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.

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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.


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