Catholic Schools Week approaches with news about $500,000 grant

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The tot lullabied the adult.

Recently at St. John the Evangelist School in Binghamton, a girl in the TK (transitional kindergarten) class named  Stella came up and asked if she could sing a song to Bishop Douglas J. Lucia.

“And she did,” Superintendent of Catholic Schools William W. Crist said. “She came up and she stood. … It was wonderful, because she just came in … and stood next to him. … I give her such credit, to have the fortitude to actually go up and do that and experience with Bishop. … I got goose bumps. … A little lullaby to Bishop.”

The child’s rendition of “Jesus Is My Best Friend” symbolized the value of the 21 Catholic schools, which will observe Catholic Schools Week Jan. 30-Feb. 5. “It’s really just a great time to come together and say, this is who we are,” Crist said. “This is what we do and what we believe, and come and join us and … experience the goodness that is our Catholic schools.”

Crist is excited about the awarding of a $500,000 annual scholarship grant.

“The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation and the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund have provided wonderful opportunities for over 200 students in our diocese to be able to experience a Catholic-school education that would otherwise be unavailable,” Crist said. “The $500,000 annual scholarship has truly been a godsend. Families who qualify for financial aid and are new to our schools are eligible for these scholarships.

“Each of our 21 schools, both parish and diocesan, have a strong foundation in academic excellence, service and above all our Catholic faith. Although most of our students and families come from parishes in our diocese, nearly 25% of the families are not Catholic which provides an opportunity for evangelization and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

“Additionally, collaboration with the Office of Vocation Promotion has allowed for our schools to make intentional steps for students to discern a religious life, the priesthood and married or single life.

“Finally, I continue to sing praises to our teachers, administration and staff in each of our schools who have persevered during these trying and unprecedented times over the past two years. God’s plan is one that we do not always know at present and yet he is watching and tending to our needs.”

Faith. Excellence. Service.

Local activities for Catholic Schools Week will be similar to those recommended by the National Catholic Educational Association, whose theme is “Faith. Excellence. Service.” For example, on Sunday, Jan. 30, there will be Masses around the parishes; students, preferably in their school uniforms, will attend with their families.

Monday, Jan. 31, could entail a service project, such as making sandwiches for a homeless shelter or doing a recycling project. Or the students may assemble gifts of toiletry and hygiene products for men and women in the community, Crist said. “When students take part in service activities they demonstrate the values and faith gained through Catholic education,” the NCEA says.

Tuesday, Feb. 1, the schools will celebrate their students by displaying their work in the hallways or classrooms; there may be presentations or concerts by ensembles in the course of the week as well.

The NCEA advises the nation’s Catholic schools to “get out the word on why Catholic schools are great places of academic excellence and faith-filled mission.” Recommended by the NCEA is this schedule: Wednesday, Feb. 2, “Celebrating the Nation”; Thursday, Feb. 3,  “Celebrating Vocations” (“By focusing on faith, knowledge and service,” the NCEA says, “Catholic schools prepare children to use their God-given talents to the fullest later in life”); Friday, Feb. 4, “Celebrating Family, Staff and Volunteers”; and Saturday, Feb. 5, “Celebrating Families.”

Bishop Lucia, who has said that one of his goals is to visit every school and every classroom, will travel to 11 of the 21 schools during Catholic Schools Week—an “opportunity for our students to experience Bishop,” who will be celebrating Mass at the schools, Crist said.

The bishop, he said, is “very natural, very open” with the students; he loves to walk by desks and talk to students. At Holy Family School in Norwich recently, the bishop became the pitcher for the kickball game that was going on in the gym.

‘Welcoming and inquisitive’

Yet the bishop might also have a quiet time—reading a book to the classroom. Crist recalled that earlier in the school year at Immaculate Conception School in Fayetteville, the bishop was reading to the students, and a therapy dog was “taking it in with the same interest and excitement” as the students. The bishop prayed for the offering of their lunch that day, then walked around the cafeteria and asked them how their ice cream sandwich was and how their morning went. “He’s very natural about just being part of them,” Crist said, “and being welcoming and inquisitive of who they are and what their school experience is.”

Students pose questions to the bishop: “What do you do when you’re not Bishop?” “What’s a down day for you?” “Do you wear sneakers?”

And the students don’t take it for granted, Crist said: “They come home and they’ll talk to their families about it. They’ll go and see their teacher about it: ‘I met Bishop today, he’s such a wonderful man.’”

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