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

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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!


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