Start with a bang

Sept. 14-20, 2006
Start with a bang
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Syracuse Diocese School District begins new school year with Mass of the Holy Spirit

The Syracuse Diocese School District ignited the 2006-07 school year Monday with a special Mass of the Holy Spirit at Most Holy Rosary Church.
Attending the event were teachers and administrators from throughout the diocese. Along with the Mass, the event included motivational speaker Elinor Ford and an introduction to first-year superintendent Mike Colabufo.

Father John Putano, who has taken classes with Ford, a professor at Fordham College, read a letter of explanation from Bishop James Moynihan, which noted that while the bishop had nearly recovered, he was still unable to celebrate Mass. Father Putano, who sits on the diocese school board and is the episcopal vicar of the Southern Region, also delivered a homily in the bishop’s place.

Father Putano used the homily as an opportunity to introduce Ford and her presentation, “The Heroic Witness of the Saints as a Model for Successful Catholic Schools.” “I always came away renewed and energized by her enthusiasm and I think you’re going to get a feel for that enthusiasm,” he said.

Given the reference to saints in the title of Ford’s presentation, Father Putano made special mention of Mother Marianne Cope, a Utica resident who was beatified last year, and Franciscan priest Father Mychal Judge, who administered last rites to the victims of the Sept. 11 attack but was then killed by falling debris. There has been considerable support for the canonization of both figures.

“Witnessing to the saints can help us to act on the Holy Spirit,” Father Putano said. According to Father Putano, both figures provide an excellent example for teachers in Catholic schools. He also encouraged the gathered teachers and administrators to “think about the gifts we possess and the gifts that exist in others” and to “see the gift that each child is and the gift in each teacher.” After a short break, Ford launched into her own presentation. Ford thanked both Bishop Moynihan and Father George Sheehan, the former principal at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School who also recently served as the interim superintendent of schools and is now vicar for Catholic Educational Advancement. In both instances, Ford cited longstanding friendships with the clergymen. A show of hands later revealed that many of the attendees had taken classes with Ford.

She was the first woman appointed to the position of superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York. According to Ford, Msgr. Joseph T. O’Keefe, who at the time was the vicar for Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of New York and who would become the Syracuse Diocese bishop, had determined that the new superintendent should be a teacher who had “come up through the ranks.” Previously, priests held the position of superintendent.

Throughout the presentation, Ford heavily stressed two points from a study highlighted in the recently published book Hardwired to Connect. The first, which she elaborated on at length and repeated, was that the primary reason for the success of Catholic school students is the fact they are educated in an “authoritative community.” Ford underscored the difference between the adjectives authoritative and authoritarian, describing the former as a “warm, multigenerational, nurturing environment.”

She linked the authoritative community to the Eucharistic community founded by Jesus Christ. “These non-Catholic computers say kids need an authoritative community,” she said. The book emphasizes a need for children to connect with their environment, something that Ford believes can be accomplished through Catholic culture.

According to Ford, in this community, young people are drawn to teachers because they “can see the Christ” in them. Ford cited another study that claimed that without that community and without the second critical element in Catholic education, 25 percent of all young people are doomed to lead lives that are both unhealthy and unproductive.

The second element that helps Catholic school students is their personal relationship with God. With those two elements shaping young people, according to Ford, “Then my friends, we can throw the pharmaceuticals out in the years to come.” She said that the community in the schools must reflect the community advocated by the church. “Jesus Christ founded a Eucharistic community in which you have to celebrate me [Ford],” she said, adding that it isn’t enough to simply “tolerate” others. “Jesus did what this book Hardwired to Connect tries to explain,” she said. A second break followed Ford’s presentation and the day wrapped up with the introduction of Colabufo to the district.

Colabufo, in turn, introduced Teresa Secreti, the assistance coordinator for the diocese who is the first point of contact for any individual in the diocese affected by sexual abuse; Donna Dwyer, who is responsible for Virtus training; and Sharon Flanagan, the diocese’s abstinence coordinator. Colabufo told the audience, which is responsible for 8,012 students throughout the diocese’s seven counties, that one of his goals is to make himself more visible. By Friday, Sept. 8, Colabufo said he had already visited “a dozen schools.”

Ultimately, Colabufo hopes to know “the ins and outs” of each school and become more familiar with the students and staff. Colabufo also outlined his strategy for improving the diocese’s schools. He said that, on a weekly basis, he hopes to analyze student retention patterns and curriculum patterns. He also wants to review development efforts and marketing strategies employed by the school district.

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