the abuse crisis. The comments are clearly indicative of putting blinders on and a willingness to politicize support for Catholic schools to the point of insulting 2 Catholics then showing a complete lack of concern for any form of life except at birth

    • If anyone can do it, Peter, Mr. Trump can. I can’t remember any president who has done as much for the Church and Judeo-Christian vaalues. It’s very unfortunate that so many people have been blinded to his real accomplishments and extreme efforts to help the nation, by the shameless and blatant bias of over 80% of the media, who feel compelled to slander him daily, while covering up the abuses and impossible promises of the Democrat-socialists. If more Catholics were interested enough to get the truth, few if any could conscientiously vote for Democrats, whose policies and statements for the past decade and more have reflected an escalating war on the Church and Christ’s teachings.

  5. Thank You for this article. One thing that I’m not clear about is how the CARES Act provides funding (if it does) to help Catholic Schools in this situation. Think a followup to explain this would be interesting and informative.

    • I would also like to see actual stats of how much Catholic schools save our country. In my own state many ‘Catholic’ schools are state accredited, which means they follow state guide lines in what they instruct their children. So, Common Core methods were used. Our Catholic schools also receive vouchers which is our tax money. In my research I learned that in order to get school choice vouchers the Catholic school had to be Common Core complicit. Common Core has changed it’s name to Every Student Succeeds Act(ESSA) and is now more ominous since it follows your child from kindergarten with psychological/emotional testing that will never be wiped away. Many Catholic schools have not been fully ‘Catholic’ since they’ve been bowing to the state for state taxes for awhile. Just like our bishops who lobby for state and federal taxes for their ‘charities’ which are more government run contracts than Catholic. Just read the latest on CCHD and CRS. http://www.lepantoinstitute.org/catholic-organizations/

  6. Thanks very much for the article Fr. Stravinskas. President Trump has many flaws for sure, unlike most of the people who have commented previously who are willing to “cast the first stone” with vigor. Ironic isn’t it? Catholic education has been a beacon of hope in America and around the world for generations, saving the American taxpayer $ Billions and graduating students who achieve in the process. President Trump has and continues to support the Faith community.

  7. Rather than be accused of moralism I’ll be righteously indignant. A variation on Hamlet, To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether it’s nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of misguided Catholics [the nominal kind] both low and high who suffer us to believe one can politically support even practice homosexuality, murder the innocent infant in the womb and yet be held in high moral esteem, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And true to Christ opposing perchance end them. And when time arrives to die, and sleep in His peace.

  8. For those who consider the current occupant of the Oval Office to be an ‘exemplar of Catholicism,’ I suggest that they read and consider the statement jointly issued by the Right Reverend Mariann E. Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, back in July, 2019 … “Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump.” [ His current behavior demonstrates that he has yet to be ‘struck down’ like St. Paul! ]

    • Mariann, a Bishop? Oh, good grief.

      And Bishop Mariann is pro-abortion and pro-homosexuality, so I’m not interested in what she has to say about anything.

    • You know, you can waste much time looking for a leader who’s a stand in for Christ. Most of us weren’t voting for Jesus.

      I voted rather reluctantly, but have been pleasantly surprised by President Trump. He’s actually carried out the promises that made me vote for him in the first place. That’s unusual in politics.
      But looking for moral perfection in DC is going to be a frustrating quest. Better to be pragmatic.

    • Your argument is a straw man. No one is labeling Trump an exemplar of Catholicism. People just recognize that he has defended the life of the unborn and supported religious liberty, unlike his Democratic opponents.

    • Ah, yes, the “magisterium” of the heretical Episcopalians and coming from a female make-believe bishop, to boot! The Anglicans, who were the first Christian body in history to endorse artificial contraception in 1930. Then, in the US and eventually universally for them, priestesses; then, female “bishops.” Silence on abortion and support for gay marriage. Yes, I wouldn’t want to miss Her Excellency’s musings on any topic. How could I have missed it?

      • Fr. Stravinskas: I have to wonder if your reply would have the same level of ecumenical spirit if I had pointed out that Bishop Budde’s statement had been jointly issued with The Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith and The Rev. Canon K. B. Douglas? Also, whether the fact that these three fellow Christians had prayed at an interfaith national prayer service on January 21, 2017 that the President and his young Administration would have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person” would matter to you?

  9. so disappointing – we’ve paid SBA tuition for 10yrs & didn’t expect it to be spent on politicizing the school. the president absolutely does not represent the values of my family & truly doesn’t represent the values of a loving inclusive God.
    Shame on this promotion

    • So, you support abortion, then? Because if the president “absolutely” doesn’t represent your values, then his support for life (and for freedom of religion) aren’t yours.

  10. I guess supporting or not supporting abortion and or homosexuality is the only qualification to be a good person.
    No, this president is a vile person. He lacks any form of moral compass. I will not have him teach I’m my Sunday school full of kids. He is simply selfish, self centered and cares only for himself.

    • Clearly he does have a moral compass. It may not be perfect, but it is certainly pointing him toward, for example, the sanctity of life and freedom of religion.

      If you are teaching in your Sunday school full of kids, the children have my pity. What a venomous and hate-filled example you are setting. You are clearly not without sin, but you are hurling stones for all you’re worth.

    • But the same could be said about the Clintons, Obama, Sanders, and Biden. But you don’t seem to have any pangs of conscience supporting them. Why is that?

  11. I wish we had a leader like Trump here in South Africa, who is actually interested in real people and solving the real problems they encounter in their everyday lives, instead of leaders only interested in virtue signalling and further their own selfish interests (which are often at odds with their constituents, like Wuhan or climate hysteria or pandering to the Communist regime in China).

  12. Steve:

    ” No, this president is a vile person. He lacks any form of moral compass. I will not have him teach I’m my Sunday school full of kids.”
    ****

    This is part of the problem. Do you know anyone who thinks of Donald Trump as a Sunday school teacher? And how does that even signify in a conversation about Catholic education? If Mr.Trump reaches out to Catholic educators in his role as president that’s a good thing. His personal life isn’t relevant to this conversation & really is more between him & his Maker.

    I hear so much about what’s lacking in his demeanor, but I truly believe it’s Trump’s actions, accomplishments, & the very real possibility of Roe being overturned that generates most of the energy behind the attacks on his character.

  13. There was a old saying “I’d like to put my two cents in.” In these comments a lot of people do that. A lot of the comments are not worth the two cents.
    God bless our GREAT President!

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Catholic educators have constructive, promising meeting with President Trump - Catholic Mass Search
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