By Claudia Mathis
Sun staff writer
DEWITT — Holy Cross Church was filled to capacity on the morning of Sept. 7 when faculty, administrators, religious and priests gathered for the Mass of the Holy Spirit. The mood was upbeat and many of those in attendance renewed their acquaintances after the summer. They had come to pray and to ask God’s blessings for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Bishop Robert Cunningham served as the celebrant and homilist at the special Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Cunningham said that it was fitting that the opening of school begin with the celebration of the Eucharist. He said the grace to fulfill one’s vocation as Catholic school educators is found in the nourishment from God’s Word and Sacrament. “We cannot be all that we are called to be without God’s help,” Bishop Cunningham said. “We need the assistance of His grace.”
Bishop Cunningham’s inspiration for his homily came from an article he read this summer written by Cardinal Zenon Grochoewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the office which assists the Holy Father in carrying out his responsibilities with regard to educational institutions. Cardinal Grochoewski noted in his article that, “Only the Catholic university that conserves its Catholic identity will have a future.”
Bishop Cunningham said he began to think about the diocese’s Catholic schools and their unique character. “Herein lies their specific character: to cultivate human values in accordance with the Gospel, the words and deeds of Jesus,” he said.
Bishop Cunningham told the educators and staff that they play a vital role in the schools, which need dedicated administrators, faculty and staff who are living witnesses to the Gospel. “The prophetic words of Pope Paul VI ring as true today as they did more than 30 years ago: ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,’” said Bishop Cunningham.
He emphasized the importance of giving authentic witness to the person of Christ, to His words and deeds and to the church and its teachings. If educators did that, he said, the more likely their students would become committed followers of Christ and active members of the church. “Only as an authentic witness can you lead others to the truth and beauty of Christ,” said the bishop.
Kathleen Harding, fifth grade teacher at Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family in Syracuse, attended the Mass and found it very inspiring. “The Mass was beautiful and special,” Harding said. She enjoys teaching fifth graders, she said, because that age group is curious about God and she loves teaching them about Him.
After the Mass, Chris Mominey, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools, addressed those in attendance, extending a special welcome to new staff members.
Mominey explained what had been accomplished in the newly implemented five-pillar structure for the vision of the future of Catholic schools, which was put in place at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. The five pillars are Catholic identity, quality administration, teaching and coaching, commitment to educating “digital natives” (a term used to represent a generation of children which has grown up using the Internet and modern technology), sound fiscal stewardship with emphasis on development work and boldness of new ideas.
Mominey said that what they had accomplished in 12 months is remarkable, but more needs to be done to sustain Catholic schools’ future. He promised that he, along with the Catholic schools office and the school principals, would do everything they could to face the challenges with hope and boldness.
Because the future of funding for Catholic education greatly depends on the generosity of donors and alumni, a development audit of the diocesan high schools has been commissioned.
“Thanks to the Heritage Campaign Endowment, an endowment initiated nearly 10 years ago from the generosity of the people of this diocese, we have been able to provide financial and programmatic resources that directly have an impact on the lives of our students and their families,” said Mominey at a recent press conference.
The Heritage Endowment has awarded $590,000 to the schools of the diocese at a time when they are most needed.
The grant will allow the schools to provide the following: $130,000 for marketing and development, $90,000 for program enhancement, $80,000 to maintain the vision of educating Digital Natives, $20,000 to maintain vocation and religious certification programs, $50,000 to continue the partnership with Le Moyne College in the area of teacher training, leadership development and overall professional development and $225,000 for tuition assistance.
As a result, 875 families received financial assistance. For Jordanie Hakizimana, an 11th grader at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School, receiving financial aid for his second year at the school, makes all the difference in the world. Determined to continue his education at the school, Jordanie worked two summer jobs to pay for his tuition and books and asked various individuals within the diocese for financial help.
Before coming to Bishop Grimes, he attended Central Technical Vocational Center in Syracuse. “I didn’t feel safe there,” said Jordanie. “At Bishop Grimes, I feel like my teachers want me to succeed. They care about my future. I feel safe and I learn better there.”
Kayla Purcell, art teacher at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School, attended the Mass and said it was a great way to start the school year. “It was moving,” Purcell said. She felt inspired by Mominey’s talk about the five pillars, “especially the one about thinking boldly,” she said. “I have some new projects in mind for the classroom.”