Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Update on Sister Elaine Poitras

A West Virginia newspaper is reporting on Catholic Schools Week activities taking place in its area.

Sister Elaine Poitras

This will be the first Catholic Schools Week in West Virginia for Sister Elaine Poitras, CSC, Ph.D., who was appointed superintendent in July. However, she has worked in or with Catholic schools since 1970, and she said she always looks forward to the celebration of Catholic Schools Week.

"I think it's important for people to remember that this is a national event," Poitras said. "It's typically a combination of prayer, spiritual experience, expositions in academics and the arts, and the fun of being family and a community."

Along with celebrating a special Mass and conducting open houses, many schools have incorporated service projects into the week's programs. beneficiaries range from local charities to schools and clinics in El Salvador.

"The Gospel itself calls us to be very attentive and take care of others," she said. "The service we do is grounded in discipleship and is really an ordinary and expected activity of the Catholic school community."

Sister Elaine was the Superintendent of the Monroe County Catholic School System up until just over one year ago. According to a January 6, 2008 D&C story she resigned "for personal reasons" a few days before Bishop Clark accepted the recommendation of his task force of "experts" to close 13 of our 24 Monroe County Catholic schools.

Sister Elaine seems to have been one of the few members of that hand-picked committee who truly understood the importance of Catholic education to the future of the diocese and thus did not view it in the strictly dollar-and-cents terms that was so apparent in the majority's recommendation to the bishop.

Sister Elaine generally had "no comment" when asked about the school closings. However, in a January 21, 2008 report Channel 10's Nikki Rudd quoted her as saying,

I don't think anybody should underestimate the magnitude of this decision.

Monday, January 26, 2009

His "greatest glory"

Today's D&C includes a story about His Excellency Bernard McQuiad, the first Bishop of Rochester. Written by Bob Marcotte, the article was inspired by a display at Sacred Heart Cathedral commemorating the 100th anniversary of the bishop's death.

McQuaid was the first bishop of the Rochester diocese, serving from 1868 until his death in 1909, "an enormous length of time," notes the Rev. Joseph McCaffrey, who prepared the display. When McQuaid arrived here from a post in New Jersey, the diocese encompassed eight counties, 54,000 Catholics, 35 parishes, 14 parochial schools and 39 priests.

When he died, the diocese had increased to 12 counties, 120,000 Catholics, 93 parishes, 53 parochial schools and 158 priests.

Two religious orders — the Sisters of Mercy and of St. Joseph — had increased from 10 and 12 sisters, respectively, to 98 and 417.

In addition, McQuaid established St. Bernard's Seminary and Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Marcotte reports that McQuaid was "a national spokesman who was fiercely partisan in his advocacy of Catholic education." Citing the work of diocesan historian Rev. Robert McNamara, Marcotte adds,

The parochial schools were his "greatest glory." Orphaned at 8, McQuaid was "deeply grateful" for the Catholic elementary education he received at a church-run orphanage in Manhattan, and was "strongly desirous of extending the same benefit to the thousands of Catholic youngsters who at that time had no such opportunity," McNamara writes. And so McQuaid became prominent in the vanguard of the American parochial school movement. Indeed, in 1890, Rochester was "outranked only by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Newark in the proportion of parishes blessed with their own schools."

McQuaid's arguments on behalf of public funding of Catholic schools went like this: Catholic conscience dictated that children attend schools where they could receive instruction in their faith. Since the public schools at that time were either Protestant or secularist in their leanings, Catholic parents had a right to maintain their own state-approved schools. Moreover, McQuaid believed the state should pay for this parochial school education, as long as children were receiving appropriate training in secular subjects — especially since Catholic parents were already paying taxes to support the public schools.

While parochial schools may have been Bishop McQuaid's "greatest glory," Bishop Clark and his administration view them as not much more than a financial drain that needs to be held in check. The bishop and his staff would of course deny this, but their actions and inactions in recent years - what they have done and what they have failed to do, in the words of the Confiteor - tell a different story.

According to the print edition of the D&C, the "Rochester's Bishop McQuaid" display at Sacred Heart can be viewed daily, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., through February 24.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Catholic schools form body, mind, soul

Catholic Schools Week is upon us and one of the many benefits is increased press coverage all over the nation.

The following is an excerpt from an op-ed piece written by Father James C. Manship, pastor of New Haven Connecticut's St. Rose of Lima Parish.

The second largest provider of education outside of the government, Catholic schools and universities consider education as a sacred duty. Catholic education recognizes the dignity of each person, and so our focus is on the integral formation of the whole person, body, mind, and soul. The respect of oneself, neighbor, and God helps our students to recognize that our lives do not belong to us alone, but to God, and with that comes a duty to God and to one another. This point is at the core of our educational mission.

More than ever, our country needs the contribution of Catholic schools and the integral formation we offer to our students. The fragmentation of family, the corruption of our institutions, the rampant dishonesty and greed that has undermined our economic system, the selfishness that subverts solidarity, and the violence that envelops our world, will not be changed unless we awaken our youth to different ways to live one’s life.

To paraphrase the founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, we are called to be a people for others. Catholic education is not just about providing a quality education, a safe, respectful environment, nor is it just an opportunity to have a good career. Our educational mission has at its goal the formation of our young to be faithful adults, who understand their duty to contribute to the common good.

Not much need for me to add anything.  Father Jim pretty much said it all.

DOR's total 2007-08 Sunday collections were up 2.2%

An item in the Tonawanda News dealing primarily with donations in the Diocese of Buffalo also has something of interest for those of us in DOR.

Doug Mandelaro, spokesman for the Rochester Diocese, said for the 2007-08 budget term, the area’s 130 churches collected $45.1 million via collection plates, up $977,000 from the previous year...

One of the largest parishes there, St. Joseph’s, in Pennfield, N.Y., contributed $1.2 million that year and that church’s pastor, the Rev. Jim Schwartz said he doesn’t see any slowing down despite companies like Kodak and Xerox cutting jobs.

Perhaps that’s because the 2,579 families who go there can attend mass every day of the year, including five on weekends.

The Rochester Diocese’s annual appeal, however, was down as much as 10 percent, or just less than $5 million.

St. Joseph's and other parishes that got to keep their schools might be doing okay, but from what I hear that's not the case at many parishes that lost their schools last year.

Holy Cross, for instance, will see something like a $28,000 budget shortfall this year unless the Sunday collections pick up dramatically over the next 5 months.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Catholic schools buck trend with growth

TheKansan.com has posted a story about one of the few places in this country where a Catholic school system is actually growing.  In this case it's the Diocese of Wichita.

NEWTON — On Monday, the New York Times chronicled a crisis for Catholic schools — enrollment is dwindling.

Dwindling, it seems, everywhere but three places in the United States. The Wichita Diocese, which includes St. Mary Catholic School, is one of those three places.

“Sometimes we don’t see the blessing that we have here,” said Phillip Stutey, principal of St. Mary.

Next week, he hopes people will see. It’s National Catholic Schools Week, with a host of activities at St. Mary and schools throughout the diocese.

“Catholic schools are not a stereotypical private school,” said Bob Voboril, superintendent of schools for the Wichita Diocese. “We don’t serve only the elite, upper income population. We serve a very diverse group of young people — socio-economically, and ethnically. Schools like St. Mary are every bit as diverse as Newton Public Schools, which I hold in high regard.”

To break the stereotype, the Wichita parish did something radical.

Instead of charging tuition, the diocese turned to parishes to support the schools, making it possible for parishioners to send their children to school without paying large fees.

“We have very strong parishes, and they are committed to stewardship,” Voboril said. “We ask the entire parish, or in Newton, the two parishes, to support and provide for the school so all the catholic families children can attend. They don’t have to pay $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 to attend. ... That sets us apart from most non-public school systems in the United States.”

The Wichita Diocese had a campaign since 1985, asking its 120,000 parishioners to tithe as much as 8 percent of household income to its ministries, which include 39 schools.

That has allowed the schools to eliminate tuition.

“Its getting back to the roots of ‘all are welcome.’” Stutey said. “If you are part of the diocese and contribute to the parish by time, talent and treasure, then you can send you kids to school. It’s not only the parents with money that can go to our schools.”

Stutey said in most places Catholic schools, and private schools in general, have become a place only the wealthy can send their children.

There is evidence of this right here in the Diocese of Rochester. While one of the announced purposes behind last June's closing of 13 Monroe County Catholic schools and the accompanying reduction in tuition was to make the remaining 11 schools more affordable, as is reported here the unannounced simultaneous reduction in financial aid has had the net effect of actually making them more expensive for many of our families. 

Getting back to the article ...

Changing that has allowed the Wichita diocese schools to buck the nationwide trend. More than 2,000 parochial schools have closed since 1990. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, between the 2000 and the 2008 school years there were 1,267 schools that closed (15.5 percent). The number of students declined by 382,125 (14.4 percent). The most seriously impacted have been elementary schools.

While that has happened, the Wichita Diocese enrollment is approaching a 40-year high of 11,000.

“Something that may be a surprise to people is the Catholic schools in this diocese are the eighth largest school system in the state of Kansas — public and not public,” Voboril said. “We serve more than 2,400 children who come from an ethnic minority. ... We have more than 1,800 students with Individual Education Plan programs. Most people would not expect that from a non-public school system.”

Individual Education Plans serve students with special needs.

If a diocese one-third the size of DOR can do this, why can't we?  Why aren't the powers-that-be on Buffalo Rd. benchmarking dioceses like Wichita, identifying their best practices and adopting them here?  Why is Bishop Clark always asking us for more money while at the same time failing to follow the example of obviously successful dioceses?

The questions are obvious. It sure would be nice to have some answers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Archbishop Jadot dead at 99

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop Jean Jadot died peacefully at his residence in Brussels Jan. 21. He was 99. He had been apostolic delegate to the United States from 1973 to 1980.

Jadot’s first episcopal appointee was Bernard Law in December 1973 and his last one was Kenneth Untener in November 1980. In his seven years as apostolic delegate, he was responsible for the appointments of 103 new bishops and the assignments of 15 archbishops: William Borders to Baltimore; Patrick Flores to San Antonio; Peter Gerety to Newark, N.J.; James Hickey to Washington; Raymond Hunthausen to Seattle; Francis Hurley to Anchorage, Alaska; Oscar Lipscomb to Mobile, Alabama; Edward McCarthy to Miami; John May to St. Louis; Edward O’Meara to Indianapolis; John Quinn to San Francisco; John Roach to Saint Paul, Minn.; Charles Salatka to Oklahoma City; Robert Sanchez to Santa Fe, N.M.; and Rembert Weakland to Milwaukee.

He was also responsible for the appointment of Matthew Clark to Rochester.

Paul Likoudis published an article on Archbishop Jadot in The Wanderer some 6 years ago. It can be found here.

What's So Great about Catholicism?

InsideCatholic.com has put up an electronic reprint of an article by H. W. Crocker III.  Entitled What's So Great about Catholicism?, it originally ran in Crisis Magazine a little over 6 years ago.

While there are many warts in the history of our Church, some of them aren't nearly as bad as our detractors have made them out to be.  The Inquisition, for example, fits that description according to Crocker.

I learned a few things from this top 10 list.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No mention of Christ in Catholic cathedral

Bob The Pious at Monroerising.com attended last night's prayer service at Sacred Heart.  He reports,

I was deeply disappointed in the event.  It was held at Sacred Heart Cathedral, a Catholic Church and the home of Bishop Clark. It was called an ecumenical interfaith service. There was no professing of the Christian faith at all.  During the event there was absolutely no reading of New Testament Scriptures by the Bishop.  The name of Jesus Christ was not mentioned once.  The blessing phrase “May Christ be with you” was changed to “May truth and beauty be with you”.  There was a program for the event, it had Barack Obama’s picture on it and again never mentions Christ in it.

As billed it was an interfaith service.  Other religious leaders were comfortable reading from holy books.  An old Testament Bible reading from Deuteronomy  was read by Rabbi Laurence A Kotok of Temple B’rith Kodesh,  We thank him for that.  Iman Muhammad Shafig of the Islamic Center of Rochester read from the Qur’an.  There was even a Sanskrit chant.  However Bishop Clark in his own church chose not to read from the Testament of Jesus Christ! There was never a mention of the sanctity of life, opposition to abortion, death penalty or war.  We might as well have been at a Democratic caucus meeting in the War Memorial. 

Most disappointing was no mention of Thursdays pro life march in Washington D.C.  where 100’s of clergies, including the Bishops from the Syracuse and Buffalo diocese  will attend. There is an estimated crowd of 200,000 people.  Bishop Clark will not attend, he has never attended in 20 years.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A community of schools

One of my Google Alerts led me to an article about the impending retirement of Patricia Tierney, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of St. Augustine. Ms. Tierney is in her 29th year as the diocese's educational leader and will be stepping down this June.

As I dug into this story a bit I found myself impressed with the achievements of the diocese under her leadership.  For example, during the last 20 years St. Augustine has built 10 new Catholic schools and has more than doubled their student enrollment.

Yes, like the rest of Florida, the population of the Diocese of St. Augustine has been booming, but this only partially explains the growth in their Catholic schools.

When Ms. Tierney took over in 1980 the diocese had 1,065,000 Catholics.  Today that number is about 1,900,000, an increase of about 78%. During the same time period, however, the number of students attending the diocese's Catholic schools is up some 112%. 

Discounting the growth in the number of Catholics, school enrollment would still be up about 19% over those 29 years, which is a remarkable feat given what has transpired in most dioceses over the same period.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the success of Catholic education in St. Augustine is that the diocese has allowed each of their elementary schools to remain a true parish school, thus giving the parish - and the parents - a level of ownership totally absent in DOR's MCCS. This parish-level control has allowed each school to thrive while still remaining a member of a wider community of schools.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catholic schools are being reinvented

The NY Times has posted an article on various efforts to save Catholic schools in both the New York area and around the nation.

Some of those efforts are taking on shapes that Bishop Clark and his panel of "experts" never dreamed of.

Administrators in a dozen dioceses ... are now recruiting parents and alumni to play a bigger decision-making role ...

In Brooklyn, the centerpiece of the five-year plan unveiled last week by Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio is a two-tiered management structure, with parish priests left in charge of religious matters. A board of laypeople, selected by priests and diocesan officials, would handle just about everything else: marketing, recruitment, managing the finances, even hiring principals.

While reserving the parish priest’s right to veto his board’s decisions, the plan clearly sets a premium on collaboration and on what Bishop DiMarzio called a “communion” of schools and dedicated people. That communion would cut across parish lines, as well as the line of authority that once separated clergy and laity ...

The article mentions the ongoing success stories in Wichita and Memphis and then adds,

What most proposals share is broadening the base of financial support. Some call for including all Catholics in the diocese; others focus on wealthy philanthropists; some use marketing campaigns to fill empty seats with children, Catholic or not.

There are dioceses in this country where Catholic schools are truly seen as a priority, requiring greater roles for parents and alumni, the involvement of the entire Catholic community, outreach to wealthy individuals and - wait for it! - marketing campaigns, all in an effort to help them thrive.

It's sad that DOR is not one of them.

Albany to close 33 churches

FoxNews23 is announcing that the Diocese of Albany will close 33 churches over the next 3 years.

According to the story,

Planning for the future of parishes is happening in dioceses across the state and across the Northeast. The Dioceses of Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo have closed between 20 and 30 percent of their churches. Through Called to BE Church, the Albany Diocese will close just under 20 percent of its existing worship sites.

Like we had a choice

In this week's online Along the Way column Bishop Clark gives us his impressions of the multi-choir Christmas concert held at Sacred Heart Cathedral last Sunday.

Toward the end the bishop remarks,

we are blessed by the generosity of the people of our diocese which made possible the renovation of our cathedral.

Generosity? Well, that's certainly true. The Partners In Faith campaign that raised the money was voluntary, even though many pastors - mine included - badgered their flocks until their parishes' goals were met.

But the sensible thing would have been to let the cathedral revert back to a parish church and to designate one of the large, suburban churches as the new cathedral.

That's what the Priest Council originally wanted to do and it would have cost considerably less than the $11 million we spent on Sacred Heart.

But we weren't given that option.  Indeed, we were never even told that most of our priests favored it.

So now we have this monument to Bishop Clark's obstinacy - and our generosity.

It's too bad that hardly anyone attends Mass there, but it's a great place to hold a concert.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Putting some flesh on the numbers

As someone trained in science and engineering, statistics are just one of the many tools I've used all my adult life.  They are part and parcel of my professional toolkit and, even though I've been retired a few years now, they still feel as comfortable as that frayed, bleach-stained sweatshirt my granddaughters abhor.

I realize that puts me in a small minority of the population. Most folks I know detest statistics.  When confronted with tables of experimental data or polling results their eyes glaze over and their minds drift towards more pleasant thoughts, like IRS audits or root canals.

That is why I was almost jubilant when I read Fr. Joseph A. Sirba's article in this month's issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.  Fr. Sirba provides us with his analysis of last year's Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, especially as it relates to Catholicism, and also gives us his insights on what we can do about the dismal picture it paints.

Fr. Sirba's article performs two great services. The first is to put some flesh on the numbers, to make them more accessible, more understandable, to many people.

To put these numbers in a different context, allow me to speculate just a bit. Suppose that you were the pastor of Saint Wojciech’s back in 1968, and in that year you baptized sixty children. Those children would now be forty years old. However, only thirty-nine would still be Catholic. Of the other twenty-one, twelve are men and nine are women. Ten of these (mostly men) are now unaffiliated with any organized religion. Of those ten, four would be secularists who believe in some sort of God but who practice no faith and do not pray. Three would be atheists or agnostics, and three would still be believers in God but would be following their own path to him apart from any organized religion. It is also the case that in this group would have been some of your brighter students and best altar servers back at Saint Wojciech’s grade school. Of the remaining eleven, six or seven would have joined evangelical congregations where they now lead Bible studies, work as missionaries in Guatemala converting Catholics or homeschool their larger-than-average families consisting of children who were dedicated to God (but not baptized). Three or four would have joined some mainline Protestant religion (probably through marriage) where they participate to greater or lesser degrees. Finally, perhaps one or maybe two have become Mormons or Buddhists.

But what about the thirty-nine who still identify themselves as Catholics? Well, twenty-one of them are women and eighteen are men. With regard to marital status, twenty-three are married, three are cohabiting, five are divorced, and eight have never married. About eight are doing quite well for themselves, earning over $100,000 a year. On the other hand, about ten are making less than $30,000 a year. Finally, of these thirty-nine who have remained Catholic, four never go to Mass and twelve may go at Christmas and Easter, and most of these had their children baptized but are less likely to have them enrolled in religious education. Finally, for twenty-three, their religion is “very important to them” and they go to Mass on a pretty regular basis (but probably miss when they have company over or when on vacation or traveling). Most don’t make it on holy days. Nearly all send their children to religion classes, but very few make time for other things at church, like choir or Bible studies. Most lead very busy lives and there is not much room for church except on Sundays. While they were raised Catholic, most would not agree that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of revelation. In other words, they believe one religion is as good as another. Nearly all have brothers or sisters who have left the Church, and not a few are godparents to the children of their Protestant siblings. Most are pro-life, but there are some exceptions, especially among those who are Democrats or consider themselves politically liberal. Quite a few, especially among the women, don’t see what’s wrong with gay marriage. Finally, two or maybe three are using natural family planning, whereas the rest are either on the pill or sterilized or are unable to have children.

The second great service, in the words of the H&PR editorial staff, is to provide

some practical recommendations on how to stop the huge losses. Ignorance of the Catholic faith and false teaching in schools and parishes have contributed significantly to the bloodletting. Our author says, based on the numbers, what others have said for years without numbers: the toleration of dissent in the Church by bishops and other Church authorities is the cause of the loss and it must be stopped. (emphasis added)

Note to His Holiness: DOR will need a new bishop in 42 months.  You might want to take a good look at this guy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Filed under DOR Atrocities

Kit at By The Brook is up in arms over a mandatory English assignment given her daughter at her "quasi-Catholic" high school:

Write a letter to President-Elect Obama congratulating him on his inauguration. It must be positive, and not exceed 250 words.

The letter is to be emailed to both the teacher and the local newspaper.

While I can think of a couple of positive things I might write given such an assignment, there is no way my overall tone would be anything but negative.

That is also Kit's problem - and her daughter's.

Kit concludes her take on the situation with

I cannot comprehend the goose-stepping mentality the Obamaniacs have...and the fact that said mentality has infiltrated a Catholic High School where I'm paying (a lot) for viral immorality to be downloaded into my child's head, well, it sickens me.

Kit filed this post under DOR Atrocities, where it joins well over a dozen others.  They're all here and all worth a read.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another MCCS Disconnect

As reported here, the MCCS System has been running a 30 second TV and radio spot in an effort to boost enrollment.  One line in that ad boasts of the "cutting edge technology" that parents will find in our Catholic schools.

Well, in some, perhaps, but apparently not in St. Pius X. At least not yet.

Yesterday's Channel 13 announcement of a $100K anonymous donation to St. Pius X and a follow-up story in today's D&C both report that a significant amount of that donation will go towards technology upgrades.

The D&C, for example, says,

Anne Sabo, a 20-year teacher at St. Pius, said teachers and schools need to rise to the technological level of the their students.

"Our kids are digital natives and very technologically savvy, and we need to engage them using the technology that they use outside of school," said Sabo, educational technology coordinator.

If technology levels in our Catholic schools are already at the "cutting edge" as the MCCS claims in its ad, why is the St. Pius X educational technology coordinator talking about the need to raise them?

And if this is the case at St. Pius X, is it the case at other Catholic schools as well?

The new MCCS superintendent has been quoted as saying that "it's important to restore confidence in Catholic schools and the Rochester Diocese."

Claiming to be what you are not does nothing to restore confidence. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Local Catholic school gets $100K donation

Channel 13 is reporting a significant donation to a local Catholic school.

Chili, N.Y.  -- St. Pius X Catholic School in Chili has received a donation of $100,000 from a donor who requested anonymity.

"It is a strong statement of support for the ongoing ministry of Catholic Education. We are so very grateful," said St. Pius principal Stephen Oberst, in a statement released by the Diocese of Rochester.

The donor has asked that the money be used over the next three years on technology, fine arts programs, and student enrichment activities such as field trips and clubs.

The Chili Avenue school was founded in 1954 and has about 375 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

Bob the Knuckle Dragger

Bob The Pious over at Monroerising.com is asking, “Where is Bishop Clark’s commitment to speaking out against abortion?”

The question comes in the context of the diocese's announcement of an interfaith prayer service to be held at Sacred Heart Cathedral on the evening of Barack Obama's inauguration.

Bishop Clark is scheduled to lead that prayer service.

"With the largest pro life event happening in Washington," Bob is wondering why the bishop will not be in the nation's capitol instead of staying home and hosting "an Obama celebration."

Somewhat predictably, one reader has branded Bob a "knuckle dragger," claiming that people like him turned the reader "into an atheist years ago."

Boy, some people are easily influenced.

More dissension in the Catholic Courier

Gene Michael got to this one before I had a chance.

I cannot think of anything to add to what he's already written.

"Growing, energetic" Knoxville gets its new bishop

Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia is reporting on the appointment of St. Louis' Msgr. Richard Stika as the new bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville.

Along the way, Rocco gives us a bit of background on Knoxville (emphasis mine).

Founded in 1988, the Knoxville church [with its 60,000 Catholics] comprises just 2% of its area's total population, but stands in the front rank of the Stateside church's ever-burgeoning Southern emergence. Encompassing some 47 parishes and 10 schools spread over 14,000 square miles of Volunteer Country, the growing, energetic diocese has more than doubled in size since 1990. Its seven seminarians may not sound like much, but a diocese of a million members would need 140 men in formation to have a contingent of equal proportion; widely celebrated for his efforts at energizing the turf and bulking up its ordained ranks, [Knoxville's last bishop, Joseph] Kurtz, ordained three priests and 29 permanent deacons in his final weeks before leaving for Louisville. Just in recent weeks, one booming parish near the see city opened a new 900-seat, $11 million church built in the Romanesque style.

DOR would need to have 40 men in priestly formation to match Knoxville's ratio of seminarians to total Catholics.

We have 6.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

D&C's James Lawrence: MCCS has "new found economic stability"

Tmac has called my attention to a Friday evening post on the D&C's Editorial Blog. Put up by James Lawrence, Editor of the Editorial Page, the post (with a couple of typos corrected) reads:

Yesterday’s page one story about new found economic stability at Monroe County’s Catholic schools caught my eye.

The story stood out because just a year ago there was a tremendous public uproar about the diocese’s announced plan to close 13 elementary and middle schools to get rid of a $1.3 million deficit.

According to an audit completed last fall, the diocese’s Monroe County Schools System is now operating with balanced budgets. It wrote off fixed assets of $2 million. Deficit wiped out.

With 11 schools remaining and an enrollment of 3,732 students, the local Catholic school system has been certified as fiscally sound.

Sometimes in life you really do have to step back to move forward.

I posted a response on the Editorial Blog inviting Mr. Lawrence to come here (where there are no artificially imposed 1,000 character constraints) and discuss his comments. We'll see if he shows up.

In the meantime the following comes to mind.

First of all, we veteran victims of MCCS mismanagement have been down this "stability" road before so I can't see how anyone can blame us for being a bit skeptical, if not cynical. A couple of examples will make my point:

  • An April 12, 2001 story in the D&C quotes the chairwoman of the MCCS Board as saying, "In the last 10 years we've really stabilized the Catholic school system, and we need to take it to the next level."
  • A November 12, 2004 DOR press release quotes Bishop Clark as saying, “We really believe this [tuition] model will help preserve the treasure of Catholic education for future generations of families in our diocese."

Both of these quotes accompanied past Catholic school "mergers" and closings. After a while one learns not to pay any attention to either the MCCS or to DOR when they play the "stability card," no matter who they trot out to back them up.

Secondly, Bonadio & Co., LLC, the auditors for the MCCS, say absolutely nothing about the "stability" of the MCCS system going forward. Their report deals only with the MCCS income and expense statements for the 2007-08 fiscal year and the MCCS balance sheet as of June 30, 2008. Regarding these documents they say ,"In our opinion, the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Monroe County Catholic Schools as of June 30, 2008."

Bonadio & Co. most certainly did not certify the MCCS as fiscally sound. To read that conclusion into their report is to turn that report into a fairy tale.

Whether or not the MCCS is, in Mr. Lawrence's words, "now operating with balanced budgets," or will be doing so at anytime in the future, remains to be seen. The auditors said nothing about this fiscal year's budget. Given the history of the MCCS, however, skepticism would seem prudent.

Their are other issues that Mr. Lawrence's post raises (such as the fact that the real reasons behind the "tremendous public uproar" had little to do with finances and much to do with past gross mismanagement and current deceit and outright lies), but I'm going to stop here for now.

Okay, Mr. Lawrence, it's your turn.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Forty-six seminarians, take 2

Deacon Greg Kandra over at The Deacon's Bench has also posted his thoughts on the Diocese of Wichita and its 46 seminarians.

A couple of his readers have posted comments that should be read and taken to heart by Bishop Clark (emphasis mine).

Josh writes,

I absolutely agree with Fr. Simone's assessment of Wichita's parishes. The ones I've visited have great (young!) priests who profess an authentic Catholic theology,

while Carol adds,

Catholic Culture is something that takes commitment of the Bishop, priests, and lay faithful. It is definitely determined by a movement of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of all of the Christian faithful even though it may be influenced by surrounding culture in a larger context.

Catholic culture does not just "happen" because the secular culture or another culture is supportive. It takes cooperation of the Christian faithful and grace from God.

Orthodoxy does pay.

Hollow sentiments

Rich Leonardi has a post up with his take on Bishop Clark's current Along the Way column.

One of his readers posted the following open letter in response.

Dear Bishop Clark,

Let's be frank. I have actively practiced all those things you proposed in your New Year's treatise for many years now. I have said yes to just about everything asked of me by my pastor over the past 15 years. My family has gone to Mass every Sunday and supported our parish financially every week. I started a rosary group. My kids are altar servers. I studied the candidates and voted for those with pro-life records. It was the right thing to do. Still, what has this gotten for me?

You closed my school, my mother's school, and my kids' school, all in one fell swoop, so that you could balance your budget. You are crippling our parish with your unfunded mandates. The loss of the school has thrown our parish's CYO program into disarray -- what is winter without CYO basketball!? We are struggling to maintain an empty school building in a down economy. Then you and your staff imposed a $12,000 increase in our parish CMA "tax" the very next year.

I would like to see the leadership of our diocese practice the resolutions it preaches; not give lip service to some lofty virtues. It would help if there was some positive direction that the diocese was headed, rather than the death spiral we are currently in. Forgive my cynicism, but the hurt imposed by these painful changes runs deep. I and many others feel abandoned by our local church. While these resolutions sound nice, the sentiment behind them seems hollow.

- HCMom

Friday, January 9, 2009

"There but for the grace of God went Clancy"

Brian Clancy of Northport, NY has launched a blog which he intends to use to relate many of the incidents that occurred during his 16 years attending various Catholic schools.

This blog should bring a smile and maybe an occasional tear to anyone who served time in the Catholic school system.  It will be written in somewhat the same jargon that a prisoner might use to describe jail time or a veteran might use to talk about his enlistment, because both these experiences reflect my memories of my 16 years in the system.  I hesitate to say only 16 years because the experience molds your entire life, so it is more like a life sentence.  While many of the stories I will post may appear critical of the system, please be assured that nothing could be further from the truth.  There is no one alive who believes in the merits of Catholic schooling more than me.  In fact, I believe that half of America's problems can be traced to the declining enrollment in Catholic schools.  Whenever possible I intend to use actual names of classmates, except where it might cause undue embarassment or leave me open to a law suit.  I invite anyone reading this to leave a comment or a story.  I hope you will enjoy the weekly posting.  First post will be January 5, 2009

His first post is here.

A shrine to obstinacy

Gene Michael is reporting that regular contributor Dr. Knowledge has come up with a weekend Mass attendance estimate for Sacred Heart Cathedral that is a real eye-opener. 

[Dr. K.] estimates weekend Mass attendance at the Cathedral (five Masses in total) to be 470. He bases this on Mass counts that were provided to Rich Leonard’s blog by attendees at the Cathedral. He also factored in the weekly collection amount to come up with his estimate.

(It should be noted that Sacred Heart does not publish attendance figures in its weekly bulletin so the only way to come up with a figure is for people attending various Masses to literally count heads.)

Gene reports that the 2000 average weekly Mass attendance at the cathedral was 1,081. Dr. K.'s estimate of 470 therefore represents a decline in excess of 56% in just the last 8 years.  By way of contrast the diocese as a whole has seen a 22.2% decline in Mass attendance in the 7 years ending in 2007.  (The 2008 figure is due out any day now.)

A few years ago at the beginning of the Partners in Faith drive a former pastor told me that when Bishop Clark originally presented the idea of renovating the cathedral to the Priest Council, that body's initial recommendation was to forget about it. They favored, instead, designating one of the large suburban churches as the new cathedral and they had two main reasons for doing so:  The obvious shift in the Catholic population away from the city and the much lower costs needed to transform a newer building into a cathedral.  The bishop was not to be deterred, however, and so we are now stuck with this (nearly) empty shrine to his obstinacy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

D&C: Monroe County Catholic schools fiscally sound

D&C reporter Erica Bryant has posted a story related to the MCCS System's 2007-08 financial report. She quotes diocesan  spokesman Doug Mandelaro as saying that the forced closure of 13 Catholic schools last June has eliminated a potentially large budget deficit.

It is difficult to communicate that the decision, as hard as it was to do, was made to preserve Catholic education for the long term and to head off financial issues that would have threatened the whole system.

Well, the MCCS may have balanced its financial budget but the long term effect on the diocese's spiritual budget will be nothing but negative. The reason is that the hundreds of Catholic children forced out of the MCCS system will now have to attend a religious education program in order to learn something of their faith. As a catechist in one of those programs I can assure anyone interested that one hour in a religious ed class is but a poor substitute for a full week in a school imbued with an authentic Catholic Christian culture.

Some folks in the Diocese of Tulsa have made this point much more eloquently than I ever could. Their arguments can be found here, especially in the last four paragraphs

Finally, I wish Doug Mandelaro or Bishop Clark or even Anne Wilkens-Leach would tell us why DOR refuses to benchmark and then emulate the best practices of dioceses with successful, growing school systems.  The Diocese of Wichita, for example, has but 1/3 the number of Catholics as Rochester, yet it still serves over 10,800 students in its system of 39 Catholic elementary and high schools. In the last 10 years Wichita has added 3 schools and over 800 children to its system and, since 2002, every one of those schools - every grade from K through 12 - is totally tuition-free to Catholic students. As one report puts it,

Wichita has reaped an enormous reward for its youngest members, flying in the face of conventional wisdom that Catholic schools were doomed to raise their prices to the point of diminishing returns and eventual closure.

The full story can be found here.

What is Wichita doing that DOR is not?  Is DOR doing anything that prevents it from being a second Wichita? 

One would think that our leaders would have have ready answers to those questions. After all, isn't the spiritual health of a diocese much more important than numbers on a balance sheet?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

6 Broome County Catholic schools to hire a recruiter

Here in DOR we are running TV and radio ads looking to attract 200 new students to our downsized MCCS system.  In the Diocese of Syracuse they're actually serious about finding new students and are seeking a recruiter.

In addition to their normal ad campaign the 6 Catholic schools in the Binghamton area are looking for an individual with marketing and sales experience to do "personal outreach" to families of potential students.

One of the recruiter's jobs will be to reach out to Catholic families who have not enrolled their children in Catholic schools ... Another will be to urge families with children in pre-school programs in Catholic schools to keep these children in a school's kindergarten at the same school.

The recruiter will make personal visits to families, meet with small groups, do promotional work in parishes and publicize financial aid available to families ... Diocese officials will monitor results with the idea of duplicating the position in other parts of the diocese if it shows success.

The full story is here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

DOR says MCCS enrollment off by 200

Channel 10 News has posted a story about the MCCS 2007-08 financial statement reported on here yesterday.  There is nothing new in it as far as the financial details are concerned, but the story does report that system-wide "enrollment is down about 200 students from what they originally projected."

This would seem to explain the TV and radio ads DOR is currently running in an effort to attract new students.  They obviously are looking for those 200 students. (I wonder what they would do if they got 1,000? Or even 500?)

Katie Gleason is one of the parents Channel 10 interviewed for their story. Her four children used to attend the now-closed St. John of Rochester School. She says that

her biggest concern is what the future holds for her youngest. “It's hard to work towards something if you don't know what it is, if you don't know where it's going.”

She and her fellow parents are still concerned about the future. “Is my daughter who just started at St. Joseph's going to continue there through sixth grade? I would say uncertainty is probably the biggest concern, a little bit of bitterness too.”

Given the history of the MCCS she has a right to be worried.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Closing 13 Catholic schools cost the MCCS $3.2 million

GSS at The Sad Saga alerts us to the posting of the 2007-08 MCCS financial report on the schools.dor.org website.  A quick read through the report turned up a few areas of interest.

First, it cost the MCCS a pretty penny to do away with 13 of its schools.  According to the auditors' report,

During fiscal 2008, the Bishop's Task Force on Schools recommended the closure of 13 schools effective July 1, 2008. In connection with this plan of closures, MCCS wrote-off assets with an original cost of $7,562,695 and a net book value of $2,006,948 related to the school closures. MCCS also accrued $975,000 of unemployment costs, $137,453 of health insurance costs and $100,000 of other costs in connection with the school closures.

Second, the MCCS had some pretty lucrative financial investments going for it during the fiscal year ending last June 30.  According to the auditors, it earned $176,910 in interest and dividends on investments of $1,172,520.  That is a rate of return in excess of 15%, no small feat given last year's market conditions. 

The auditors concluded their report with this heads-up:

Subsequent to year-end there has been substantial volatility in the United States financial markets. Major investment indices have experienced significant declines. The S&P 500 index, a stock market index comprised of 500 of the largest United States corporations, has declined from 1,280 at June 30, 2008, to 955 at October 21, 2008, an approximate 25% decline. In addition, many fixed income securities have also experienced significant valuation pressure as a result of turmoil in the credit markets. As a result, it is likely that the value of the investments has declined since year-end.

Finally, the MCCS still owes more than $840,000 on various notes used to finance the expansion of All Saints Catholic Academy, one of the 13 schools closed by Bishop Clark last June.  And it is still obligated to pay in excess of $136,000 for the leasing of various copiers, at least one of which it removed from Holy Cross, another of the closed schools.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Morphing Catholicism and Eco-feminism

The following report appeared on Stephen Hand's blog, traditional catholic reflections, last April.  It is a reprint of an article published over 12 years ago in The Catholic World Report.

What makes it noteworthy is that the Catholic school involved is the same one now headed by former MCCS Superintendent Sr. Elizabeth Meegan.  Sr. Meegan is a member of the Sinsinawa Dominicans, several members of which figure prominently in what follows.

Morphing Catholicism into Eco-feminism

by Donna Steichen

Religion is the heart of the Catholic school curriculum. But in today's Catholic schools, it may not be the Catholic religion. Feminist spirituality-the religion of WomenChurch-is pushing Catholicism out of the heart of the parochial curriculum in many places. Its identifying characteristics are the gradual displacement of traditional Catholic doctrine, culture and practices with a subtle but relentless infusion of feminist theology, steady but stealthy movement toward the worship of a female deity in feminist rituals, inappropriate if not obsessive focus on sex education, and fanatic environmentalism. Some south Florida parents believe that is happening at St. Andrew's parish school in Cape Coral.

St. Andrew's is a thriving parish in suburban Fort Myers, on Florida's Gulf Coast. The church building is a cruciform structure built in 1980s Florida-contemporary style, like four barns pushed together, with an open sanctuary where its arms intersect, oversized in scale to accommodate a large and growing body of parishioners. St. Andrew's School, in operation for just seven years, has grown steadily to its current enrollment of some 500 students in eight grades, and there are more names on a waiting list. Among the parents of current students are some so deeply convinced of the value of Catholic education that they campaigned and solicited pledges for the school before it was built. But despite the school's good academic reputation, an increasing number of committed Catholic parents are worried about the changing emphasis at St. Andrew's, disturbed by what they see as flaws, inadequacies, and false notes in the curriculum.

Sex education, for example, begins at grade one, with texts from the explicit and highly controversial New Creation series. To supplement this graphic material, a local physician comes in to talk to children as young as those at the fourth-grade level about such matters as masturbation and wet dreams. No teachers are present for his sessions.

In the religion program, lower-grade teachers use the Silver Burdett Ginn series. The upper grades use Living Waters, a brightly packaged series of recent vintage from Tabor Publishing Company, often criticized as a catechetical expression of the spurious "Spirit of Vatican II" that has so vitiated Catholic institutions.

A feminist tradition

Sister Elizabeth Dunn, the founding principal, still heads the school's administration. Like the six other religious on staff, she is a Dominican from a community headquartered in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. From June 1985 to June 1995, the provincial general of the Sinsinawa Dominicans was Sister Kaye Ashe, a committed feminist who served as moderator at the 1986 conference of the National Assembly of Religious Women, an organization of militant feminist extremists. At that meeting-held at the Sinsinawa Dominicans' own Rosary College in Chicago-feminist Rosalie Muschal-Reinhardt explained why sacramental baptism is unnecessary, feminist scholar Mary Jo Weaver explained that feminist rage is rooted in the "overwhelming evil" of patriarchy, and feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether defined WomenChurch as "the feminist expression of the basic Christian community of liberation theology." In 1987, Sister Ashe was named to the founding board of Mary's Pence, a feminist fund designed to divert donations away from the annual Peter's Pence collection for the Pope into feminist projects. Today, Ashe lives at "Sophia House" in San Francisco.

It seemed consistent with the views of their leaders, then, that the puzzling and unwelcome changes at St. Andrew's School were apparently instigated by some of the Sinsinawa nuns, as troubled young parents believe to be the case. Most critics see the seventh grade teacher, Sister Mary Jo Trapani, as the one chiefly responsible. The youngest of the nuns, she joined the faculty for the 1993-1994 academic year. During her second year she proposed that teachers join her for prayers in the faculty room before school. "I thought that was OK at first, and she started praying the Lord's Prayer as 'Our Father-Our Mother,'" said kindergarten teacher Joan McLeod, who is retiring this spring. "Then when I heard her praying to Sophia, I stopped going."

"I had a discussion with Sister Mary Jo about why she told her pupils that the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, and Jonah were just fables," said another mother, pseudonymously named Betsy Banken. She elaborated:

She said scholars have begun using what she called "critical" methods of Scripture study, and they say those events never happened. I said the new Catechism teaches that Adam and Eve were real, and that is what I learned in Catholic school when I was a child, and that's what I believe. She said they told her in graduate theology school that it was going to be very hard to break the foundation of the old Catholics. I asked 'Why would you want to break the foundation that I was taught in Catholic school, teaching that has been around for thousands of years?" And she said, 'We need to bring the Church into the new modern era."

"Sister also denied the reality of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes," Betsy continued. "She said people at that time carried extra food with them, and what happened wasn't a miracle but a wonderful sharing as the community came together."

"Metaphorical theology"

Apparently an ardent fan of the United Nations, Sister Mary Jo taught her students a "UN Environmental Sabbath" pledge, and arranged for one of St. Andrew's associate pastors, Father Jerome Kaywell, to videotape her class as they recited it: "We join with the earth and with each other . . . for the healing of the earth and the renewal of all life."

Some parents took exception when Sister taught a sixth-grade lesson from a book by UN career bureaucrat Robert Muller, Genesis: Shaping a Global Spirituality. Muller is the author of a full-blown New Age "World Core" curriculum that sees the UN as a religious force with the potential to unify the world. In Sister Mary Jo's assignment, students were to assume the voice of God and describe how they could have done a better job of creation.

"Centering" and "guided mediation" have been taught in class, parents complain. Jennifer Boulton, a Protestant from Fort Myers who enrolled her children at St. Andrew's school in the hope that they would get a superior Christian education there, asked Sister Mary why she was telling the children to consult with the "Mother God" and "Grandmother God" hidden in their hearts. In explanation, Sister Mary Jo loaned her God, a recent book written by Sister Bridget Mary Meehan to introduce children to the idea of a Mother God.

Jennifer reported:

I went to the rectory twenty times, trying to show the book to the pastor, Father Timothy Murphy. He absolutely would not see me. So finally I left it for him. When I got it back, it was in a brown manila envelope with a little yellow sticker on it that didn't even say "Dear Mrs. Boulton." All it said was this book has been approved by our D.R.E.

The parish director of religious education is Carman Macedonio, a former Franciscan seminarian. Jennifer was not impressed. Her children will not return to St. Andrew's next year.

When fellow teacher Joan McLeod asked her about the sources of her unfamiliar ideas, Sister Mary Jo told her she was "using metaphorical theology."

Sister reportedly told another mother that she is "bringing out all these riches that have been hidden in the closet."

The goddess Sophia

Nevertheless it was the school principal, Sister Elizabeth Dunn, who did most to reveal how deeply alien feminist theology had penetrated into St. Andrew's when, for Christmas in 1994, she gave each school staff member a copy of Sister Joyce Rupp's little book of self-centered feminist mediation, Experiencing Sophia, . Rupp's bibliography cites notorious feminist authors from Merlin Stone (Woman) through New Age pioneer Jean Houston to Rianne Eisler and Elizabeth Dodson Gray, keynote speaker at the annual Massachusetts WomenChurch meeting a few years ago.

Like many current feminist writers, Rupp personifies the figure of Divine Wisdom in the Old Testament Wisdom books as "Sophia," a name used because it is the Greek word for wisdom. Rupp echoes standard feminist rhetoric when she says:

. . . it seems evident that Sophia is the feminine face of God. This aspect was eventually lost due to a highly male-dominated culture and a church that was very fearful of the goddess traditions of the past.

That feminists seek to make a goddess of Divine Wisdom is ironic, since they have so noticeably failed to acquire even mere human wisdom, for which their need is clearly desperate. Surely some feminist scholars must know that the use of the feminine pronoun in Scriptural references to Wisdom is a matter of grammatical gender; in Hebrew and Greek, all abstract nouns are feminine. Divine Wisdom is not a Person but a perfection of the Holy Trinity, traditionally attributed to the Son because He is the Word of God. Like most of feminist theology, this exercise is simply a propaganda campaign, exhibiting less intellectual honesty and scholarly objectivity than one might find in a public-relations campaign by the advertising council.

The rising tide of feminist spirituality at St. Andrew's crested with an Earth Week observance in late April. All-school events are not routine at St. Andrew's. No services were held during Holy Week, for example, nor after Easter in celebration of the Resurrection.

There was no all-school May crowning of the statue of the Blessed Virgin. The school does not assemble for May rosary devotions. Yet the faculty pulled out all the stops for Earth Week, a purely secular media event invented by members of the 1960s counter-culture to draw attention to their environmental concerns. Classroom teachers were urged to implement specific activities for each day of the week, and two major all-school "prayer services" were scheduled.

According to a notice sent to parents, the first of the ceremonies to "celebrate our love & care for the earth" was to be held in the parish church on Monday, April 22. The second, a celebration of "our Unity and Oneness with God and with each other and as citizens of the Earth and as family in St. Andrew School" would be held on the school soccer field on Friday, April 26. Students were told to wear blue or green tee shirts or the environmentally correct Human-i-tee shirts that help fund groups like Sierra Student Coalition, YMCA Youth Service Corps and Youth for Environmental Sanity.

The Earth Day service

Opening Monday's Earth Day Prayer Service, Sister Martha Rohde, assistant principal, perhaps inspired by the increasing volume of parental complaints, solemnly emphasized the compatibility of Earth Day activities with Christian belief. As she explained:

We take our weather and our land for granted at times. The message of Earth Day, begun 26 years ago, is that we should never take the gifts of the earth and creation for granted because if we do, they may not last for us . . . As Christians, we realize that we may never take each other for granted but realize that we have all been made by God and saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and that we are also holy. So we will begin our prayer service with words of Chief Seattle.

Four older girls in tee shirts, shorts, vex, and sneakers knelt in the sanctuary with foreheads pressed against the floor, their feet toward the tabernacle, heads toward the congregation, as a male voice read passages from the words of Chief Seattle, declaring that "the earth is our mother." (This was described on the program as "Liturgical Prayer.") A record began to play, "Song at the Center," Marty Haugen's contribution to the faux native-ritual fad, and the young dancers raised their heads and began to sway, moving their hands in rhythm with the music while they rose to their feet. As each verse began, one of the dancers spun away in the specified direction and returned leading a line of smaller dancers in colored vests signifying their direction of origin (yellow for east, blue for south, green for north, red for west). The dance was intended "to represent that all people need to praise God for what has been made or fashioned by God's hand," Sister Martha stressed.

"Please join in singing the refrain of the song," she continued. "Like St. Francis, the song, written in the Native American tradition, calls the earth our mother, the sky our father, the wind our brother and the water our sister . . ." (St. Francis' "Canticle of the Sun," printed on the Earth Week program, in fact makes no reference to "Father Sky," though the earth is indeed described as "our mother." Francis says of the sun, "O Lord, he signifies you to us," yet it is not described as "our father" but as "our brother." All references are to "brothers" and "sisters," implying common creaturehood under the Fatherhood of God.) The children danced through the sanctuary, and when the song was finished, sat on the floor there. Individual children rose to offer suggestions for renewing the earth ("recycle cans," "don't waste electricity," "turn off the water when we brush our teeth.") After the reading of some passages from Scripture, four children lined up in front of the altar to recite, alternately, lines from a pledge to care for "this garden earth," while Sister Martha lighted a candle before a "Creation Banner" to solemnize the promise. She poured water and pronounced a water blessing. The ceremony ended with a rousing recorded rendition of the peace-and-justice song, "On Holy Ground."

Remnants of a tradition

Catholic phrases, songs, and prayers were also stirred into the otherwise banal prose enunciated at Friday's soccer field ceremony. Students and teachers paraded onto the field in single file from two directions, met in one large circle, and joined in a jazzy version of "Save the Earth," a song of apology for "the ways we have hurt the earth and our planet and our need to protect the earth for future generations." Then the single file of students paraded toward the right, with the youngest children in the lead until they formed a small circle in the center of the field. Following them, the rest of the line coiled around the center in order of ascending size, until the entire school, students, staff, and faculty, had formed a spiral ring.

According to advance instructions, the marchers were to have chanted a theme chosen at the faculty planning session, but whether for reasons of prudence or something else, no chanting was done. Once in place, "standing together and standing on the earth," the school population sang a song called "Sacred Creation," prayed the "Our Father" together, and finally dispersed, singing "America the Beautiful."

Not all faculty members were enthusiastic about the Earth Week activities, but only Joan McLeod tried to prevent her class from participating. When they were summoned anyway, Joan stood alone at the end of the soccer field, praying her rosary as she watched the school shuffle past in a spiral. Mrs. McLeod, who is retiring in June after six years teaching kindergarten at St. Andrews, was the only one of nineteen lay faculty members willing to be interviewed for attribution. Some half-dozen others shared her distress, McLeod said, but feared for their jobs if their names were associated with public criticism.

If parents found relatively little to protest in the actual words used at the Earth Week ceremonies, many were alarmed because the ceremonial form strongly suggested the "spiral dance" of contemporary "Wicca" or witchcraft, a phenomenon of neo-pagan nature-worship that has provoked controversy and attracted media attention in southwest Florida communities and public high schools during the past year.

This approach appears to offer little hope of success as either religious or environmental education. The sheepish awkwardness of the older boys pressed into service as dancers and marchers suggests that they recognize its absurdity and if they believe it constitutes Catholicism, they will escape from the Church at their earliest opportunity, probably littering as they go.

Parents rebuffed

More wanted to attend, but on Monday, April 29, just two representatives of the concerned parents' group were granted a meeting with the associate pastor, Father Arnold Zebrowski, and Carman Macedonio, the religious education director. They presented an outline of their grievances, along with exhaustive documentation, and asked for evidence that what is being taught at St. Andrew's is consistent with Catholic doctrine. Father Arnold and Macedonio did not engage them in discussion, but said they would investigate the charges and respond later. At this writing, there has been no response.

In an era of vocal concern for "inculturation" of the faith, so that people everywhere can express its essential elements in forms of their own culture, American parents are justifiably alarmed that their children are being denied expression of their own Catholic culture in Catholic programs and institutions. Why, they demand to know, are those children being initiated into New Age feminist spirituality instead? Even if the intentions of the innovators were orthodox-which seems unlikely-the parents see such bizarre activities as exploitation of their children to serve someone else's agenda.

Most of the parents in the protest group are unwilling to be identified by name. Some, fearful that public schools are even worse, and doubtful of their ability to home school, intend to send their children back to St. Andrew's school next year. They worry that children might be persecuted if their parents were publicly identified as critics. Others are unwilling to give up on St. Andrew's, skill hopeful that the pastor, religious education director and school board will respond to their list of grievances by removing the most offensive materials and replacing the chief faculty agents of feminist influence. Far from being cantankerous troublemakers, they are, like most lay Catholics, deeply respectful of Church authority figures, uncertain of their right to challenge them, eager to avoid confrontation, and perhaps naively optimistic.

"It's a theological and cultural outrage that children in Catholic schools are being indoctrinated with all that environmental-feminist-New Age propaganda, and the fact that a few Catholic prayers have been sprinkled on it doesn't detoxify it. It actually makes it worse, because it looks to the children as though everything is on the same level of truth," said Laura Berquist, veteran home schooler and author of Curriculum>. "But parents are making a mistake if they think their children can wait for some future reform. They can't wait while their children's faith is being destroyed. Home schooling is the only way parents today can raise their children in a Catholic culture, so they can grow up strong and confident of the truth. And anyone can do it!"

Donna Steichen is the author of Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism.

This article appeared in the June 1996 issue of The Catholic

World Report, P.O. Box 6718, Syracuse, NY 13217-7912, 800-825-

0061. Published monthly except bimonthly August/September.

Friday, January 2, 2009

World Youth Day spurs conversions, vocations and interest in catechesis

From Zenit, with my emphasis ...

SYDNEY, Australia, JAN. 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Sydney, the host city for July's World Youth Day, says the event brought conversions and vocations to the priesthood.

Cardinal George Pell affirmed this to the Italian bishops' SIR news agency, saying that "we are registering an increase in conversions [to Catholicism.]"

"A few days ago," he explained, "one parish priest called me to tell me that 25 people, youth and adults, had decided to become Catholic."

The number of seminarians is also going up, the cardinal added, explaining that in February, seven youth will enter the seminary of Sydney and eight in Melbourne. He also noted an increase in retreats and religious events.

One of the World Youth Day activities that continues to be in-demand is catechesis, Cardinal Pell said.

"Many continue to ask for it and in numerous parishes, it has become a regular event," he said. "Youth don't want to be told just what is good and what is bad, but rather they want to understand the doctrine of the Church regarding current topics."

The cardinal mentioned that another fruit of World Youth Day is a renewed pastoral attention to the Aborigine peoples. He said that this ministry would be further developed during 2009, with a particular focus on free education in Catholic schools for Aborigine children.

I can only underscore the Cardinal's comments regarding the desire of many of our young people to understand why the Church teaches what she does. Much of my time as a junior high catechist is spent in explanation of various Church teachings, usually in response to some very thoughtful questions. I count it as time well spent.

Forty-six seminarians

Fr. Michael Simone is the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Wichita. He has written an article for the online edition of the Catholic Advance, his diocesan newspaper, reflecting on vocations in Wichita (all emphasis mine):

There is no doubt that forty-six seminarians are a sign that Catholic life is abundant in the diocese of Wichita. When you know them as well as I, you soon find that our seminarians are full of life, too.

What are these signs of life in the diocese? Where do seminarians come from? Why are our young men considering a call to the priesthood? Wouldn’t I like to know the answer?

All vocations are the result of a call from God. Yet, we must till the soil to allow our young children to hear that call. As the Director of Vocations, I believe forty-six seminarians are a direct result of the vibrant Catholic life in our diocese. There are three areas that should be highlighted to further understand where our seminarians come from.

The three areas that Fr. Simone has in mind are family life, parish life and what he terms "life through education and formation."

The family, according to Fr. Simone,

is the domestic Church, and it is the most fertile ground for vocations. It is in the family where young men and women not only form their values and beliefs, but where they learn to pray, and where they learn to live their faith. In the home, our youth learn attitudes toward God, the Church, and priests and sisters.

Healthy parishes are also important.

Because of the cultivation of a stewardship way of life, especially in our parishes, it has a direct result of cultivating vocations in our diocese.

Faithful stewards enliven our parish communities. By encouraging everyone to participate and to sacrifice for the life of the community, stewardship teaches our youth they are part of a mission greater than themselves. A natural result of this way of living is youth who are disposed to listening to God’s call and responding in service and sacrifice.

The last critical component is "our vibrant Catholic schools, PSR [religious ed] programs, youth programs, and programs like Totus Tuus." With regard to schools Fr. Simone writes,

Whenever I speak to someone from another diocese, I always brag – yes – brag, about our Catholic Schools. They are thriving. It is one reason we are a vibrant diocese. Although I am the product of public schools, I know that every dollar we spend on a Catholic education supports families who are passing on Christian values to their children. This investment helps young children to be formed in faith and to find their true vocation.

The Diocese of Wichita has just 120,000 Catholics, making it about one-third the size of DOR. Yet it also boasts of 39 Catholic elementary and high schools serving over 10,800 students and which are completely tuition free to every Catholic student. Finally, their system is growing, having added three schools and over 800 students during the last ten years.

The Diocese of Wichita has also been blessed with bishops who take their obligation to teach the Faith seriously and who have not sold out to cafeteria Catholic theologians, radical feminist priestess wannabes and liturgical abusers of all stripes.

And the Diocese of Wichita has forty-six seminarians.

Could the Holy Spirit be speaking here? Does anyone in DOR have ears to hear?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New uses for a few former Catholic school buildings

The Catholic Courier has posted a report of how various parishes are finding new uses for some of the Catholic school buildings closed by Bishop Clark last June.  Of the 13 schools closed by the bishop only two have found new tenants and a third has one lined up.

  • The former St. Monica's School building is now the home of a new charter school, the Rochester Academy of Math and Science.
  • The former Holy Apostles School building is now being used by the Rochester City School District to house its I’m Ready program, which offers a central location for students to learn while on long-term suspension.
  • Finally, the former St. Boniface School building may soon be leased to Nativity Preparatory Academy.  The academy is a new, independent, Catholic middle school for at-risk Rochester children in grades 5 to 8, sponsored by the Jesuits of the New York Province and the Sisters of St. Joseph.

It's good that these buildings are now bringing in some revenue to offset the costs of the maintenance and upkeep, but that still leaves 10 buildings that have become serious financial drains on their respective parishes. 

Most - if not all - of these parishes are trying to find tenants for their empty buildings, but that search is often complicated by the fact that these buildings are also used for such things as religious ed and CYO sports programs.