Growing in the ways of faith

Pope commends Catholic educators for sacrifice and effort

by luke eggleston
SUN staff writer

Catholic educators from throughout the U.S. had an opportunity to listen to Pope Benedict XVI’s expectations for religious schools Thursday, April 17, at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

All eight dioceses of New York State were represented at the event. Roughly 400 educators and administrators from all levels of Catholic education joined several clerics as they met with the pope. Among those administrators were Syracuse Diocese Superintendent of Schools Mike Colabufo and Le Moyne College Interim President John Smarrelli, Jr.

Colabufo said that the pontiff stressed vocation promotion and Catholic identity in his talk. He took this as an affirmation of steps the Syracuse Diocese has already implemented in its school system.

Colabufo applauded the initiative Bishop James Moynihan has already shown in appointing Father Joe O’Connor as the director of the Office of Vocation Promotion. Father O’Connor took over for Father Andrew Baranski, for whom vocation promotion was one among several duties.

The superintendent noted that Father O’Connor has already been very proactive in generating a presence for vocations in the schools and that he has already told Colabufo to expect to see him in schools during the school day, at dances, at games and at other functions.

For his own part, Colabufo was inspired by the pontiff’s underscoring of Catholic identity, which has been a strong element of the superintendent’s tenure.

“The pope reaffirmed that belief that I have with our faculty and our administrators as well,” Colabufo said, elaborating that the school system has been “stressing rigorous education along with faith” all along.

“Our teachers are proclaimers of the Gospel on a daily basis,” Colabufo said.

Both Colabufo and Smarrelli noted that the pope was very “grateful” for the efforts of Catholic educators.

“It was an amazing event because it was really a message of thanks and gratitude,” Smarelli said. “He was incredible.”

“He was full of gratitude for administrators for doing all that we do without a lot of financial support,” Collabufo said.

Colabufo said that the pontiff also dealt with the manner in which truth is delivered in the light of faith.

“He discussed the relationship between truth and faith but emphasized the crucial element of Catholic doctrine,” Colabufo said.

Smarrelli said that the pontiff underscored the crucial element of educating the poor and also “seeking truth in a faith-based environment.”

Smarrelli noted that simply being in the presence of the pope was a thrill unto itself.

“It was electric,” he said. “I was close to him and there was something magnetic. There was a certain awe. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see faith and reason and truth interact. He was very different from what I’d come to expect. He was very warm and compassionate.”

Upon entering the room, Colabufo said, the pope “passed within four feet” of him.

“It was awesome to be that close to him. It was very uplifting,” Colabufo said.

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