Monthly Archives: August 2011

Voucher-fueled enrollment boom in Indiana

A new school-voucher program in Indiana is prompting a spike in enrollment among Catholic schools that were once on the verge of closing. Bloomberg Businessweek has the scoop:

Under a law signed in May by Gov. Mitch Daniels, more than 3,200 Indiana students are receiving vouchers to attend private schools. That number is expected to climb significantly in the next two years as awareness of the program increases and limits on the number of applicants are lifted.

The vouchers are government-issued certificates that can be applied to private tuition, essentially allowing parents to channel some of the tax dollars they would normally pay to public schools to other institutions.

Until Indiana started its program, most voucher systems were limited to poor students, those in failing schools or those with special needs. But Indiana’s is significantly larger, offering money to students from middle-class homes and solid school districts.

Nearly 70 percent of the vouchers approved statewide are for students opting to attend Catholic schools, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the five dioceses in Indiana. The majority are in the urban areas of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Gary, where many public schools have long struggled.

John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, said it’s not surprising that Catholic schools are receiving so many of the vouchers, even though they make up fewer than half of the 415 schools in the group.

Most Catholic schools already had state accreditation, which some private schools lack. And they are more established and have more space available, he said.

John West, an attorney for a group suing to stop the Indiana program, said during a hearing on the issue that only six of the 240 private schools that have signed up for the voucher program are secular.

Our Lady of Hungary Catholic School in South Bend is among those institutions reaping the benefits of the vouchers. Just two years ago, it was threatened with closure by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. At the time, the bishop said several other schools were at risk of closing, too.

Now enrollment at Our Lady of Hungary has jumped nearly 60 percent over last year, largely because of an influx of voucher students. The halls are bustling more than they have in years.

“This has exceeded all crazy expectations,” Principal Melissa Jay said.

Read more here.


Man in the know thinks archbishop will be good fit for Holy Land

Bishop Denis J. Madden (second from right) joins archdiocesan leaders at an Aug. 29 press conference highlighting Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien's appointment to a Vatican office. (CR Photo/Bill McAllen)

Bishop Denis J. Madden knows something about the Holy Land.

From 1994-1996, Bishop Madden was the Director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine office in Jerusalem before serving as director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association from 1996-2005.

Among his duties while with the CNEWA, Bishop Madden was the chief negotiator among the three ecclesiastical authorities responsible for repairing the dome of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.

As Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien prepares to take on a new role defending Christianity in the Holy Land as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order (Knights) of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, he will find a knowledgeable friend in Bishop Madden.

I asked Bishop Madden about the news of Archbishop O’Brien’s appointment and the challenges the archbishop will face in the Holy Land. Bishop Madden praised Archbishop O’Brien for showing courage in addressing difficult challenges in Baltimore. He also described the archbishop as a good fit for the Holy Land. Take a listen to Bishop Madden’s responses below.

VIDEO REPORT: Archbishop O’Brien’s press conference on his new appointment

Here’s a Catholic Review video report on Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien’s appointment as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order (Knights) of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

For insights into the archbishop’s unique sense of humor, click here.


A glimpse into Archbishop O’Brien’s playful side

George P. Matysek Jr. with Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien in Rome, 2008.

For the last four years, I’ve had the honor of covering Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien as one of my main beats at The Catholic Review.

I was at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI placed the pallium around Archbishop O’Brien’s neck, conferring the symbol of his office as a metropolitan archbishop. I’ve seen the archbishop testify forcefully against the death penalty in Annapolis and meet with parish and school leaders throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

I’ve witnessed our spiritual shepherd quietly encourage seminarians and answer questions of young people thinking about the religious life. I’ve also seen him choke with emotion when reflecting on his close bond with the priests he serves.

The archbishop has a well-earned reputation as a serious-minded and devoted leader who gives everything he has in service of a Church he loves. Yet, there’s another side to him – a playful side that endears him those who know him.

All of Baltimore first encountered Archbishop O’Brien’s wit at his installation Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Oct. 1, 2007.

The packed cathedral erupted in laughter when Archbishop O’Brien acknowledged that some may find it “puzzling, even ironic, that the Holy Father should choose a native son of New York to be archbishop of another part of the American League East.”

The archbishop won even louder laughs when he recounted how he gave a copy of his high school yearbook to the editor of The Catholic Review to be used for a “human interest” piece in a special edition about the installation. Unknown to the archbishop, his junior year report card was tucked inside the yearbook. A member of The Catholic Review staff informed the archbishop of the discovery – “gleefully” reminding the new archbishop that his lowest grade that year was in religion.

“Even my Irish imagination had a little difficulty in putting a good spin on that,” the archbishop said with a smile.

“Knowledge of the faith is so very important, but what you do with that knowledge is ever so much more important,” he said.

Just prior to Archbishop O’Brien’s first Ash Wednesday celebration in Baltimore, he held a brief press conference on the portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I held my breath and asked what I knew might be a somewhat personal and bold question to pose to an archbishop:

“Can we ask if you’re giving anything up or doing something special for Lent?” I ventured tentatively as the archbishop stood at the top of the steps.

The archbishop paused for a second, exhaled and looked taken aback. Then mischief engulfed his face completely.

“I’m giving up rash judgments on certain people,” he said as his smile grew wider and he chuckled playfully. “How’s that?”

My fellow reporters broke into laughter. I did too, although my face was crimson and my heart was beating faster.

“Trying to be more charitable – that’s the main thing for all of us, I think,” Archbishop O’Brien said, showing some charity after he had zinged me.

Just a few weeks later, I happened to exit the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen through a side door at the same time as the archbishop. He had just finished celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass. As we walked a few feet together, he asked me if I was married or single. When I said I was single, he noted that he knew that was the case because I’m a person who’s always smiling.

About a year later, at the end of the May 3, 2009 dedication liturgy for the new St. Ann Church in Grantsville, one of the owners of the nearby Newman Funeral Home surprised parishioners by giving their pastor a check for $18,000. The gift was the amount the parish had paid the funeral home for allowing the faith community to worship there after their former church was destroyed in a 2006 fire. The owner wanted to donate the money to the parish as a sign of his commitment to the religious community.

Thanking the donor for the gracious gesture, Father James Hannon turned to Archbishop O’Brien and joked that he would give him the check in the knowledge that the archbishop would certainly turn it over to the parish.

When the pastor sat down, Archbishop O’Brien solemnly arose from the presider’s chair and walked over to the lectern as if to continue the liturgy. Without saying a word, he picked up the check and walked back to his seat while smiling mischievously. Waves of laughter from the congregation built to a crescendo before the archbishop finally made a detour and handed the check to Father Hannon.

I’m going to miss Archbishop O’Brien’s good humor. More importantly, I’m going to miss his solid leadership, his model of Christian living and his sense of pastoral outreach. Archbishop O’Brien truly cared for the people he served. He had to make some tough calls during his tenure. He did what he thought was best to build up the Church of Baltimore.

God bless you, Archbishop O’Brien, as you begin a new phase in your ministry.

Click here for coverage of the archbishop’s appointment to Rome.


8/31 UPDATE: Jennifer Williams, my friend and colleague at The Catholic Review, has some of her own memories of Archbishop O’Brien’s humor posted here.

Archbishop O’Brien heading to Rome!

CR photo/Owen Sweeney III

Congratulations to Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien!  Pope Benedict XVI today appointed the archbishop as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.  Click here to read The Catholic Review’s coverage of the announcement and click here to read about the archbishop’s deep impact locally, nationally and internationally.  A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Catholic Center in Baltimore.

I’ll have much more throughout the day!

UPDATE: Click here for some insights into Archbishop O’Brien’s sense of humor.

Teen video breaks down coming changes in the language of the liturgy

Here’s a nice, simple and direct summary of what’s happening with the new English translation of the Roman Missal.  There’s more to it than what this video offers, but it’s a good introduction.  Check out this story for a more detailed explanation from Father Richard Hilgartner, a Baltimore priest and director of the Secretariat for Divine Worship with the U.S. bishops. The changes are set to take place Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

Treat everyone as if they were good

Todd Whitaker speaks Aug. 22 at the Convocation of Catholic Schools in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Do you know how you come across to others?  If you do, there’s a good chance you are highly effective in your job and other areas of your life.  If not, well, you might want to make a few changes.

In an Aug. 22 keynote address to more than 2,000 educators from across the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Todd Whitaker talked about what makes great teachers – and people – different from others. He challenged  educators to treat everyone as if they were good — even the so-called “crummy” kids, teachers or parents.

Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and author of the best-selling, “What Great Teachers do Differently.”

Here’s an audio clip from his talk, which was delivered at the Baltimore Convention Center.  While directed at educators, the message applies to everyone.  It’s worth a listen.  Whitaker is an engaging and funny speaker.

Click here for complete Catholic Review coverage of the convocation.

Rocking out with Ray Herrmann and St. Alphonsus

Ray Herrmann waves at the end of an Aug. 14 concert in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

In this week’s Catholic Review, you’ll meet Ray Herrmann – a talented member of the rock group, ‘Chicago,’ and a devoted Catholic who is involved in quite a remarkable religious music project.

Over the last few years, Herrmann has produced three CDs of the musical works of St. Alphonsus Liguori. The great saint and founder of the Redemptorists was an accomplished composer, but his works have largely gone unnoticed and unheard since the 18th century.

Working with Redemptorists of the Denver Province, Herrmann put together a very moving collection of the saint’s music and prayers. The collection is focused on the rosary, the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the Way of the Cross. The most recent CD also features Liam Neeson reading some of St. Alphonsus’s prayers with the saint’s music serving as an underscore. (Read the CR story about the St. Alphonsus project here).

Here’s a sample of “To Jesus in His Passion,” one of St. Alphonsus’s compositions as arranged by Herrmann:

Herrmann is a multi-talented musician. I was fortunate to see him in concert and spend some time with him at an Aug. 14 Chicago performance at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion in Baltimore.

Check out this sax solo from that concert.  It’s certainly different from anything St. Alphonsus would have played!

It’s definitely worth buying Herrmann’s collection of St. Alphonsus’s works. It’s inspired music and long overdue for production. All proceeds from the sales of the CDs go toward helping the Redemptorists in their South American and African mission work.

Check out Herrmann’s producation company and purchasing information here. For more on the St. Alphonsus project, click here. Chicago’s website is here.

In the meantime, here are some more shots of Herrmann in action…

Ray Herrmann plays the flute during an Aug. 14 concert with 'Chicago' at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

Ray Herrmann plays a solo. The musician began playing the piano at 6 and clarinet at 7. He learned flute and sax in high school, earning a master's degree in music from the University of North Texas. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

'Chicago' performs Aug. 14 in Baltimore. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

‘The Dialog’ to stay in business

There’s really good news coming out of Wilmington.

The Dialog, the award-winning diocesan newspaper that had been slated for closure this year, will continue publishing as a bi-weekly newspaper. The news outlet also plans to expand its presence in the electronic media – regularly posting online stories and video reports.

Joseph Kirk Ryan, former managing editor of The Catholic Review and an assistant editor at The Dialog since 2006, was named editor/manager.  Daniel Medinger, former associate publisher/editor of The Catholic Review and current president of Advertising Media Plus, will serve as a consultant.

The Dialog’s near demise was another consequence of the sex abuse crisis. It faced elimination as a way to help pay for a $77.4 million settlement to survivors of abuse by priests.

Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly,  former auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, announced that the newspaper’s budget for the first year will be funded in part by a $150,000 donation by an anonymous benefactor. Funds set aside by the diocese for a new communications plan will also be used, he said, and advertising revenues will continue to be sought.

I worked closely with Joe Ryan and Dan Medinger in Baltimore.  They are both top-notch journalists who know the Catholic Church well. The Dialog is in good hands.

Here’s more from The Dialog:

The bishop’s Aug. 8 decision to keep The Dialog in business follows the recommendation of a special committee  formed last spring to suggest a diocesan communications plan after the paper was closed. That committee urged the diocese to improve its use of electronic media and to produce a printed publication as well, noting The Dialog was a “very active, solid” means of informing and evangelizing every Catholic household, according to Msgr. J. Thomas Cini, vicar general.

The committee’s report emphasized the need for a paper and enhanced communication in the diocese to counter misinformation and rumors during a critical time for the church in the wake of bankruptcy, the sex abuse scandal and recent closings of schools.

Starting in October, The Dialog’s new print edition will be delivered bi-weekly to parishes for distribution in churches. Circulation by mail will end. The paper will start a new website for Dialog stories and publish more information than can be included in its print editions. The Dialog will also develop an e-community in the diocese through reader emails gathered with the help of parishes, so parishioners can receive breaking news by text, photo and video.

All together now: ‘I love my cross, I love my beads’

A song from the "Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions." (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

They just don’t write hymns like the ones I recently stumbled across in an old Catholic songbook at the recently closed St. Michael Church, Fells Point.

Published in 1925, the yellowed and crumbling “Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions” had been tucked away on a dusty choir-loft shelf alongside stacks of old, unused sheet music. The hymnal’s binding had been broken long ago – a sign of frequent use in a parish that was once among the largest and most active in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Carefully leafing through the manual, I was amazed by lyrics that were profoundly, unabashedly Catholic. Although they could sometimes be a bit saccharine, they were undoubtedly meant to bolster devotional faith in an era when American Catholics still faced persecution and ridicule.

Hymn #183 – “I Am a Faithful Catholic” – was particularly striking.  With a notation advising that the hymn be played “with spirit,” the song was written in the first person. It required singers to promise that they personally would be “true to holy Church, and steadfast, until death – and steadfast until death.”

“I love His altar where I kneel,” the song proclaimed, “My Jesus to adore; I love my Mother, Mary dear, Oh! may I love them more.”

The saints got similar treatment: “I love the Saints of olden time, The places where they dwelt; I love to pray where Saints have prayed, And kneel where they have knelt.”

The final verse drove it all home with a simple, direct summary: “I love my cross, I love my beads. Each emblem of my faith; Let foolish men rail as they will, I’ll love them until death.”

Pretty amazing stuff, huh?

Hymn #184, “Long Live the Pope,” was just as bold.

“Beleaguered by the foes of earth,” the 1908 hymn asserted, “beset by hosts of hell; He guards the loyal flock of Christ, a watchful sentinel: And Yet, amid the din and strife, The clash of mace and sword, he bears alone the shepherd staff, This champion of the Lord.”

Again, the final verse has the clincher:

“Then raise the chant, with heart and voice, In church and school and home: ‘Long live the Shepherd of the Flock! Long live the Pope of Rome!” Almighty Father, bless his work, Protect him in his ways; Receive his prayers, fulfill his hopes, And grant him length of days.”

I don’t know if those songs were sung as frequently as Marian favorites like “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother,” or eucharistic hymns like “Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All,” but the fact that they made it into the manual’s third edition  when others were culled suggests that they may have had a attained a certain level of popularity.

In a preface to the hymnal, Redemptorist Father Francis Auth wrote that he hoped the manual would “assist our devout people to sing the praises of God, Our Blessed Mother and all the Saints with more love and devotion, and we trust, with more pleasure.”

The encouragement of “devout, soul-stirring” congregational singing was a priority, he said. To get there, “we must unite on something churchly, beautiful and stable.”

A lot has changed in liturgical music over the last century, but it sounds to me like Father Auth’s basic advice is just as sound today as it was in 1925.

"Long Live the Pope," published in a 1925 hymnal. (CR Staff/George P. Matysek Jr.)

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