January 18, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 36 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
This week’s Faith and New Works column is co-authored by Bishop William Murphy and Sister Joanne Callahan, diocesan superintendent of schools.
In the history of the Catholic Church in our country, two great apostolic initiatives have left an indelible mark and remain a great treasure for the Church and for society. One is the Catholic hospital. This week, Catholic Health Services under the guidance of St. Francis Hospital, opened the second Bishop James McHugh Health Center, in Hicksville. In addition to our six hospitals, including St. Francis, the Diocese has oversight of non-acute care facilities such as Our Lady of Consolation and Good Samaritan Hospice. This clinic in Nassau, matching the one in Bay Shore, provides local primary health care to the whole community but especially to women and children, including many for whom health care is not readily available.
The Catholic school has provided us with a way to educate and form young people who become leaders in their communities. More than any other institution, the Catholic school has given a superior education to one and all, whatever their means, who in turn have become the backbone of the Catholic Church in parishes and dioceses across the country. This is as true in our diocese as any other. We are committed to Catholic schools and together seek to fulfill our responsibilities in ways that do more than just hang on to what we have. We have to analyze, examine, reflect and provide for the future as well as the present.
Every year Catholic Schools Week is observed across the United States, this year from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5, 2012. We will observe it this year with its theme: Faith, Academics, Service. We do it because we have a responsibility to hold up Catholic schools and their importance for the life of the Church and community. We do it to give parents an opportunity to come and see the Catholic schools as they are and as we are proud to present them to our brothers and sisters in the Church and in the wider community.
This year we observe Catholic Schools Week in a charged atmosphere. Why is that? In September, 2011 we accepted the Strategic Plan for Catholic Elementary Schools, following an 18-month study by an advisory committee of parents, educators, business and financial experts which was convened in June, 2010. We wanted to stop the annual attrition of one school after another closing. We wanted to look ahead and see the schools as a whole, reinforce elementary education as a whole and, where possible, eliminate costly schools in favor of guaranteeing spaces for children in fewer buildings but with no decrease in the seats available to them. We knew this would cause pain and upset. But we were then and are now convinced that it is better to do this in one coordinated strategic plan than to see one school after another slowly decline and ultimately disappear. It was a risk but it was a risk we are convinced will serve to strengthen schools on the whole and give parents confidence that whatever school their child is in after June 2012 will continue into the future so long as we have the support and the collaboration of all of us who plan to re-double our efforts in an unbreakable commitment to Catholic elementary education.
Some of the reasons that necessitated this were beyond our control but had to be addressed: demographic, social, and financial realities that both public and private schools on Long Island have had to acknowledge and deal with. In some cases recommendations were made that seemed to go against signs of growth in certain schools. These were not ignored but carefully examined by the advisory committee, which reached the conclusion that they were insufficient to offset the negative factors the committee could not overlook. They recommended to us and we agreed to make the painful decision to close six elementary schools at the end of the school year.
We understand the hurt and disappointment of all involved in the six schools. We have read the letters and e-mails. The bishop asked that the committee and Sister Joanne meet with the pastors and a few others to review the material once again. The reason the bishop himself did not do this is because he was not the one who developed the Report and because he must remain always as the last resort, being the person ultimately responsible for the good of the diocese. We continue to listen and to monitor, with the help of the pastors, the reactions, arguments, and counter arguments regarding specific schools. To date we have not been convinced that the legitimate upset and the pain has been translated into any proposal that would change our decisions.
We remain committed to helping parents find other Catholic schools for their children. To this end, information sessions were held at each closing school during the first week of January. Principals and others from neighboring Catholic schools came to answer questions of parents and to invite them to visit their school. Many families have already visited and plan to register at neighboring schools for the Fall of 2012 during Catholic Schools Week.
Despite these seeming setbacks, we are hopeful that our Catholic schools will emerge from this time of suffering and trial as stronger institutions serving as many Catholic parents and their children as we have the means so to do. We believe that Catholic schools are essential to the Church on Long Island. The Strategic Plan, while not perfect, has given us a set of criteria to be implemented as we go forward. Ultimately this is not about closing schools, but rather helping to ensure that Catholic education is fiscally strong, sustainable, affordable and accessible for students today and tomorrow. We have formed committees to examine the challenges we face and create goals and strategies to achieve success. The implementation of this plan has only begun. There are many exciting initiatives underway. The Tomorrow’s Hope Foundation, established in 2005, has distributed more than $8.4 million in aid, assisting over 6,100 children, and continues to provide approximately $2 million in scholarship aid annually. Administrators, teachers and staff model effective use of technology daily and work to infuse technologies into the classroom to complement the curriculum and enhance instructional practices. Students utilize videoconferencing equipment to connect with other students across the country and around the world or engage in distance learning. A number of our schools have introduced iPads into the classroom, and students are utilizing various apps to enhance learning.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre Education Department has formed partnerships with Fordham University, Molloy College and St. John’s University to provide professional development for the administrators and faculty, and train future administrators in our diocese. The entire diocesan education community is committed to staying at the forefront of the best educational practices and cutting-edge technology.
We have much to be proud of in the Catholic elementary and high schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. We both are deeply grateful to the dedicated administrators, teachers and parents who are doing all they can to enrich the lives of our students and Church. To each of them we say thank you for all that you do to make our schools places where faith is taught and lived out, where academic excellence is expected of all, and where a commitment to serving others is experienced daily.
Finally we invite you to visit your parish/regional school during Catholic Schools Week. You will be impressed by what the students do each day and how we are meeting the needs of our students in new and exciting ways. There is much to see and our students are eager to show you. Please help us work together for these children who are TOMORROW’S HOPE. Happy Catholic Schools Week!
Bishop William Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
Sister Joanne Callahan
Superintendent of Schools