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Catholic Schools

Father Chris: Take bullying seriously

Archbishop Pinder's Message for Teachers

Holy Rosary School, Gaza, Palestine

Holy Rosary School, Gaza, Palestine

Ugly Betty television star America Ferrera addressed Los Angles Catholic high school students:  "Every opportunity that faces you is really defined by how you accept that opportunity."

Vatican on the importance of Catholic education: "There are some 250,000 Catholic educational institutes frequented by slightly fewer than 42 million pupils distributed over the continents as follows: 10 million in Africa, 12 million in the Americas, 10 million in Asia, 9 million in Europe, and 800,000 in Oceania. Teachers in Catholic schools number around 3.5 million."

Backed by the Klu Klux Klan, in the 1920s Oregon voters passed a referendum requiring schoolchildren to attend only public schools thereby eliminating Catholic education.  U. S. public schools are in effect Protestant schools which was the geneses for the creation of the Catholic school system. The Oregon law was eventually struck down by the United States Supreme Court.

Catholic schoolchildren in Singapore

Catholic schoolchildren in Singapore

Catholic News - Catholic schoolchildren in VietnamCatholic schoolchildren in Vietnam

Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea wants the law to allow Catholic schools to select their pupils and Catholic pupils to select their Catholic school.  The South Korean Education Ministry responded: "The demands are out of reach."

Summer reading for children

Marin Catholic High School in Modesto, California, has hired a Labrador Retriever to sniff out drugs.

Saint John the Evangelist Catholic School, Valdosta, Georgia, reading list

Charlottsville Catholic School, Charlottesville, Virginia, reading list

Saint Bernard’s Resurrection

The story of a school with a shortage of finances and an abundance of faith

Catholic Schools - Saint Bernard School

By Christina Capecchi
The Catholic Spirit
March 24, 2005

The snow doesn’t slow them. The kids playing at the corner of Albemarle Street and Geranium Avenue in St. Paul fly under the flurries, a blur of braces and braids and boots.

“It’s controlled chaos,” says St. Bernard’s fifth-grade teacher Diane Smith, who ushers her students across the street when recess ends and watches them sprint to the school doors.

Two years ago this month, those screeching signs of life almost came to a halt. The archdiocese announced that St. Bernard’s grade school would close.

SaintBernardSchoolEnrollment.jpg (24278 bytes) It was a decision officials made with regret, said Father Kevin McDonough, archdiocesan vicar general. But the turnaround plan St. Bernard’s had launched in 1999 — increasing recruiting, strengthening the board of directors, expanding the tuition assistance program — wasn’t turning the numbers around.

In the spring of 2003, the school’s K-8 enrollment had dropped to 196, after reaching nearly 300 in 1995-96. Meanwhile, the school’s debt had risen to $2 million. And the annual subsidy it received from the archdiocese had climbed to $164,000 — the high end of the subsidy spectrum that the diocese gives to its 23 Catholic grade schools.

Officials announced March 7, 2003, kindergarten through sixth grades would be eliminated at the end of the school year. The decision that, unbeknownst to them, had been debated for some time was called irrevocable.

A sea of sadness swept over the school.

“It hit me very hard,” said Claudia Diez, a mother of two students. “St. Bernard’s always felt like an extension of my own home.”

“I told my mom that I wouldn’t go to school,” said fifth-grader Azureya Blair, 10. “I didn’t think any school would compare.”

The surprise of the news added to its sting, said Father Mike Anderson, pastor of St. Bernard’s. “They had been in the dark,” he said. “I was never able to give the people the opportunity to do anything for themselves.”

That, coupled with the finality of the decision, seemed like a sure-fire formula for indignation.

“I was waiting for pitchforks and torches down to the chancery, ‘We’ll show the archbishop what we think,’” Father Anderson said.

School president Jennifer Cassidy, the third of four generations in her family to attend St. Bernard’s, anticipated animosity toward administration as well as the archbishop.

“I was even nervous to go see my grandma,” she said. Not to mention facing all the parishioners at Mass. “I thought, ‘Geez, I’m going to go to church and they’re going to look at me and think, “We put you in charge and look what happened!” ’ ”

A surprising reaction

But in that gloomy financial story, every chapter is framed in faith. It begins when the news that could have brought out the ugly in people brought out the good.

“Parents came up to me and gave me hugs and asked how I was doing,” Cassidy recalled. “They said, ‘You know, God has a plan for this place.’ I was looking in their eyes and seeing an absolute trust. And that was the strength I needed.”

Staff members were equally encouraging.

“Teachers who just heard they were losing their job came up to us and asked, ‘What can we do for the kids?’” Cassidy said.

Parents and students, on the other hand, expressed concern for their beloved, suddenly unemployed teachers. “It was just the most amazing time of grace,” Father Anderson said.

“Immediately, we began to bring it into prayer,” principal Mark Lenihan said.

The staff prayed every morning. The school united at weekly Mass. Parishioners planned prayer vigils — not pickets. And students wrote to Archbishop Harry Flynn.

“The letters were beautiful,” Smith said. “There was nothing that condemned him. They were consoling, ‘We know it must have been a hard decision, but please rethink it; we really love our teachers and our friends.’”

The students didn’t stop there. They scoured the phone book, searching for any possible donor that could save their school. One wrote to Kemps Ice Cream. Others tried Oprah.

“They left no stone unturned,” Cassidy said.

Alumnae came out of the woodwork to support the school. Parents pressed on, too. Ten formed a group called Parents and Friends of St. Bernard’s. They made yellow shirts bearing their name and met weekly to seek solutions.

“Many people were skeptical, saying, ‘No, it’s not going to happen,’” said Diez, a member of the group. “But I never accepted that. I believed.”

Let go, let God

As the school president, Cassidy said, it was tough to forfeit her authority.

“In leaCatholic Schools - Saint Bernard Schooldership positions, we’re taught to control everything, that it’s all up to us,” she said. “But at one point, we finally threw our arms up and said, ‘We don’t know where to turn. Let go and let God.’”

“The only thing we could do was bring it to God because we didn’t have any other answers,” Father Anderson added.

“And the minute we did that,” Cassidy continued, “solutions started coming. When we were holding it tightly, it wasn’t going so well. When we let it go, solutions started to appear.”

And they surfaced from nearby sources. The neighborhood that had never seemed to notice St. Bernard’s suddenly spoke up for the school. Local business owners met with parents in an effort to raise funds.

“It was real affirming to St. Bernard’s to see that, over these 100 years, we have become an anchor to the community,” Cassidy said.

A community foundation came up with a $50,000 challenge grant that St. Bernard’s families and friends successfully matched. The community coalition also pledged to raise $100,000 for the school in the year to come.

Then Father Anderson got a phone call from a man asking: Just what would it take to keep the school open.

“I said, ‘I don’t think anything would do it,’ ” Father Anderson said. “ 'The archbishop’s made it abundantly clear that this is irreversible. But, I’ll call the chancery to find out.’ ”

Father McDonough told Father Anderson the bottom line: $600,000 each year for four years. Father Anderson called the man back. He responded to the formidable figure with nonchalance. “‘Oh, I can do that,’” Father Anderson recounted. “‘Just make sure you maintain my anonymity.’ ”

In the end, the man served only as a guarantor for St. Bernard’s, vouching to provide the required sum but never needing to.

“He became our safety net,” Cassidy explained. “But there was no magic pill.”

Instead, the school chiseled away at its operating costs while unlikely donations kept pouring in. “The large increase in our fund-raising efforts are the little people,” she said. “It’s the village, a ton of people coming together and giving.”

Still, it was the guarantor’s phone call that prompted Father Anderson to notify Father McDonough and assure him the school could provide the necessary funds.

The vicar general informed the archbishop, and the next day, March 27, he called Father Anderson with three simple words: You can reopen.

“That was the beginning of the resurrection story for me,” Father Anderson said. “There was a real sense of freedom: ‘It’s not of me that this place has the capacity to stay open. But God himself found a way.’”

The reversal of the irreversible was met with surprise and delight.

“Our challenge to St. Bernard’s was responded to in a way that I don’t think anyone anticipated, and galvanized exactly the kind of support that we hoped would have been there already,” Father McDonough said.

“It was just incredible,” Diez recalled. “I cried tears of joy.”

High school students rejoiced, too. Keeping kids at St. Bernard’s, said senior Matt Thell, 18, “just makes it feel more like school.”

“They look up to us,” added seventh-grader Annie Mohs, 13. “And we try to be role models for them.”

“It was called the Miracle on Rice Street, and I really think it was,” Lenihan said. “God answered prayers.”

Refined by the fire

Today, the 114-year-old school is different because of the threat of closing.

For one, St. Bernard’s has remained more closely tied to alumnae and the community. In fact, a group of parents and school leaders is working with local business leaders to renovate the neighborhood.

The school evokes more pride, too.

“The adversity we experienced was a true gift from God because it made us stronger and better than ever,” Smith said. “We needed it. We needed to see what we were made of. And now we know.”

Students are more committed than ever.

“Even if a bomb took out our school, the kids would be out there laying the bricks,” Smith said.

And above all, Father Anderson said, the school is more fully steeped in spirituality.

“We approach everything from more of a faith-angle now,” he said. “We don’t operate a day without doing that.”

When recruiting or fund raising, for instance, school leaders don’t alter their angle to appeal to niche markets.

Their sales pitch is their story: “We are the presence of Jesus Christ in the north end community,” Father Anderson said. “We do this because Christ wants us to. How do I know? Because we weren’t supposed to be open and we’re open. In a very factual, concrete way, we were dead.”

The dawn of growth

It seems to be selling, because these days the school is very alive.

St. Bernard’s is on track to achieve its $700,000 capital campaign goal to renovate the church and school. Enrollment increased by more than 7 percent from the last school year to the current one. And in January, the largest eighth-grade group in the past decade took the freshman placement test.

Those signs of resurgence, Cassidy says, are a tribute to the school’s strengthened faith.

“When rough moments come, you’ll hear staff telling others when passing in the hall, ‘Faith, not fear,’” she said.

That was the Scripture summary Father Anderson offered in his homily the day he and Cassidy learned the school would close. The daily reading was from Matthew 5 about Jairus’ daughter.

“They told Jesus that Jairus’ daughter was dying,” Cassidy said. “He said he was on his way. It took him several days. By the time he got there, people said she had died. But Jesus said, ‘No, she’s not dead. She’s just asleep.’ ”

The fact that God woke St. Bernard’s from its slumber does not mean it’s an elite or favored school, leaders insist.

“We are the island of misfit toys,” Father Anderson said. “There’s nobody who’s quite all together in this place. We’re blue collar. We don’t have a huge talent base. We are very ordinary people. We’re the people who everybody forgets. But God doesn’t forget us.”

Nor does the school’s resurrection mean its leaders are unusually adept.

“It’s not so much what we did but what happened to us,” Cassidy stressed.

And that’s the whole point, Father Anderson said. It’s the story of “how God can use what some would consider a tired little parish in a tired little neighborhood to proclaim his mighty works and to make his presence felt.”

It’s the story of a school that, when shaken to the core, taught its president an unforgettable lesson.

“I learned a lot,” Cassidy said. “Your instinct is to want to hide and be frustrated and give up, but the people here inspired me. They changed my understanding of what faith really is. It’s in some of the darkest moments that God is the brightest to us.”

Reprinted with permission of The Catholic Spirit Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

The cost of educating a student in Arizona's public schools is $7,800 while the cost of educating a student in non-public schools in Arizona is $3,700.  28% of Arizona's non-public schools are Catholic.

It costs $12,500 to educate a student in a New York City public school and $3,000 to educate a student at a New York City Catholic school.

There were 2,484,252 U. S. Catholic school students in September 2003.

Released-time religious instruction for public school children was approved by the United States Supreme Court in 1952.  

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