Lighting the way

Opening of the school year is celebrated with Mass
By claudia mathis / SUN staff writer

FAYETTEVILLE — Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville was filled to capacity on Sept. 4 as administrators and teachers gathered for a special Mass of the Holy Spirit. They came to celebrate their faith and the start of a new school year. The mood was upbeat as many became reacquainted after the summer. 
Bishop James Moynihan, principal celebrant of the Mass, was joined by Bishop Thomas Costello, numerous priests and more than 700 faculty, administrators and religious. They gathered to spend time in prayer and to ask God’s blessings for the 2007-2008 academic year.
Bishop Moynihan said, “And so, this morning, at the beginning of a new school year, we come before God in prayer, not as individuals asking for whatever we want, but rather as Catholic school administrators and teachers, standing in a position to receive whatever it is that we need, whatever it is that God wants to give us.” 
In his homily, Bishop Moynihan emphasized that parental involvement is absolutely essential in the formation of their children’s spiritual development. “Catholic schools cannot do the job by themselves,” said Bishop Moynihan. “Catholic schools can only build on what has already been happening at home. We must tell parents at our annual open house, at new parent orientations and at back-to-school nights, that without their help, we as Catholic schoolteachers and administrators cannot be successful. ‘To maximize your investment,’ we must tell them, ‘you’ve got to work with us.’ That should be your constant refrain.”

Bishop Moynihan told those in attendance that he was very impressed by the confirmation letters he had received from young people who had been home schooled. “They have been very well-educated,” he said. He went on to say that he hoped that Catholic schools would follow the example of a home schooled person he had become acquainted with. The student, after attending a Catholic university, is now entering a seminary. “My prayer is that our Catholic schools would be turning out the same kind of young person — fully formed in his or her religion. That’s the important thing. We have to be forming our people in the image and likeness of God.”
The bishop ended his homily by expressing his gratitude to administrators, teachers and pastors for making the schools places where faith and knowledge meet.
After the Mass, Superintendent of Catholic Schools Michael Colabufo addressed those in attendance and drew a parallel between scripture and “Now, more than ever, we need to let our light shine bright. As individual school personnel, as a collective school community and as a diocese we’re ready to make our schools into a vibrant system,” Colabufo said. He told the teachers that their light would serve as beacons of hope for a brighter future for Catholic education in the challenging times that lie ahead. 
Colabufo’s vision for maintaining hope for the future was influenced when he read the 2006 University of Notre Dame’s task force response titled “Making God Known, Loved, and Served: The Future of Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools in the United States.”
Colabufo discussed his goals for this year, which are aligned with the visioning goals from the University of Notre Dame’s response. They include strengthening Catholic identity (in prayer life, environment and practice), attracting and forming talented leaders, ensuring academic excellence and financing Catholic schools so that they are accessible for all families.  
Jennifer Gasowski, a first-time physics teacher at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School, said she was impressed by the goals — especially when Colabufo explained that, as part of the goal to ensure academic excellence, he would improve the evaluation process for staff and administration. “He has a good objective in evaluating teachers,” said Gasowski. “Critical feedback is good in any profession, especially one that affects others.”
After a break for lunch, administrators and teachers listened to a presentation by renowned international speaker Dr. Elinor Ford. She has spoken in almost all the dioceses in the U.S., and at various educational, catechetical, stewardship and health conventions in the U.S., Canada and Europe.   
Colabufo introduced her as the “first lady of Catholic education.” After receiving her doctorate from Columbia University, Ford served as superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York. She then chaired the New York Archdiocesan Council for Religious Education and established NCEA’s first national Catholic parent organization. At the same time, she was a full professor in the graduate education department at Fordham University. While there, she directed the non-public school program for administrators, and founded the doctoral program for church leaders in collaboration with Fordham’s Department of Religion and Religious Education. This program attracted students from all over the world.
Ford has also received many honors and honorary degrees. In 1997, she was named by Today’s Catholic Teacher as one of the 25 most influential people in Catholic education in the past 25 years. She will be receiving another award in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 4 — the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.
Ford delivered an extremely inspiring presentation titled “Who am I? …We?… They? …” In her presentation, Ford stressed the importance of looking beyond students’ cognitive, emotional, social and physical IQs. “to what extent they feel unwanted, unloved, useless, unneeded and uncared for. Jesus is saying that we are getting caught up in the diagnosing of students. The atmosphere in the classroom should be conducive to letting the students be themselves — the person who God wanted them to be.”
The event came to a close with Father Charles Vavonese, diocesan assistant superintendent for Catholic school advancement, leading the closing prayer. Father Vavonese led those in attendance in thanking God for the opportunity to come together, for the opportunity to listen to a “prophet” [Ford], for the support of administrators and for the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives.

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