Father John Haney, administrator of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish and School in Whitehall, Pa. and pastor for 27 years, has received a Distinguished Pastor Award from the National Catholic Educational Association.
He was one of eight priests in the nation recognized for outstanding support of Catholic education at the annual NCEA convention April 26-28 in New Orleans.
The awards are given annually and were established by NCEA’s Department of Elementary Schools executive committee in 2007 to acknowledge the exceptional contributions and leadership of pastors.
“Catholic education is alive and well in the country,” Father Haney said, noting that about 8,500 delegates were at the NCEA conference, and “they were all gung-ho.” About 400 delegates attended the awards banquet, where 40 teachers, 25 principals and the eight pastors were recognized.
“When the nun who was introducing us said that Father Haney had a school that didn’t charge tuition, everyone gasped and said they couldn’t believe it, then applauded. I sat down, but they kept going on, so I had to get up again,” Father Haney said.
He received the award in the same month that he celebrated his 76th birthday (April 6), and on May 20 he celebrates 50 years in the priesthood.
Father Haney’s significant contribution to Catholic education in the diocese is maintaining St. Gabriel School as tuition-free for the more than 400 students in preschool through eighth grade. He does this by promoting stewardship in the parish and encouraging parishioners to share a portion of their time, talent and treasure in support of all parish ministries, including the school.
“When I came here 28 years ago, I didn’t know how I was going to have enough money to keep the school tuition-free,” he said. “About 20 years ago, I was going to start charging tuition. But I had obtained a copy of ‘Sharing Treasure, Time and Talent: A Parish Manual for Sacrificial Giving or Tithing’ (1982) by Msgr. Joseph Champlin, and I wondered if it would work.
“Fran Devlin, who was the chief financial officer for the diocese, told me that if I could get 15 percent of the parish to tithe, I would be successful. I said, ‘Don’t you mean 85 percent?’ He said, ‘No, just 15 percent.’ I said to myself, ‘If I can’t get 15 percent, then I ought to get out of this business.’
“Francis Nowalk, a parishioner on our financial board and parish council, really helped me put it over the top. He said, ‘Father, just give it a try.’ So we did, and we’re still going today.”
In his recommendation letter that accompanied the nomination by Principal Barbara Sawyer, Nowalk wrote, “Father Haney has committed himself to providing a high-quality, Catholic education to all children, regardless of their families’ ability to pay, by urging all parishioners to support the school through the parish’s tithing program. All members of the parish are encouraged to tithe as well as to give freely of their ‘time, treasure and talent.’ Through his prayer, determination and example, he has shepherded the parish through a number of financial crises and parishioners have responded time and time again. Thus, St. Gabriel School has remained one of the few tuition-free Catholic elementary schools in the country.”
Father Haney recalled that the bishop of the Diocese of Wichita instituted a policy of no tuition a few years back and was able to do so, but also noted it is a much smaller diocese than Pittsburgh.
The last two years have been more challenging in the current economic climate, and Father Haney has made challenge donations out of his own pocket, with parishioners matching the donations each time.
He is passionate about making Catholic education available to all children of the parish, not just those whose families can afford it.
In her nominating letter, Sawyer wrote, “As one who has observed him for the past 11 years, I can say there is no magic, no unknown benefactor, no secret formula for his success. There is simply a man who loves his ministry more than life itself, whose humble beginnings have made him keenly aware of the value a Catholic education holds for families and their children as they journey toward eternal life.”
“The support of pastors is essential to maintaining excellent Catholic schools,” said De La Salle Brother Robert Bimonte, executive director, NCEA Department of Elementary Schools. “The majority of our 7,000 Catholic elementary schools are parish-based. Beyond the tremendous financial support necessary to support these schools, pastors provide spiritual leadership to students and faculty that sustains and strengthens these schools — and preserves them for the next generation of students.”
Brother Bimonte added that while the NCEA is recognizing eight pastors this year, they represent thousands of dedicated priests throughout the U.S. who provide outstanding leadership.
“This award reflects the recognition and gratitude that we owe all priests for their leadership and support of Catholic schools. In fact, one of our greatest challenges was selecting only eight honorees from the many excellent nominations we received,” he said.
The NCEA, founded in 1904, is a professional membership organization that provides leadership, direction and service to fulfill the evangelizing, catechizing and teaching mission of the church. NCEA members include elementary schools, high schools, superintendents, parish religious education programs and seminaries.
Printed with permission from the Pittsburgh Catholic.