Archive of January 18, 2011

Weakening of Catholic identity contributes to school enrollment decline, cautions professor

Denver, Colo., Jan 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the wake of the Archdiocese of New York recently closing 27 of its schools, conversation on the sharp decline of Catholic school enrollment has once again been ignited. One education expert says a weakening of Catholic identity is a primary factor in the school closures.

Dr. John J. Convey, who holds the title of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Professor of Education at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., also explained that a lack of school-aged children and waning pastoral leadership have also significantly contributed to school closures. 

The Archdiocese of New York announced Jan. 11 that after careful consideration, it will close 27 of its Catholic schools due to steadily declining enrollment.

The move will save the archdiocese $10 million a year.

The New York archdiocese, which is home to 2.5 million parishioners, will continue to spend $13 million annually to sustain its remaining 189 Catholic schools.

The archdiocese released a statement on its website, saying that the closures of 26 elementary schools and one high school will affect 3,700 students. Thirteen of the schools to be shut down are in New York City and others are in counties north of the area.

With its recent closures, the archdiocese has added to an ominous and growing trend of declining student enrollment in Catholic schools across the U.S.

Enrollment in Catholic elementary schools has dropped 15 percent nationwide since 2001-02 school year, reported the National Catholic Educational Association. In 2006 and 2007 in the U.S., 212  Catholic schools were closed or consolidated.

In a Jan. 17 e-mail, Dr. Convey, who co-authored the 2009 book “Weathering the Storm: Moving Catholic Schools Forward,” weighed in, saying that numerous factors have contributed to enrollment decline.

He noted that dwindling demographics, what he called an “insufficient number of school-age children,” is a large underlying problem.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported last August that the steadily falling birth rate in the U.S. fell 2.7 percent in 2009, an all time low in the last 100 years.

Dr. Convey also said that “weak leadership” on the part of the principal or the pastor, including the “unwillingness of the pastor to support the school or to promote it to the parish” as another factor.

“This problem is exacerbated if diocesan leadership is not strong or is unwilling to act to rectify the leadership problem,” he added.

Perhaps most disconcerting, Dr. Convey cited a “weak Catholic identity” on the part of Catholic schools either based in actual fact or simply perceived as such by parents.

He said that many families today believe that a Catholic school is not strong enough in the “value-added” component that would make it different from a public or charter school.

The education expert added that families without sufficient income to afford tuition can be a problem which is “exacerbated if adequate tuition assistance is not available.”

“In some cases, money is an issue; families can't afford the tuition and insufficient tuition assistance is available to help them. In other cases, parents are unwilling to pay for a Catholic school if they perceive that the public schools, charter schools or other private schools in their area are adequate.”

Dr. Convey also noted that accusations of sex abuse by clergy have “had an impact on diocesan budgets from huge legal settlements.”

Lastly, he said parents often “don’t sufficiently value Catholic education” and would rather “have their children educated in the public school even though they could afford to send them to a Catholic school.”

Dr. Convey explained that in order to combat plummeting school enrollment, the “Church and each individual Catholic school needs to be more vocal about the importance of the schools and their effectiveness in both the academic and religious formation of the students.”

He added that public relations and marketing along with effective leadership at both the local and diocesan levels are “essential for renewing interest in Catholic schools.” 

“Locally,” he emphasized, “leadership rests in the principal, the pastor, the school board, and the faculty.  The attitude and support of the pastor is especially important in that he signals to the entire community about whether the school is an important mission of that parish and the Church.”

In an article for America Magazine on Sept. 13 last year, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York noted many of Dr. Convey's same concerns on the decline in Catholic school enrollment.

He underscored the documented benefits of a Catholic education for students, such as better test scores, deeper spirituals lives and greater community involvement. He then called it the “ecclesial duty” of all American Catholics to increase the number of students in Catholic schools today.

Archbishop Dolan said that to “re-grow” the Catholic school system, “today’s efforts need to be rooted in the long-term financial security that comes from institutional commitment through endowments, foundations and stable funding sources and also from every parish supporting a Catholic school, even if it is not 'their own.'”

“Strong Catholic schools strengthen all other programs of evangelization, service, catechesis and sanctification,” he wrote. “The entire church suffers when Catholic schools disappear.”

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Vandals tag two California churches with anti-Catholic threat

Anaheim, Calif., Jan 18, 2011 (CNA) - One or more vandals recently spray painted a misspelled phrase “Kill the Cathlics” on two different Catholic churches in California.

The phrase appeared on St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim and at St. Thomas More Parish in Irvine, about 20 miles away. Both incidents were discovered on the morning of Jan. 11.

Church officials are working with police to find who is responsible.

Sgt. Rick Martinez, public information officer for the Anaheim Police Department, told CNA there are still no suspects in the case.

Video surveillance from a camera at the church was not useful in revealing the identity or the sex of the person. The video footage shows a vehicle and a person at the church around 3 a.m. but police are not sure if the person in the video is connected to the vandalism.

Two other vandalism incidents were reported at the same time. A pet store and the wall of a local bank were both marked by derogatory comments containing ethnic animosity. Only the pet store graffiti had a reference to Catholics, and this reference was correctly spelled. The three acts of vandalism took place within an 11-mile radius of each other, with St. Boniface being in the middle of the two other crime scenes.

Martinez said he was not sure if the incident in Irvine, Calif. was related to the vandalism in Anaheim.

The California Catholic Daily says there have been several thefts and vandalism incidents at area Catholic churches in recent years. An ex-convict on parole has been arrested in connection with a series of “poor box” thefts at Holy Family parish in Glendale and at St. Finbar parish in Burbank.

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John Paul II remembered as great defender of life and family

CNA STAFF, Jan 18, 2011 (CNA) - A member of the Pontifical Academy for Life's board of directors recently explained that Pope John Paul II will be remembered as “a great lover of life and defender” of the unborn.

Patricio Ventura-Junca, who is also director of the Center for Bioethics at the Catholic University of Chile, spoke with CNA on Jan. 17 about his reaction to John Paul II's upcoming beatification.

The Vatican announced that the late Pope will be beatified May 1.

Ventura-Junca expressed joy at the announcement and noted that the late Pope embraced advances in biology as well as the idea that “nobody has the right to eliminate an innocent person.”

He was “a great visionary because he realized that the future of the world depends on the family, because it is precisely in the family where values and faith are passed on,” Ventura-Junca added.

He also said by beatifying John Paul II, the Church is providing a model for all Christians and non-Christians. “The number of people who came together at his death showed it. I believe he was a man who went way beyond the borders of the Vatican, traversed the world and also brought Christian thought beyond Christians,” he said.

“John Paul II the Great was a man ahead of his time because he trusted in the laity” to participate as members of the Church in disciplines such as science, philosophy and bioethics.

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Thousands of pilgrims celebrate devotion to Christ of Esquipulas in Guatemala

Esquipulas, Guatemala, Jan 18, 2011 (CNA) - Thousands of Catholics from Central America and Mexico gathered to celebrate the traditional devotion to the Christ of Esquipulas in Guatemala Jan. 14 - 15.

The rector of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Msgr. Diego Monroy Ponce, who attended the event, donated a replica of the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Basilica of Esquipulas.

According to a press release issued by the basilica, Msgr. Monroy also presided at the Mass and Enthroning of the image on Jan. 14.

Priests asked Quirio Catano, a sculptor, to make the image in 1594.

Together with the rector of the shrine, Abbot Hector Sosa Paz, and Msgr. Monroy, the archbishop offered the prayers of the faithful to Christ, especially for Guatemala’s upcoming elections.

The devotion to the Christ of Esquipulas in Guatemala dates back over 400 years and is also observed in New York, New Mexico and Los Angeles.

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Profile: The American 'CEO' of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Joseph Tobin, the American who serves as secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, is no stranger to community life.

He grew up with 12 brothers and sisters. He made his vows to religious life through the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or Redemptorists, almost 40 years ago.

He is the son of a father who played in the Orange Bowl as a freshman at Boston College and a mother who courageously provided for the 13 kids after his early death.

The robust 58-year old archbishop is an athlete himself. He last took to the ice for a hockey game at Christmas.

Archbishop Tobin's vocation to the Redemptorists came in Detroit where his dad worked at the General Motors plant and the family went to a parish run by the order. "I think growing up I knew these fellas and I wanted to be like them," he recalled.

The missionary order carries on the work of 18th-century founder St. Alphonsus of Liguori, reaching out to poorest and most abandoned. Much of their work is down in schools, parishes and missions.

He began his priestly ministry with Hispanics in the late-1970s which eventually led him to Chicago. It was there, in 1991, when he first got the call that his order was considering him for a position in Rome.

"I received that phone call with a Bible under my one arm — a Spanish Bible — a hot dog in my hand and thinking of playing hockey that night," the archbishop recounted with a laugh. He told his superiors at the time, "you tell them that in Rome if I can teach Spanish Bible circles, eat hot dogs and play ice hockey, I'm your guy."

Archbishop Tobin has been based out of the city for nearly all of the 20 years since that day. He began as general consultor for the order's international operations and, in 1997, was elected to serve as the superior general.

The election put him at the head of what are now 5,500 international consecrated members working in 77 countries.

Through the position, he said, he came in contact with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when a Redemptorist got "a little off track" in his moral theology.

He remembers the future Pope Benedict XVI as "tremendously spiritual, very intelligent, and very simple ... deep without being complicated, which is interesting."

As superior general, he made it to every corner of the earth where the Redemptorists have communities and after two six-year terms, he thought he had moved on from Rome for good.

"I left Rome in November of 2009 thinking I had said goodbye to the Eternal City and then in July of 2010 I got the call to come back."

This time, the call came while he was on a sabbatical year, studying at Oxford University in England after a stay at the Trappist Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. There was word that the order's mission in Cuba might be in his future.

"I guess there was a different plan," he said.

The Pope appointed then-Father Tobin to his current position as secretary of the congregation for religious last August. And he was in Rome to start work a month later.

"There's a whole lot to learn," he said, still less than six months into the job.

The work, he said, is a lot like that of his previous position as leader of the Redemptorists, but with some major differences.

Learning the realities of monastic life and women's religious orders have been new for him. Getting used to his role as a bishop and living outside of community for the first time in his life have also made for changes.

The Vatican department was not completely unfamiliar ground. In Rome, in addition to being his order's superior, he was vice president of the international men's religious Union of Superiors General and served as a member of the Council of 16, a group of international men's and women's congregation leaders. These positions put him in periodic contact with the officials from the congregation for religious.

He described his position as "CEO," whereas the head or prefect of the congregation is like the "chairman of the board.” He works to coordinate the 40 men and women working in the office and corresponds with other Vatican departments. He sees that the prefect has more responsibility for the general policy and reports directly to the Pope.

As secretary, his new job is "day-to-day service ... to the million or so men and women of consecrated life around the world," he said.

While that job description awaited him when he walked in the door, he has learned that the scope of his position is "just about anything" to do with Catholic religious life on the globe.

He described the role of the department as one of helping communities in times of need or discernment and assisting them in dealing with other circumstances that may arise. They promote mutual awareness between orders and local bishops when there are misunderstandings, for example.

As he begins to settle into his duties, another new arrival will be forthcoming. Pope Benedict XVI appointed a new prefect, Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz of Brasilia, to take the reigns from the 76-year old Vincentian Cardinal Rode, his now former superior.

Archbishop Braz de Aviz was appointed on Jan. 4 and due to arrive in the Vatican soon.

The two archbishops have not yet met, but the secretary said he has written his new superior to welcome him.

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Bishop of Tucson lays Catholic shooting victims to rest

Tucson, Ariz., Jan 18, 2011 (CNA) - After the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six people and injured thirteen, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson presided at funerals for two victims – one a personal friend, the other a young girl who had recently made her first Communion.

On two consecutive days, Jan. 13 and 14, funeral Masses were held for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and Federal Judge John Roll.

The bishop reflected on a heartbreaking week in a Jan. 18 letter to the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the Tucson diocese, recounting his experience of a period in which the nation grieved while grasping for answers. Although the shooting suspect, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, has a troubled history of disturbing behavior, his motive for the attack remains unknown.

The following week, Bishop Kicanas reflected, had seen the emergence of hope and solidarity among Tucson residents, many of whom felt shocked and deeply saddened by the violence.

“This past week, so tragic because of the violence that ended six previous lives, that wounded 13 persons, that left families deeply grieving and that shocked our community to its core, also was a week of blessings,” he wrote.

Bishop Kicanas said he was inspired and consoled “to see how our community has pulled together, and to experience the outpouring of love and concern for the victims of the shootings and their families.” Many residents who did not know either Judge Roll or Christina Taylor Green, nevertheless attended their funeral Masses.

A poignant scene met attendees of Christina Taylor Green's funeral at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.
Among the thousand of people lined up for a half-mile in support of her family, were a number of “angels” outfitted with white cloth wings.

The bishop said they “symbolized for me the Angels of Heaven that certainly surrounded Christina Taylor, and brought her home on that dreadful Saturday morning.”

“Tears welled in my eyes when I stood with Roxanna and John, her parents, and Dallas, her brother, looking up at the 9/11 Relic Flag that came from New York to be displayed at the church.” The young girl's birth had coincided with the terrorist attacks, and her unmistakable smile was featured in a book called “Faces of Hope,” about children born that day.

Celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection, Bishop Kicanas reflected on the precocious young girl's innocence and enthusiasm. He told the congregation that her short life had not been destroyed, but found its fulfillment.

“Christina Taylor went to meet and greet Gabby, her congresswoman,” he said. "Instead she met God, her Father, and Jesus Christ, her friend."

At the same church, the next day, Bishop Kicanas spoke in memory of his friend Judge John Roll. The federal judge was known in his parish as a daily Mass attendee. He happened to be in the line of fire on Jan. 8 only because, after attending Mass that morning, he stopped by the Congresswoman Giffords' public appearance, held outside a local Safeway grocery store.

Within the federal government, Judge Roll was deeply respected as a man who “spent more than 40 years serving the cause of justice,” in Bishop Kicanas' description.

According to local reports, more than 2,000 people attended his funeral – including Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, who hope to name a federal courthouse after Judge Roll.

“In the funeral procession to Holy Hope Cemetery, I was brought to tears as I witnessed the respect for Judge Roll and the concern for his family,” Bishop Kicanas wrote.

“Police and firefighters stood at attention,” he noted, as he went on to recall the honor that even strangers spontaneously paid to the respected judge as his coffin passed. “At intersections where the police halted traffic to let the procession through, people got out of their cars to salute or simply stand at attention.”

“We have experienced a tragedy that could have torn our community apart,” he wrote, “but that instead has bound us together.” The bishop is scheduled to participate in a prayer service at the site of the shootings on Jan. 20.

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