Here we go again!!! There is great enthusiasm about our reopening and bringing our students back to our schools with a bit more experience to bring cautious optimism to our new year. With this year commencing we echo the sentiment that we are Catholic Schools Strong in our commitment to bring Jesus into our classrooms, provide exceptional academic challenges and bring service to others. With all of that before us, I’m hopeful that this summer brought some normalcy to your days of leisure and enjoyment.
My niece and I, affectionately, Uncle Bill, were able to bring some excitement to our summer with some restrictions lifted, allowing us to enjoy the past loves of summer—amusement parks, swimming pools, hiking trails and shopping malls—places where people can gather and coexist. Off we went to an amusement park as a family of sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. She and I braved the roller coaster; we had determined on the ride to the park that her cousins and siblings were still too short to be granted admittance to this grown-up ride. This was no kiddy ride!!
So off we went to experience the swerving and bobbing on the roller coaster of old style—the rail model—my favorite! A few screams, some whistles with the white-knuckle turns and belly bounces that brought adrenaline and a rush of excitement for those exhilarating moments. “Let’s do that again!” was the excited screech from my niece even before the brakes jolted us to a halt at the straight shoot of the platform loading area of the coaster. We scampered out and ran to the turnstile bumping into the handrails as we made our way to the front of the line and to the first car of the rickety, yet lightning fast wooden clacks coaster. “Here we go again!” I excitedly offered as we stepped into our cockpit and buckled up even before the attendant (mask in place) came to check our protective strapping. We sat quietly with visible anticipation and fidgetiness as we prepared for our next experience.
A roller coaster ride will not be our only experience this year. Remember that prayer does work and I’ve been indulging in regular conversations and listening sessions with our Lord. “‘Do not be afraid.’ … They left everything and followed him” Luke 5:10-11.
Welcome to our continuation of this Year of Vocations, the Year of St. Joseph. This a new school year—Happy New Year! Also, welcome back to some of the obstacles that we remain committed to conquer. Here We Go Again has become a personal mantra as we’ve embraced the need to remain in person while committing to provide the very best in academic excellence, remaining in the presence of our Lord to guide and support our efforts, direction and decision-making.
As I shared with the faculty and school community, we’ve already done this!! So, Here We Go Again! We are coming into our second year of the regulations, requirements and recommendations that allow us to be in person, five days a week as a school community. We remain steadfast in providing a safe and healthy school environment and recognize that we are not without a din of frustration, at times. We continue to work closely with our local health departments in each of our seven counties and have also taken recommendations and mandates from the CDC, American Association of Pediatricians, NYS Education Department and the NYS DOH. Our plans are safety minded and provide the least restrictive setting for our students, faculty and staff while being safe and remaining in school with in-person direct instruction.
But we haven’t simply focused on COVID. Part of the preparation for our teachers and administrators included spending part of our days with Year of Vocations events. Rhonda Gruenewald, President and CEO of Vocation Ministry, is a former teacher who has helped dioceses to foster a culture of holiness in the Catholic Church through her work and ministry. She is the author of the book Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry and her newest book, The Harvest: A Guide to Vocation Ministry in Education. She continues to be in demand in parishes, schools and dioceses across our country and internationally, both virtually and in person. We extended a warm IN-PERSON Syracuse welcome to Rhonda. The Houston resident’s warmth was felt in spirit and kindness as she enjoyed our first fall-like weather during her visit.
Our schools are a place of peace, joy, inquiry and contemplation. No better place to talk, experience, discern and pray. No captive audience here. Our students and families are here by choice to experience God’s good graces in an academic offering of excellence while providing service to others. Our diocesan schools are intentional in contemplating the future vocations of our students—it makes great sense and offers a value-added beyond any other school choice. Whether the priesthood, consecrated life, marriage or the single state, being able to discern this in the safety of a Catholic school shows why We are Catholic Schools Strong!
During this past year of instruction, while battling a pandemic, we were continuing our teaching and assessment model that we have had in place for four years. What we discovered when analyzing the data was that we didn’t maintain but excelled with our diocesan schools when compared to other schools in New York and nationally that remained stagnant or regressed. Our school leaders, teachers, students and parents are to be commended for this achievement. We plan to provide a deeper dive in a future Catholic Sun to more fully explore this wonderful progress—We are Catholic Schools Strong!
As Bishop Douglas J. Lucia offered as part of his reflective and uplifting homily at Opening Day Mass, Jesus reminds his disciples, “Do not be afraid.” We are ready to follow Him. We are confident that we can do this and do it well. Here we go again! We are Catholic Schools Strong!
William W. Crist
Superintendent of Schools
Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse