Archive for August, 2012

August 25, 2012 – Catholic Education: Value Beyond Belief

August 25, 2012

Well even though we still have a week left to go in the month of August and we are pretty much still in “summer mode”, school has already been in session for over a week.  This, plus a couple of articles that I saw during the week have led me to talk about our Catholic schools and the value to our nation.  I don’t think anyone can argue that Catholic schools provide a unique, stimulating learning environment for our children.  The statistics bear this out.  For example, according to the National Catholic Education Association, for the year 2010-2011 it was estimated that 99% of Catholic high school students graduated, and that 84% went on to post-secondary education.  This is compared to 44.1% of public school students.  And it is not only Catholics that realize the benefits attained from a Catholic education.  In the same year, 15.4% of the enrollment in Catholic schools was non-Catholic students.  In inner city areas, this percentage jumped to 42%.  So there is clearly value in a Catholic education.

The question that has been brought up in the last couple of weeks is at what cost does a Catholic education come.  There is certainly a large sacrifice that many families have to make financially in order to send their children to a Catholic school.  In the year 2010-2011 once again, the average tuition for a student in a parish grade school was $3,673.  The mean freshman tuition in a Catholic high school was $8,182.  For our students in this parish, the numbers are somewhat lower, but still there is a definite sacrifice that must be made.  The tuition of course does not cover the total cost to educate each student, which is made up through parish subsidies, fund-raisers, endowments, etc.  Parents of course make the largest sacrifice, but it really takes the efforts of many more people to keep a Catholic school operational.

I haven’t really said anything that we as members of a parish don’t already know.  I mention all of this because of an article that recently appeared in The Economist.  It is a lengthy article that talks about the current financial state of the Catholic Church.  Much of the focus is on how the church’s finances have been affected by the clergy abuse scandal.  There is nothing really earth-shattering in the article.  If you have trouble sleeping some evening, it would probably good to read to get you drowsy.  Here is the link to it:

www.economist.com/node/21560536

The part of the article that brought a swift response from the USCCB is that local and federal governments are “bankrolling” Catholic schools in order to keep them afloat.  There is really no basis for this statement.  Yes, it is true that in our district for example, our students are provided transportation, and also can take advantage of some of the programs offered at the public school such as band.  It is also true that Catholic families pay taxes like everyone else, and that the government has an obligation to educate youth.  There is no money provided to Catholic schools to pay for salaries, building expenses, technology, books, etc.  Catholic schools are essentially self-sufficient.  In fact, in direct contrast to the spirit of the article in the Economist, because Catholic schools house about 2 million students each year, the government is spared about $23 billion dollars in additional expenditures.  So it would seem the argument could be made that it is Catholic schools who are “bankrolling” the government, not vice-versa.

Does the government have an obligation to subsidize Catholic schools?  Should there be a “voucher” program in order to give families a choice to send their children to a private school if they wish without dealing with the issue of the large financial obligation?  These are questions that can be argued another day.  What is clear is that Catholic schools provide a unique educational opportunity, but that this opportunity comes with a heavy price financially and in terms of time spent at fund-raisers, etc.  In order for Catholic schools to remain self-sufficient, there may have to be changes in how schools are operated.  This may mean additional closures and mergers of schools.  This may mean changes in how schools are operated and managed.

This past week in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the announcement was made that the management of its high schools and special-education school were going to be turned over to a private foundation called the “Faith in the Future” foundation.  This creates the first independently run Catholic school system in the country.  Though the Archdiocese will still own the buildings and other assets, the foundation will be responsible for development and enrollment strategies, as well as new educational initiatives.  It will also be responsible for making up the operational deficit that Philadelphia’s schools have been running for years.  I do not anticipate that this sort of arrangement will become widespread, at least in the near future.  However, I’m sure that many dioceses, particularly the larger ones, will be watching to see how this plays out over the next few years, and if it is successful, we may see more of a shift to this type of school management.  In the meantime, I thank all of you who sacrifice in any way to keep our school operational and a wonderful place to grow and learn.

I also want to throw out kudos to Fr. Gene and our high school students.  Recently some of our high school youth approached Father with the idea of once again trying to form a youth ministry group in our parish.  As you know, there have been many things that have been tried in the past, which unfortunately have died out after a time.  However, this go around appears hopeful as it was the kids who approached us to form something.  Fr. Gene has generously taken on the role as the “organizer” for the time being, and we pray that this can grow into a vibrant ministry in our parish.

I’m still on a high from last night’s Cardinal victory.  Let’s keep it rolling!  Have a great week!  Peace.

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August 17, 2012 – 200 and Counting

August 18, 2012

I have mentioned in this space before that I don’t get the chance very often to celebrate milestones, so when one comes along I like to acknowledge it.  Through the ability of technology to compute statistics, I am happy to acknowledge that this is my 200th blog entry.  When I began this blog back in late 2007 I had no idea what direction it would take or how long I would do it.  It was basically just a matter of seeing that blogs at that time were becoming very popular and wanting to throw my 2 cents worth in.  Little did I know that almost 5 years later I would still be doing this on pretty much a weekly basis and that at least a few people would still find it worthwhile reading.  So I have to say thank you for your support and for your continued interest in what I have to say.  It means so much to me.

When I wrote my 100th blog, I looked back at some things I had written previously and commented on them.  Since I have always felt that originality was overrated, I’m going to do the same thing for this blog.  So here’s another little trip down memory lane with the date the item was written and then a little current commentary following each one:

10/30/10 – “Many weeks we are not receiving the needed funds to pay our bills, forcing us to put off needed projects, repairs, etc. and to dip into our investments and other accounts to pay the bills.  This is hard to talk about because the economy, despite what we are being told by our President and our government, is still stagnant, and also I recognize that many of our parishioners are extremely generous in sharing their treasure.  However, due to our older population dying off and also more and more people not attending church on a regular basis, our number of donors continues to decrease.”  Well the economy still is not in the best shape, especially considering that we now have to face the effects of the extreme drought.  But the generosity of our parishioners has not wavered.  If anything, it has gotten stronger.  We just completed the capital campaign for our steeple renovation that surpassed our goal, and any other time a need arises, our parishioners rise to the occasion.

12/22/10 – “To our President and Congressional leaders – a new found attitude of compromise and a real effort to work for the common good.”  This was part of my Christmas “wish” list a couple years ago.  Obviously this still remains on the wish list.

2/4/11 – “There is also a program that will be taking place next year as a part of the Diocesan celebration of its 125th anniversary called “Fanning the Flame”.  It will be a great opportunity for us to renew our knowledge of our faith, and likewise we will be more prepared to instruct those who lack the proper knowledge about our faith.”  Boy, has it ever been.  Our weekly discussion group has been a wonderful learning experience, and I know others are participating in other ways.

8/6/11 – “Have you joined our Facebook page yet?  Go to our website, www.maryhoc.org, and click the Facebook tab and go from there.  We have 46 members now.  I post death notices and other tidbits on this page, and it’s a chance to stay in touch with current and former parishioners.”  Now a year later we’re up yo 63 members of our Facebook page, and the Facebook group I recently started to gather memories from our school is over 100 members strong.  It certainly isn’t our fault that Facebook stock has been plummeting.

9/9/11 – “Gov. Quinn has proposed to close 7 state facilities and lay off over 1900 state workers in a money-saving move.  One of the facilities proposed for closure is the Chester Mental Health Center, which employees almost 500 people.  If this facility were to close, it obviously would have a devastating effect on our area, particularly in a time when the economy is already in a fragile state.  Some think that this is just a political ploy by the governor in order to persuade the legislature to add to the state budget.  If it is, then he should be ashamed for using people’s jobs and livelihoods as bargaining chips.  If this is a serious proposal, then obviously he does not realize that so much of what fuels the economy of our town and our area is the prison and the mental health center.”  Fortunately this proposal had to go through the general assembly and did not pass, so the facility has been spared at least for the time being.  Unfortunately other facilities were not so lucky, including the youth camp in Murphysboro.  We continue to pray that the jobs in our area will be spared.

11/18/11 – “In about a week, we will begin using the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal for our responses during Mass.  I have heard concern from some people saying that they are afraid that they will still blurt out the old responses, even though we will have pew cards with the new translation.  My piece of advice is not to be concerned.  it will take all of us some time to get used to the new translation.  And if during the first few weeks, some of us still say “The Lord be with you” instead of “And with your Spirit”, well that’s just part of the process.”  I must say that the transition has gone as smoothly as anyone could have hoped, at least in our parish.  “And with your spirit” is now indelibly engrained in all of our minds.

2/10/12 – “The national news continues to surround the recent mandate by the Obama administration that non-profit employers, which would include entities such as Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities, must include coverage of contraception and sterilization procedures in their health care plans.  This of course goes against Catholic teaching, and would force many individuals to not only violate their conscience, but to also pay more to cover the cost of providing these procedures and medications free of charge.”  There of course has been a huge backlash against this mandate.  Our U.S. Bishops have mobilized against this, and leaders of other faiths have spoken out against this.  Unfortunately, the mandate still stands, and work and prayer must continue to see that it is overturned.

I’m sure that there were other excerpts I could have picked out, but these were the ones that stuck out to me.  What will the next 100 blogs bring?  Well, let’s just shoot for #201 and go from there.

Again, thank you for continuing to read the blog.  Have a great week.  Peace.

August 11, 2012 – Praying for a Resolution

August 11, 2012

With all of the happenings that have been going on in the church and in current events it has been impossible to stay well informed on everything, much less to write about them.  One of the ones that I have been let sliding through the cracks is the mandate issued by the Vatican earlier this year to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  This group was in the spotlight this past week as they held their annual assembly in St. Louis.  I heard some of the reports on local and national TV but still did not really feel inclined to dig into it further until one of the local reporters led her report with a statement something to this effect: “Many people feel that as the church continues to make its stances on social issues more intolerant, that more and more people are turning away from the church.”  I don’t think this was a statement from any of the women religious at the assembly.  I think this was a case of a reporter not checking facts and trying to come with a good catch line to make people listen.  Well, I listened, and my blood boiled.  But before I talk about why I had steam coming out of my ears, I thought I should look a little bit into the background of the LCWR and what this conflict with the Vatican is really all about.

The LCWR was founded in 1956, and according to its website, “assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel.” The conference has more than 1500 members, whose congregations in 2011 included 46,451 (or 83%) of the 55,944 women religious in the United States. The membership of LCWR is confined to the women who are the superiors, or leaders, of their respective congregations; it is a consortium of executives rather than as an organization of representatives of religious women generally.

In 2009 the Vatican announced it would be conducting a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR because of concern about some of the content of the addresses given at their annual assemblies.  The findings of this assessment were released this past April, which indicated that the LCWR needed to make changes to reform its statutes, programs, and affiliations to conform more closely to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.” On June 3, 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith headed by Cardinal William Levad expressed public disapproval of Sister Margaret Farley and her book, Just Love, which emphasized a toleration of homosexuality and feminism contrary to the Catholic teachings. In the statement, he maintained that Farley’s teachings were “in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality”.  Levada further noted that such beliefs “pose grave harm” and counter the official teachings and moral tenets of the Roman Catholic Church while Farley maintained that such beliefs are in line with a modern type of Catholicism and should draw from various other religious traditions and secular perspectives tolerated during the Second Vatican Council.  After a June 12, 2012 meeting with representatives of the LCWR, Cardinal Levada expressed his fear that the lack of response to Vatican concerns by the LCWR was becoming like a “dialogue of the deaf”. He presented the possibility that if the LCWR did not accept the demanded reforms that they could be decertified to make way for a new organization that would take up their duties and be more responsive to the Vatican.

At their general assembly this past week, the LCWR made a statement that they wish to continue to dialogue with the Vatican, and did not necessarily feel the pressure of a deadline to form a response to the mandate.  So it appears that this conversation will continue even after the conclusion of this assembly.  What I have presented here is just a very brief synopsis of the events leading up to this time.  There is a lot of material on the internet about this.  I would also recommend going to the website for the St. Louis Review for coverage of the assembly:

 http://stlouisreview.com/article/2012-08-10/lcwr-agrees-enter  

My reaction to what is transpiring is basically two-fold.  One, I cannot put into words the appreciation I have for the contributions the religious sisters have made in this country.  As Cardinal Timothy Dolan said so well in a recent article, “We Catholics love the nuns.  We Americans love the nuns … Long before women had any executive positions in business, industry, education, or politics, Catholic women religious ran schools, colleges, hospitals, and agencies of charity.  And anybody of my vintage or older knows that the most influential people in the parish were the sisters … They had sharp minds, soft hearts, radiant souls, and indomitable wills.  In them we saw the two great commandments given us by Jesus — “love God, and love your neighbor” personified.”  I am blessed to have been touched by the sisters.  Here at St. Mary’s, from Sr. Mary Edna in first grade who taught me so many basic fundamentals, to Sr. Virginia in the upper grades who somehow brought out musical ability in my very limited talent range.  And at Gibault High School, Sr. Mary Bernard Braun, who always referred to her students as “onions” because they bring a lot of flavor to life but once in a while make you cry.

My other reaction, however, goes back to the reporter’s statement that made me so furious.  I do not think that the church has a duty to reform its teachings on social issues just because the culture of our society does not conform with them.  I think on the contrary, it is more important now than it ever has been for the church to stand firm in its beliefs, which by the way are based on the teachings of Scripture.  And these teachings have not changed over time.  The Second Vatican Council did not modify these in any way.  What it did was to help the Church present itself in a way that the modern world could better relate to.  So when someone says that the church continues to narrow its stance on these issues, then they are misinformed.

My hope is that dialogue can take place between the Vatican and the LCWR, and that a resolution can be found that satisfies both parties.  Definitely something to keep in our prayers.  Also, let us pray for our students, school staff and parents as we begin another school year this week (where did the summer go?).  Also, we thank God for a break in the oppressive heat and we continue to pray for our farmers and all affected by the extreme drought.  Have a great week.  Peace.

August 4, 2012 – Just Rambling

August 4, 2012

Well there were several things this week that caught my attention so this will be one of those “all over the map” blogs.  Normally I just try to talk about things without putting a lot of my own personal spin on them.  However, this week I might be diverting from that philosophy a little bit because this blog is really one of the few avenues I have to express my own opinions, which of course we are all entitled to do.  And of course, if you are in disagreement with anything I say, then you are free to express that as well.  So here we go:

Living in a relatively small town such as Chester can have its pros and cons.  You will hear complaints about only having one grocery store, or not having this or that.  And of course there are the differences in how the city government should be run that occurs in a lot of small towns.  But on the flip side there is a general feeling that everyone knows everyone else, that it is a relatively safe place to live, and that when there is a crisis that the community will manage to pull together.  So when we hear news such as the other night that there is a shooting in our town, we not only express shock in the act itself, but we feel that we are losing that safety net, that feeling of security that we think should exist in a small town.  I hope this will serve as an opportunity for people to come together and watch out for their neighbors a little closer, and for our city government to work together to ensure that Chester remains a safe place to live. 

The next item that dominated the news this week is the business with Chick – Fil –A restaurants.  I’m sure you know the story, but in short the COO of the restaurant chain, Dan Cathy, who is a devout Southern Baptist, has made several statements supporting the stance that marriage should be between a man and woman as is stated in the Bible, and that there should be no such thing as same-sex marriage.  This is in line with Christian teaching, including that of the Catholic Church.  These statements have caused strong reactions from people on both sides of the issue.  This stance has cost the restaurant chain certain endorsement deals, and it has also received threats from mayors of several major cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, that the chain would not be welcome to build in their city, or if it was already there, it would not be allowed to expand.  On the flip side, there was an “appreciation” day this past Wednesday in which people flocked to the restaurants in record numbers to show their support.

I have a couple thoughts on this.  One, people have the right to express their opinions, and if they disagree with the stance of the philosophy of the company, then they do not have to patronize them.  However, there are now stories coming out of vandalism to some restaurants.  Also, a video has popped up online of a gentleman yelling at an employee for working for a company that would promote such values.  This goes over the line and is counterproductive to the purpose of free speech.  Also, not only in this situation, but in the debate on marriage in general, I cannot see the logic of people who think that not allowing same-sex marriage is discriminatory, or that it violates their rights in some way.  Cardinal George wrote an excellent article on the subject, and he puts marriage into context in a much better way than I can.  He says that “Marriage existed before Christ called together his first disciples two thousand years ago and well before the United States of America was formed two hundred and thirty six years ago. Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.

Marriage exists because human nature comes in two complementary sexes: male and female. The sexual union of a man and woman is called the marital act because the two become physically one in a way that is impossible between two men or two women. Whatever a homosexual union might be or represent, it is not physically marital. Gender is inextricably bound up with physical sexual identity; and “gender-free marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like a square circle.”

There was also news this week about the HHS mandate.  Part of the mandate went into effect this past week in that insurance companies will no longer be allowed to charge co-pays on coverage for contraception.  If this mandate is allowed to be fully enforced, it will require religious institutions to pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients for their employees unless their primary function is to serve people of their own faith.  So, a Catholic Church attended by Catholics who employees Catholics may be exempt.  However, a Catholic school who employs non-Catholics teachers and enrolls non-Catholic students would have to comply.  A food pantry sponsored by a church who gives food to people of all faiths.  Bottom line … this is serious stuff, and if this mandate is allowed to go through, we could very well see many of these institutions close its doors.  These are not idle threats – these are serious possibilities.  Let me direct you to 2 excellent reads from this past week on the subject:

http://blog.archny.org/index.php/fighting-the-good-fight-for-religious-freedom/

www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-135.cfm 

I admittedly have not followed the Olympics that closely.  I try to watch here and there, but I’ve gotten most of my information off of the internet.  One of the athletes I’ve been following is Missy Franklin, a 17 year old swimmer.  She has now won 3 gold medals and a bronze medal.  She is not Catholic, but she attends a Catholic High School in Colorado and credits her education there for much of her success. Here is an excerpt from an interview in which she discusses her faith:

“From that first moment, I knew God was with me. Every day over the last three years, my faith has grown. One of my favorite times is going to our beautiful school chapel and spending time with God. This year, I attended Kairos with my Regis Jesuit sisters and it changed my life forever. I now really work on keeping my faith strong.” 

Finally, I hope you have had a chance to check out our Facebook group that has memories from St. Mary’s School.  It has really exploded.  There are over 100 members on it now, and there have been some great memories and photos posted.  Take a look if you have not seen it.  Go to our home page and follow the link.

Thank God for the rain.  Have a great week.  Peace.