VOL 124 NO. 27
A new mission
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Father George Sheehan settles into his role as acting superintendent of Catholic Schools
Father George Sheehan knew something was up when he saw Bishop Moynihan’s black car pull up in front of his residence. The bishop had come to ask Father Sheehan to assume the position of superintendent for the diocesan Catholic schools following the resignation of superintendent John Cataldo.
“There was a need in the church for somebody to step in,” Father Sheehan said, “and the bishop seemed to think that I should do it. So I prayed about it and reflected on it. Then I said ‘yes.’ He needed someone to immediately step into that position, and since I was leaving Bishop Grimes, I was the most available person.” Bishop Moynihan asked Father Sheehan to postpone his scheduled sabbatical leave to assume the superintendent position.
Twenty years ago, Father Sheehan wanted to take a sabbatical leave, but it was cancelled because Bishop Harrison asked him to go elsewhere. “So I figured this time what I wanted to do was go on a sabbatical in order to have some time for spiritual and academic experiences and probably do some traveling,” said Father Sheehan. “I asked for permission for a sabbatical and I had it for one day — July 1. I reported to my new office on July 5.”
“He was the best possible person to take this significant, sensitive and important position,” stated Bishop Moynihan. “He’s wonderful, relaxed and absolutely super-qualified for this job. Father Sheehan knows our schools. He brought Bishop Grimes off life-support. When he assumed the position of principal at Grimes, the first thing he did was add the following words to the marquee in front of the school: ‘Jesus Christ is the #1 student in this school.”’
Father Sheehan has extensive experience in education in the diocese, both as a faculty member and school administrator. Father Sheehan served on the faculty at both Bishop Grimes and Bishop Ludden High Schools in Syracuse and later served as principal of both schools. He also was Diocesan Director of Priest Personnel, co-vicar of the Western Region of the diocese, and pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville. He has served as principal of Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School since 1996.
Father Sheehan wants to carry on the goals of his predecessors, Bishop Costello, Father James T. O’Brien, Mark DeSantis, Sister Mary Anne Heenan and John Cataldo. “Each of them has really made an impact on society,” remarked Father Sheehan. “They have expanded the mission of the Catholic schools. I’m going to carry on their mission. It’s a great heritage – it really is.”
Father Sheehan thinks that Catholic schools have a great future. “I think Catholic school education is critical in today’s society,” said Father Sheehan. “People are getting to a point where they have fewer and fewer choices for their youngsters. Therefore, I think that the church, even though it is struggling, continues to make that choice available. It’s important. It’s a wing of the church — an integral part of the church. Teaching — evangelizing — is part of the church, part of the priesthood, part of the mission of our diocese. Over all other forms of education, we’re doing something for society. We’re preparing young people to go out and make an impact on society. The most critical factor is that we are value-oriented. Catholic schools offer the teachings of Jesus, where the public schools can’t. We are teaching the values that Jesus Christ has taught for the last 2000 years.”
Additionally, Catholic schools offer the advantages of smaller schools in comparison to larger public schools. “Most of our schools are small, and, therefore, they afford the teachers as well as the administration and staff to come in contact with the students and get to know them,” said Father Sheehan. “That’s very critical today in our mobile society where you don’t have the close-knit neighborhoods any more. I think in a smaller school you have a nice closeness.
“Compared to public schools, we excel academically in math, science, English and foreign languages. I look at our teachers and administrators and I see that they are filled with enthusiasm. Our schools have made some fine connections with colleges. We are teaching college courses in some of our high schools. We are also sending our students to college for classes during the school day.”
This first month in his new position has been a busy one for Father Sheehan and also a time of discovery. “I keep finding things on my desk that I have yet to explore,” said Father Sheehan. Father Sheehan enjoys the people he works with. “The people I work with are beautiful people,” remarked Father Sheehan. “The big thing is, I think even indirectly I’m still involving myself in the lives of the kids. That’s a plus, but it’s also a minus, because I’m removed from the school. I’ve been that route before and it’s a very hard one. You have to remind yourself of the kids. They’re the real product of what we’re all about.”