Catholic Education in Philadelphia

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No Crisis in Catholic Education. Only A Mindset of Opportunity!

Opportunity Slide

As we begin this new school year, it is comes as no surprise to share with you that the nation’s Catholic schools and perhaps the very Church of which we are a part of is in many respects an institution facing great challenges. In a speech given in April of 1959 then Senator John F. Kennedy reminded us of this fact: The Chinese use two characters to write the word ‘crisis.’ One character stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize and embrace the opportunity.

As we stare into the face of crisis as Catholic schools in the United States, my challenge to all of us is to look beyond the dangers, to look past what Cardinal Timothy Dolan has called a hospice mindset in Catholic schools and to embrace the opportunity. You see the etymology of the word opportunity reminds us of one simple truth:  Ob portum veniens “coming toward a port,” in reference to the wind, from ob “to, toward” + portus “harbor.” Favorable winds, my friends! Favorable winds! This is an exciting time to be a leader in Catholic education and this is the most exciting Archdiocese in which to be a part of it! You’ll get no argument from me that this new model has not been without its growing pains. But when all is said and done, in spite of some obvious challenges, the winds are favorable and we are coming into port. That is, this is a time of great opportunity. This is not a time of crisis.

And of course, as we have learned over the past two years, much of our outlook depends solely on our collective mindset as an organization. Our habits, our attitudes, and our beliefs, the very systems in which we behave cause us to make the change we wish to see first in ourselves and then across the entire enterprise that we call Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our self-efficacy results in organizational efficacy which in turn results in a new culture and therefore a new way of seeing our ministry as leaders. And so, each of us, as leaders, as presidents, as principals, as assistant principals, we must share a mindset of opportunity. A mindset of favorable winds. A mindset of enthusiasm as we are coming into port!

And let us all remember this other simple truth: The world view of our students, the collective mindset of our almost 60000 students in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is not one always familiar to all of us as their school leaders. As a simple fact, these young people operate from a very different emotional and yes, physiological make up then we have ever imagined. And this in fact, impacts the way they learn and thus the way we must teach. But to make it very, very real for you let me remind us all of this newly published list that comes out annually from Beloit College in Wisconsin. It’s actually famously called the “MINDSET LIST”. It comes out every year at this time and it seeks to remind us about the realities, or of the mindset, of the college graduating class of 2019. So, here goes:

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997. 

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:

  1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
  2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”
  3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
  4. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
  5. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
  6. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
  7. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
  8. The Airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.
  9. If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”
  10. They have avidly joined Harry Potter, and Ron as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.
  11. The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in select states
  12. There has never been a team named The Houston Oilers.
  13. Surgeons have always used “super glue” in the operating room and never stiches.
  14. Fifteen nations have always been constructing the International Space Station.
  15. The Lion King has always been on Broadway.
  16. CNN has always been available en Español.
  17. Splenda has always been a sweet option in the U.S.
  18. The Atlanta Braves have always played at Turner Field.
  19. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.
  20. TV has always been in such high definition

This is the mindset of the college class of 2019. So imagine those that are even three, five and ten years younger. Those entering high school freshmen were born in 2000!  Are we as adult leaders determined to be life-long learners and take away something that will help us understand that young people in our schools are drastically different people than we could have ever imagined teaching even 10 years ago? If we make this commitment today, I assure you that our core purpose of equipping saints for life in this world and the next will be abundantly clear to all in Eastern Pennsylvania. No one will question who we are, what we do, who is in charge, how many students we have, how sound our balance sheet is, how we govern or what our team’s records are. If we are bold enough to embrace the idea that the students entrusted to our care are fundamentally different than students of the past, then our schools themselves will become the ports of opportunity for these kids where the favorable winds of compassion, understanding and love, are animated every single day

There is a story of a young man who was approaching high school graduation. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car in a dealer’s showroom, and knowing his father could well afford it, he told him that was all he wanted. As Graduation Day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation his father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him. He handed his son a beautiful wrapped gift box. Curious, but somewhat disappointed the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible. Angrily, he raised his voice at his father and said, “With all your money you give me a Bible?” and stormed out of the house, throwing the Bible across the room, leaving it there in the corner of the room.  Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and wonderful family, but realized his father was very old, and thought perhaps he should go to him. He had not seen him since that graduation day. Before he could make arrangements, he received a telegram telling him his father had passed away, and willed all of his possessions to his son. He needed to come home immediately and take care of things. When he arrived at his father’s house, sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search his father’s important papers and saw the still new Bible, just as he had left it years ago. With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages. As he read those words, an envelope dropped from the back of the Bible; it had been taped their all of these years. Inside of it there was an invoice and a tag with the dealer’s name, the same dealer who had the sports car he had desired. On the invoice was the date of his graduation, and the words…PAID IN FULL.

As we prepare for this new year, let’s not make 2015-2016 a year of regrets. I challenge all of us to seize every opportunity placed in front of us and to welcome each student entrusted to our care with the same enthusiasm on day 180 that we have on day 1. I wish for our teachers and administrators to know of my continued admiration, respect and esteem for the work that they do each and every day. Your ministry of leadership and teaching are critically important to establishing a school culture where learning is paramount and where the face of Christ becomes apparent each day. On behalf of the Church of Philadelphia and the Archbishop, I thank you for dedicating your lives today to the parishioners, priests, sisters and Church leaders of tomorrow. Have a wonderful year and may God bless the work of our hands!

Do Things Slow Down for You in the Summer? Ha..Ha..Ha….

With the end of the school year behind us and the opportunity to now come up for air from the graduation season, I am often asked the question, “So, is summer a slow time for you?”  While I’d love to answer that with a resounding “yes”, I learned long ago that the summer is the fastest and sometimes busiest time of the year.  I remember my second summer as a principal in Rome, NY when I decided to take a week off to head home to Cleveland.  The phone never stopped ringing!  The textbook delivery was damaged….the technology order was delayed….the maintenance team was falling behind on projects….and then there was the inevitable teacher that found a new job somewhere else.  At that point I realized that the summer is the worst time of the year to think that nothing is going on.  The only thing that slows down is the pace of having young people all around us keeping us energized in our work as teachers.  But the reality of the work and ministry of Catholic education goes on in what seems to be the longest (and shortest) time of the year…summer “vacation”.

Here in Philadelphia we have more than our fair share of work ahead of us in the coming weeks.  We have this little thing called the World Meeting of Families and the Papal Visit coming in September and that keeps our attention for sure.  We are counting on our teachers to remain engaged during the summer and to sign up as volunteers for this wonderful celebration.  Likewise, our administrators and our central office staff are remaining focused on the programs associated with WMOF that have a direct impact on the life of our schools.  In addition, our primary focus as an office remains PEOPLE.  The hiring of the right people in our senior level positions and the school and central office level is a top priority each and every summer.  It’s our people and our school leaders that help execute our bold vision of “Equipping Saints for Life in This World and The Next.”  Without intensive processes for hiring and supervising our people we will not be able to sustain our vision for very long.  So as we proceed through the summer,a great deal of time is spent in interviews and selection processes for senior level positions in my office and at the school level.  This requires a great amount of collaboration across all sectors but in the end it puts us on solid footing for years to come.

And of course there are all of the capital projects in our schools, the orientation of new teachers, the planning for opening school events, the review of budgets, the tracking of enrollment trends and the overall calendaring of priorities and work streams for the year ahead.  Sprinkle in everyone’s vacation plans and the need to have everyone renew their spirits during this wonderful time of the year, and before you know it Labor Day has arrived!  But let’s not rush it…there’s lots of work to do before then!

From Archbishop Chaput: World Meeting of Families is Around the Corner

This blog post is stolen from my boss, The Most Rev. Charles Chaput!  I thought it was worth re-posting here….

This past weekend, March 21-22, many of our parishes included a letter from me that was read during Mass. It highlighted some of the needs we face in preparing for the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) this September. We have exactly – and only – six months left before the event. The pace of getting ready to welcome visitors from around the globe and Pope Francis himself is speeding up quickly.A great deal of work has already been done. The generosity of major donors, and Philadelphia’s business community and civic leaders, has been wonderful. Advance teams from the Holy See have already visited Philadelphia. They’ve been very pleased with the professionalism and zeal of the WMOF staff, and the appeal of Philadelphia as a city.All of this is well-earned good news. Having said it though, we need to remember the counsel we heard from one of the Vatican veterans of other WMOF gatherings: From this point on, the pace of preparations for the event will double every month. So we can’t afford to skip any opportunity to ask for help. And that’s the purpose of my column this week.

Here’s what we need in these final months to make WMOF 2015 a success.

First, World Meeting of Families is a very expensive event. Much of the heaviest fund-raising for WMOF is being done by generous corporate and major individual donors, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, because WMOF will be a boost for our whole region. But many parishioners have also asked how they can personally help. And that’s a blessing, because we can use all the help that we can get.Donating financially is the best way of ensuring that September’s family gathering and welcome for Pope Francis will be worth remembering for a lifetime. Every donation, no matter how large or small, counts. And there’s no better time than now to contribute. We all have a stake in renewing Catholic life in Philadelphia. So please consider a donation to the World Meeting of Families 2015 as we enter these last days of Lent and start the Easter season. Tax-exempt financial donations can be directed to:  worldmeeting2015.org/get-involved/donate; or World Meeting of Families/Philadelphia 2015, 222 N. 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA  19103.

Second, WMOF will need 10,000 or more volunteers for the event. This is crucial, since volunteers will be the face of the local Catholic community throughout the meeting. Volunteer registration will open soon on the World Meeting of Families website at www.worldmeeting2015.org. All volunteers must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, and they must complete an online background check. The WMOF website has information on the wide variety of volunteer opportunities available.

Third, we’ve had many generous families step forward, especially in the last few weeks, offering to host WMOF visitors in their homes. But we need many more. Philadelphia-area hotels are rapidly filling the available rooms for the World Meeting of Families and papal visit. As I’ve said previously, we’ve partnered with Homestay, a global organization with a strong reputation and tourism track record. Homestay connects visiting families and individuals with local families willing to host them during events like World Meeting of Families. I strongly encourage families across the archdiocese to consider this kind of generosity. You can learn more on the “Host a Family” page at www.worldmeeting2015.org.

Fourth, don’t forget to ready your own hearts by spending time with the excellent and very readable World Meeting of Families catechesis, Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, from Our Sunday Visitor at www.osv.com. This is a wonderful, engaging text. It lays out the Catholic approach to marriage, family, sexuality and the essentials of human dignity with beautiful simplicity.

Finally and most importantly, register and attend the World Meeting of Families with your own loved ones. Registration for both the Adult and Youth Congress sessions is now open on the WMOF website at www.worldmeeting2015.org. You’ll find a variety of registration package options, and detailed information about each session.It’s hard to believe that time has passed so quickly since Philadelphia was first selected for the World Meeting of Families more than two years ago. It will pass even more rapidly in these last few months before September. Please keep our WMOF organizing team in your prayers, as well as all the good people who will come to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.In so many different ways, the success of this life-changing event depends on your support.

A Tale of Two Sisters

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In the mid 1950’s it is said that there were over 300,000 students in Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  And while the schools seemed to be healthy, there was an enrollment drop at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School. The loss, at least on paper, was two girls.  But in the much bigger picture these two girls were losing something much more precious as their father had been diagnosed with cancer.  Thus they made the decision to leave high school and assist their mother with raising the rest of the family.  As their father lay dying, these two Catholic school girls promised their dad that they would do everything they could to support their mom and family.  And so they soon joined the work force and never looked back.  Until now.

It’s been almost 60 years since Rosina Squilla and Rickie Descano left their school in Center City Philadelphia.  And one could make the case that these two women were some of the most successful high school “dropouts” from Hallahan.  You see, not only did they go on to live up to their promise to their father, they went on to do even greater things.  Their legacy will not be found in an alumnae magazine as the CEOs of a Fortune 500 Company.  And their legacy will probably not be found in the school’s annual report with 6 figure donations.  What they have given is much more valuable.  Rosie and Ricki have nurtured, mentored, and ultimately brought to fruition a family committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Over the last several months I have come to know and love this family as my own.  I will admit, it wasn’t so hard given their strong Italian roots (and mine).  But much beyond their famous hospitality, generosity and goodness, it is clear that Rickie and Rosie, as aunts, sisters, and moms, have inspired their family to be people of Gospel joy.  They have provided a foundation of faith but they have done so with great enthusiasm and passion for their family and for the Lord.  One only need be in their presence for a short time to realize that there is nothing fake about these people.  What you see is what you get!  And how refreshing that is in our world today.

In April, I had the privilege of finally presenting to Rosie and Rickie their high school diplomas in what was deemed a “private ceremony” in Rosie’s home.  35 of us Italians in the basement eating course after course after course…this is what we call “private”.  But just last week, as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia wrapped up our celebration of Catholic Schools Week, I had the great joy of being a part of Rosie and Rickie’s first visit back to Hallahan since they left in the mid 1950’s.  This was the icing on the cake!  A Baccalaureate Mass, a tour of the school, and most importantly, personal interaction with the young ladies at Hallahan today.  Standing back and taking it all in, I witnessed the students of today admiring the students of yesterday.  Eyes were filled with tears as we told the story of Rosie and Rickie to these kids. I wondered if they could even imagine what it would be like to have to leave school in 2015 to take care of a dying father.  I wondered if these kids realized what the word sacrifice really means.  And I wondered if these kids really knew that they were in the presence of greatness.

There was no other way to wrap up this day then with a family lunch celebration.  This one was small…only about 20 of us. I say “us” because I feel like an adopted son!  And looking around that table, as I had done in Rosie’s house in April, I saw the impact that Catholic education has.  Sometimes we want to measure legacies in monetary gifts or buildings named in honor of people.  But on this day, it was clear to me that legacy means much more than this.  It means family.  It means joy and enthusiasm.  It means sacrifice and gratitude.  And most of all, it means passing on from one generation to the next the great gift of our faith.  And that’s what these two sisters have done for their family….and for me!

There was way too much news coverage of this event to present all of the media links.  But here are a few:

http://www.myfoxphilly.com/story/27988446/philadelphia-sisters?clienttype=generic&mobilecgbypass

http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20150202_6_decades_later__sisters_graduate_from_Hallahan_High.html

http://6abc.com/education/sisterswho-sacrificed-education-for-family-honored-by-high-school/498215/

Address to Educators in The Archdiocese of Philadelphia

MY BLOG IS UNSUALLY LONG THIS TIME AROUND.  ONLY BECAUSE I WISH TO SHARE MY REFLECTIONS DELIVERED ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31ST TO OUR 3,500 TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS WHO WERE GATHERED AT THE PENNSYLVANIA CONVENTION CENTER. 

Our Mission, Our Vision, Our Virtues

On this eve of All Saints Day I wish to greet you in the style one of our Church’s beloved saints, Francis of Assisi.  So repeat after me.  Buongiorno buonegente!  Buongiorno buone gente.  Good morning good people.  Good morning good people!

You are good people and your goodness permeates the halls of our Catholic schools every single day.  It is your goodness, your commitment and your selfless dedication to our mission that animates the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in the presence of almost 60,000 young people each day.  And for this goodness, for this dedication I express to you first this morning my most heartfelt gratitude.  I cannot say it enough, I cannot thank you enough for living out the vocation to which you have been called.  Yours is the work that matters most!  And I quote from the Archbishop himself: “Our teachers and catechists remain the most influential models of Christian living our students encounter outside of the family.”  So please know how thankful he and I both are that you have chosen to minister with us in this most awesome mission of Catholic schools.

So why are we here today?  What brings us together under one roof for the first time under this Archbishop and under this Secretary for Education? What makes today different than other gatherings that have taken place here?

Consider this story:

Once upon a time a very strong woodcutter asked for a job from a timber merchant, and he got it. The pay was fantastic and so were the work conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best.

His boss gave him an ax and showed him the area where he was supposed to work.  The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees in.

“Congratulations,” the boss said. “Now, go on that way!”

Very motivated for the boss’ words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he only could bring in 15 trees.

The third day he try even harder, but he only could bring in 10 trees.

Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.

“I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought.

He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.

“When was the last time you sharpened your ax?” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my ax. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…”

Perhaps that’s why we are here today: to sharpen our ax!  To step away from the work that we do each day and to embrace a moment of prayer, a moment of clarity of vision, and a moment of education for our hearts and minds.  Are we not here today to practice that which we expect of our own students each day: to learn?  And that is in fact what we do and who we are.  You see my expectations for you as a teacher in this great archdiocese is simple: I don’t expect you to teach every day, I expect that you make sure they learn every day.  And isn’t there a big distinction there?  Doesn’t everyone always ask you, so how long have you been teaching?  The better question is: how long have students been learning from you?  It’s no secret that the classroom of the 21st century should and must be a student-centered classroom where the teacher, the one whom facilitates learning, acts much more as the guide on side and not as the sage on the stage.  It’s no secret that learning is our end goal for our students.  But it’s also no secret that our educational venture, namely a Catholic one, has much more in mind.  We have even greater aspirations as Catholic school teachers and administrators.  And so what I propose to you today is that we are united in one common core purpose:

We equip saints for life in this world and the next!  This is our core purpose. This is why we exist.  This is what unites as one organization serving this Archdiocese in the mission of the Gospel.

How appropriate is it then that on this Eve of All Saints day we reflect on our core purpose.  If then we are called to equip saints, what is required of us?  And I mean all of us.  What is required of us as an Office for Catholic Education?  What is required of us as an elementary school in the suburbs, in the city?  What is required of us as high school educators and educators in schools of special education?

First, quoting from our own Archbishop I remind us all that “No Catholic teacher can form her students in moral character without a passion herself for the Gospel, a zeal for Jesus Christ, and a confidence in the truth of the Church and Catholic teaching.  No Catholic educator can give to others what he doesn’t have himself.  If we ourselves don’t believe, then we can only share our unbelief.”

And so if we equip saints, if what they learn is much more important than what we teach, then what is required of us is to be a witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  What habits, what attitudes, beliefs and expectations must be present in our midst?  What will this look like?  How is the Office of Catholic Education, how are the elementary schools, how are the high schools and schools of special education, how are we all going to equip saints?  Well, we are going to do it by marinating our entire culture under a common set of virtues that will serve as our foundational virtues for years to come.  You see, in many respects I have the easiest job in the room.  You have already designed the strategies for success.  You have already come up with the creative ideas.  And the Good Lord knows we have enough binders with strategic planning documents to last us a lifetime. But my job is not to bring good ideas and new strategies.  My job for you as a servant leader is to create a culture and an organizational mindset that is receptive to your good ideas.  My job is to create a new culture within the office of Catholic education and across all of our ministries.  A culture that expects growth and change.  A culture that welcomes new ideas and option thinking.  A culture that allows all of our strategies to take root and flourish because we have adopted a new mindset of growth over decline.  And so these foundational virtues of which I will now speak, will not only help us to equip saints, but they will guide all that we do from operations to financial affairs, from classrooms to athletic fields, and from hiring practices to teacher and administrator performance assessment tools.  Such virtues will not only draw us closer together in our common mission, but will serve as our guiding principles for the awesome tasks before us.

We begin with a simple one: RESPECT.  My pledge to you from the Office of Catholic Education is that we recognize each and every one of you as valued members of this Archdiocese.  We are committed to listening to you, dialoguing with you and gaining from you knowledge and insight on the things that matter most.  Our office wishes to be a direct conduit to you, a resource for you and a place that earns respect not by the way we help you manage to survive but by the way we empower you to grow.  Moreover, we take seriously our responsibility to be excellent stewards of our facilities and our finances.  And we expect you to do the same.  Respect is the way that we treat our students and our parents as challenging as that might be.  Respect is the way we listen to one another and approach one another with reverence and solidarity.  It is the very way in which we affirm one another in our successes and challenge one another in our shortcomings.

And so from that logically flows our need for INTEGRITY, our second organizational virtue.  At the heart of our mission as servants of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is our continued need for the daily demonstration of honesty and professionalism.  This is Philadelphia.  This is the birthplace of parochial education in the United States.  This is where saints have already walked and where they in turn have passed on to us the responsibility of equipping new ones. For the founder of these schools himself, Saint John Neumann, the idea was simple.  He himself wrote: We exhort the pastors, religious and teachers and all who have at heart the best interest of youth, to spare no efforts to ensure success.  Whatever difficulties may at first attend, and even obstruct this most desirable undertaking, will be gradually overcome by mutual good will, honesty and cooperation.  [1]

Make no mistake about it, John Neumann spoke about credibility and integrity long before it was fashionable to do so.  And I commit to you today that we are building an Office of Catholic Education that will not only earn your respect but one that will regain its credibility with you as we change the very way we do business.  The culture within OCE is changing every single day.  We are listening to your needs in the field, adapting our structures to be of service to our schools, and, above all aspiring to be servant leaders who, when we are at our very best, guide you in building up our common mission.  We do not wish to be an office that is really good at closing schools.  We do not wish to be an office that sets up roadblocks for your innovative thinking.  And we do not wish to be an office that is the place where all good ideas go to die.  We are building an all star lineup in our office.  One of professionals, filled with integrity, that will serve us well in our future.  And we expect the same of you.  If this is a common virtue, integrity, then it’s even more important that you, our front line evangelists, create an environment of professionalism and honesty.  You do this well already.  But to whom much is given, much is expected.

Our third virtue in this audacious purpose of equipping saints is one that I have spoken of many times: ENTHUSIASM.  The Greek root of this summarizes it so simply:  EN THEOS.  God within.  If we do not approach our ministry with enthusiasm then it’s time to move on to a new chapter in our lives.  The day we lose enthusiasm is the day we have stayed too long. If we do not approach our students, our parents, yes even our pastors, with enthusiasm every single day then it’s time to move on.  If we do not possess the same enthusiasm today that we had on our first day of teaching then we must work to rekindle that life of God within.  God’s life within is never changes so enthusiasm is always there.  It is we who must find it, animate it, live it, and embrace it every day that we step foot into that school, that office, that Pastoral Center at the 2’s.  No one in this room will be exempt from actively living out the God within.  No one in this room will be exempt from being an enthusiastic witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  As Archbishop Chaput has written, “Witnessing to the life of God in our own hearts inspires those around us to do the same.  Thus, we do not ask our teachers to simply “enjoy” what they do but instead to live honestly and visibly as disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Why?  Why must this be our mandate to be so enthusiastic, to animate the life of God within? Simply put: because there is way too much at stake!

Consider this story:

A young man who had been raised an atheist was training to be an Olympic diver.  The only religious influence in his life came from his very outspoken, very religious Christian friend.  The young diver never really paid much attention to his friend or the many lectures that he gave about becoming a Christian – but he did hear them.

One night the diver went to the indoor pool at the college he attended.  The lights were all off but as the pool had big skylights and the moon was bright, there was plenty of light to practice by.  So the young man climbed up to the highest diving board and extended his arms out and saw his shadow on the wall.  The shadow of his body, was in the shape of a cross.  Instead of diving, the young atheist knelt down, right there on the board, and finally asked God to come into his life and for Jesus to enter his heart.

As the young man stood, a maintenance man walked into the facility and turned the lights on.  The pool had been drained for repairs.

As teachers and Catholic school leaders we know neither the time nor the place when our message will take hold in the hearts of the young people that we have the privilege of encountering each day.  Our task is not to convert them.  Rather our task is to introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ so that someday when the Lord does come knocking on their door they don’t open that door and say “Who are you.”  We plant seeds and sometimes we never see the fruits of our labor.  Like the young man on the diving board, we do not know when the Lord will choose to so obviously enter their lives.  What we do know however, is that God is calling us as teachers to be enthusiastic instruments of his love so that in our schools, in our study halls and yes, even on our athletic fields we are giving them a glimpse into the face of Christ, a glimpse into the God with in us.  EN THEOS

Next, we come to our virtue of COLLABORATION.  In Latin Cum laborare:  simply put, working together. We commit to you today, and I hope you have seen this evidenced in my first year with you here in Philadelphia, we commit to you a new spirit of seamlessly working together to achieve our shared goals.  It is my unwavering belief that no leader, no organization, no bishop or archbishop, no Church in the 21st century will survive its mission without a commitment to collaboration.  As I have traveled around these 5 counties over the past 15 months I have come to realize this: if you’ve seen one school in this Archdiocese,  then you’ve seen one school in this Archdiocese.  If you’ve met one pastor, then you’ve met one pastor.  And so while I say this with some sense of irony, I do believe that it calls our office to a greater need for what I would call differentiated leadership.  Differentiated leadership requires that we recognize a simple truth: those whom we lead have many different needs at many different levels.  Principals should see this.  Presidents should see this.  And certainly your Office for Catholic Education should see this. You see, there is no cookie cutter answer to the challenges facing us.  There is no magic bullet to “save” Catholic education.  No one has THE RIGHT ANSWER: not me, not the Archbishop, not the IMS schools, not the regional schools, not the parish schools, not Faith in the Future and not BLOCS.  Instead what we have been handed to us at this moment in time is a series of creative, viable solutions whose point of intersection, in the Office of Catholic Education, demands leadership that has the capacity and the talent to respond to the most important needs of the field.  Collaboration then is not only necessary, it is the place where we will succeed or fail.  For if we do not aspire to work seamlessly in concert with one another for our common purpose of equipping saints, we will squander the opportunity we have right here and right now in this historic Archdiocese.  We will squander the partnerships that the Archbishop and his predecessors have forged with our partners like IMS, BLOCS, the Maquires, the Connelleys, and Faith in the Future.  We will squander the opportunity to not only change our story, but we will fail in our mission to best serve the young people entrusted to our care.  And failing our young people is not an option.

You’ve heard it so many times already across this educational venture but we must insist on INNOVATION and claim it as a virtue for our work. Because we are in the business of education we must continually leverage information, imagination and initiative from not only our kids, but from one another.  We expect you as our teachers and administrators to be people of creativity and innovation.  People who as co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord challenge one another to imagine new ways of teaching and learning, new ways of inspiring young people to embrace their education with zeal and passion.  For our part, we are committed in the Office of Catholic Education to create a culture that is nimble, adaptive and strategic.  Nimble, adaptive and strategic.  This is what you should expect of me and my team.  And it’s what we will expect of our schools.  We expect to have you understand the need for option-thinking and to discover new solutions to old problems.  Believe me when I say, this is not the Archdiocese that will replicate best practices.  This is the Archdiocese that will create them.

And finally we come to EXCELLENCE. By this we mean that in all that we say and do, we will be aspiring to reach our fullest God-given potential, Mind, Body and Spirit.  You know sociologists and psychologists tell us that the average human being only uses between 5-10% of their potential?  So is there room for growth, room to expand our excellence?  You bet there is!  We are excellent schools, no doubt about it.  The performance data supports it.  But remember, we’re equipping saints for life in this world AND the next.  All that we do, all that we say, all that we are must be done in the pursuit of excellence.  Our kids will continue to perform well, the graduating seniors will still get all of their scholarship offers, and our athletic teams will continue to excel.  But will any of that really matter in the end? If we were public schools or we were charter schools then yes, that would be the measure of our success.  But Catholic schools are not just schools, we are centers of evangelization where excellence should not just be seen on report cards and progress reports, but on hearts and in souls.  Is everything we do pointing to excellence?  Are the decisions we make, the actions we take and the words that we speak reflective of excellence? Does what we do and who we are inspire our students to become the person God created them to be?  Anything less cheats our students of the their dignity.  So when you hear us speak of excellence in this organization shy away from hearing only about SAT scores and Terra Nova scores (although we will be expecting excellence their too).  But rather think of the potential of the students in front of you.  Think of yourself as the steward of God’s handy work and let us never, ever, any of us including me, expect that child to receive less than our absolute best.

And so my friends, it’s that simple: We equip saints for life in this world and the next.  That is our core purpose.  We animate this core purpose in the context of six common virtues: respect, integrity, enthusiasm, collaboration, innovation and enthusiasm.  And it is expected that our behaviors will reflect those virtues in our work no matter what our role in this mission.  In the end, by staying focused on our core purpose and by living out our virtues we will obtain our vision for this great Archdiocese: NAMELY

Responding to God’s call we are the world’s premiere center for the teaching mission of the Church.

I wish to close with one final story of a young man studying oversees in college.  As a student of theology this young man was passionate about his faith and convinced that he had all of the right answers.  He admitted that he was more than liberal in his interpretation of Church teaching, and his greatest ambition was to change the Church for the better.  One day, during a holiday break, the college student boarded a train from Rome to the town of Assisi, the home of Saint Francis himself.  On that train the young man sat with a gentleman in his mid 40’s and the two engaged in a heated discussion around theology and the future of the Church.  In short, these two did not see eye to eye.  Eager to continue the discussion the man introduced himself to the college student and said: I’m Charlie.  Would you like to continue our conversation over dinner tonight.  And that they did. But as Charlie approached the restaurant that night, the college student noticed that Charlie was dressed as a bishop!  Good evening, Charlie, the young man said.  Has Halloween come early?  Oh, said Charlie…did I not mention on the train that I am the Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota? No, no you did not mention that on the train when I was challenging the teachings of the Church, said the slightly embarrassed kid.

That young college student was me.  And that young bishop was Charles Chaput.  A bit ironic wouldn’t you say?  Or, as the bishop himself taught me that day, a bit of providence designed by God for the betterment of the divine plan. And I can assure you, that kid on the train still has high ambitions of changing the Church for the better.  You see, we are preparing our kids for a life that they have not even begun to imagine.  We have no idea where they will go or with whom they will interact.  We can’t predict their future.  But what we can do is to inspire them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by what we say and by what we do so that no matter where they go or who they meet, they will be open to the work of God in their lives.  There is no greater vocation than that of teacher because in the end Catholic schools exist for only two purposes: transcendence and success.  That is why, as teachers, we must be united in our core purpose: We equip saints for this world and the next.  Let this be our common aspiration as a leadership team, as administrators, and as teachers.  I recommit to you today that you can count on the Secretariat to be a place of support, a source of imagination, and a haven for option thinking.  And I count on all of you to make your schools true centers of evangelization for our young and aspiring saints.  Make them places of love and service.  Make them places of innovation and excellence.  But above all I count on you to continue to make them places where they come to know, love and serve the person of Jesus Christ.  Thank you for all that you do and thank you for all that you are.  May God bless the work of our hands!!!

[1] Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Philadelphia, April 11, 1852. Bishop John Nepomucene.

Witnesses, Teachers and A New School Year

Candles

“A good teacher is like a candle, consuming itself to light the way for others.”

Author unknown

 

As I reflect on the gift of Catholic education during this start of the new school year, I am immediately brought back to my own memories of Catholic school.  Beginning at the age of five I entered into what has become the most significant influence in my life outside of my family.  Now, thirty eight years since my first day of Kindergarten I am mindful of the reality that I have never left the setting of a Catholic school whether as a student, a teacher or an administrator.  And I consider this one of the most important accomplishments of my life.

Without question the heart and soul of this experience has been the teachers and staff members that reached out to me along the journey.  Even in my current role, there is no greater impression left upon me than that of the dedication of our own Catholic school teachers across the archdiocese that give of themselves each and every day.  My gratitude to these religious and lay men and women that come into our schools each day can’t be summed up in words.  I never, ever take for granted the work that they do.  It was Pope Paul VI who was quoted as saying: Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” [Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis] (2 October 1974) So as we begin this new school year I am reminded of the many witnesses that we have in this Archdiocese and of those that have come into my life over the years. It took me over 30 years to write the following to my own second grade teacher upon being named Secretary for Education here in Philadelphia last year:

 

Dear Sister Francis Mary:

Summer greetings to you from a long lost student!  I write today to simply say thank you for the influence that you have had on my life.  Enclosed with this mailing you will see what prompted me to write this letter; an announcement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

As I reflect on the experiences that I have had and then open my eyes to where God’s Spirit has led me to today I can’t help but reach out to a few of you that were so instrumental to my vocation as a Catholic educator.  I guess this letter is proof of the fact that we never truly see the results of the seeds that we planted many years ago unless someone takes the time to let us know.

I hope that you will take the time to review the items that I have sent to you so that you can see where my life has taken me over the past decades since leaving Saint William’s.  Even as I write this letter I can’t help but have a smile on my face as I think of the wonderful community that I was a part of back then.  It is my sincerest belief that had it not been for you and for the many others that touched my heart that I would not have become the person that I am today.

Peace and all good things,

Chris

 

It is my fervent hope that someday our wonderful educators will realize the impact they have had on the hearts and minds of the students whom they serve.  You are indeed candles that light the way for others!

The Transfer Advantage

TA

This week we have unveiled a new initiative here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that we are confident will attract even greater numbers of students to our 17 high schools. We are calling it the TRANSFER ADVANTAGE.  Our purpose is simple: to attract potential students in the charter and public schools who are interested in learning more about the great gift of Catholic education here in our area.  And what are some of the ADVANTAGES of coming to a Catholic high school?

  • The Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in word and in deed every single day.  Is there anything better than a young person marinating in the culture of Catholic education for 7 hours each day for 180 days each year?
  • The academic performance of our Catholic schools is superior.  Did you know that $320,000,000 in scholarship offers were made to our graduating senior class this year? (That’s over $88,000 per graduate for those of you keeping track at home!)
  • Our schools are places of community with high standards of security and safety.
  • Our schools encourage parent involvement and we see our role as partners in education with our parents who are getting involved more and more each day at our schools.
  • We have AP courses that will challenge any other school’s offerings
  • Smaller class sizes give us the opportunity to offer more individualized attention to our students and their families on a regular basis.
  • Technology integration, one-to-one initiatives and emphasis on 21st century learners are a hallmark of our schools.
  • High sets of expectations are set by our discipline codes and admissions policies.
  • Financial aid is abundant this year!  More than we ever made available before….
  • College placement levels for our graduating seniors are at an all time high and graduation rates are just short of perfect (which we are striving for).
  • Our teachers are awesome!
  • Our administrators are awesome!
  • Our staff and our coaches are caring and nurturing!
  • We are excellent stewards of our resources and have adopted a new mindset of growth, innovation and change.
  • As a graduate of Catholic schools you will join a network of alumni across the country that are interested in your gifts, talents and abilities simply because of your affiliation with our schools.
  • And, to stress again, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to who we are and what we do, you will be part of a community of witnesses that will teach you much more by what they do rather than what they say.

Any student, parent, family or anyone else interested in being a part of this outstanding ADVANTAGE, we are offering a $1000 transfer grant to immediately.  It’s that simple.  We are so confident in our ADVANTAGE that we will offer this grant to any accepted students no matter their financial need.  Moreover, if there is financial need over and above this grant, we are there to help.

Want to learn more about this awesome opportunity?  Take a look at this website and it will tell you everything you need to know: http://www.TransferAdvantage.org.

In the meantime, I hope that our community will take seriously the ADVANTAGES that Catholic schools have to offer.

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