Archbishop Henry J. Mansell on Sunday presented a plan for the Hartford region's Catholic schools that urges church members to lobby for greater public and private funding so the schools can reach more students and thrive.
The plan is the result of three years of work by leaders of the Archdiocese of Hartford along with officials of the schools. Mansell presented it on Sunday during a special Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.
Mansell said during the Mass that Catholic schools develop students physically and intellectually, but that the spiritual component is unique and special.
"It is the spiritual development that makes all the difference. Without that, all education is fundamentally flawed," Mansell said.
The cathedral was packed Sunday, and included priests, nuns and church officials, school principals and church members. Some principals said before Mass that the plan will give the archdiocese's schools a much-needed shot in the arm by providing direction for the future and boosting morale.
"This is a pep rally. It reminds us of how good our schools are and how good a Catholic education is," said George Claffey, principal of St. Stanislaus School in Meriden. "Some Catholic schools have closed and the church is saying to the ones that are still open that they are going to thrive."
Dale R. Hoyt, school superintendent for the archdiocese, said the schools are expected to put renewed focus on what they do. He said the schools will be expected to prepare their own strategic plans and that the archdiocese will review what the schools do on a yearly basis.
Hoyt said the archdiocese will hold a symposium in 2012 to review the progress its schools have made.
A key part of the plan put forth on Sunday was getting increased government funding to support the schools in the archdiocese, which covers Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties. There are 70 schools in the archdiocese.
Mansell said Catholic schools already save local and state governments hundreds of millions each year by taking in students who otherwise would have to attend public schools. He said an investment by government would help church schools do even more. The report urges parents to lobby legislators for aid.
"It will pay dividends for generations to come," Mansell said.
The plan also calls for schools to market themselves more aggressively and devote more funds to providing financial aid so that students from low-income and middle-class backgrounds can attend.
Church schools are also called on to reaffirm and emphasize their Catholic identity.
"Our teaching is strong but the need is that the Roman Catholic fiber be strongly integrated into what we do," said Donna Binkowski, principal of St. Mary's School in Branford.
The report is the end result of a process that started when Mansell issued a vision for the archdiocese's schools in January 2005. The work that ensued involved rank-and-file priests, parishioners and school staff. Principals said the report is particularly strong because it reflects the views and concerns of ordinary church members.
"This process was a groundswell, so many people from the parishes and the schools got involved," said John Alfone, principal of Our Lady of Mercy School in Madison.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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