May 9 was a special day for Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and the Diocese of Trenton, as the Bishop hosted local New Jersey Legislators from Districts 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 15 and 30 at a breakfast in his home. Deacon Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, and Father Michael Wallack, secretary to the Bishop, also participated in the gathering.
The Bishop and Deacon Brannigan shared some thoughts on a number of issues facing the New Jersey legislative body, chief among them the need to restore funding for transportation in the FY19 state budget proposed by Governor Phil Murphy to its previous $1,000 amount per pupil level for Catholic and other non-public school students.
“The restoration of this funding,” the Bishop remarked to the legislators serving in the four counties of the Diocese, “is critically important to our Catholic schools, especially to assist with transportation for our students.”
A positive discussion followed with the legislators, each expressing both awareness of and appreciation for the work of Catholic schools throughout the Garden State. “There are 239 Catholic schools educating over 80,000 students in New Jersey,” the Bishop observed, “saving the state $1.6 billion.”
Bishop O’Connell continued, “In the Diocese of Trenton alone there are 31 Catholic elementary schools and seven Catholic high schools, along with four Catholic independent schools and one other in the Catholic tradition.” It is, he acknowledged, “difficult for Catholic schools to compete with taxpayer funded public schools as it is, despite the excellent academic quality, high graduation and college admission rates, and multiple community service initiatives evident in Catholic schools.”
Several of the legislators present noted that they “have been receiving letters” from constituents in the Diocese.
The Bishop also told the gathering that the Diocese would be observing a special “Year for Youth” in the coming year and legislators offered some thoughtful insights into areas that might be addressed. The discussion moved into other topics as well: drug addiction, depression, bullying, racial tensions and suicide among the young as well as proposed marijuana legalization and the so-called Death with Dignity Act.
The Bishop thanked the legislators present – Senators James Beach, Troy Singleton (and his assistant Jennifer Aydjin), James W. Holzapfel, Linda Greenstein, Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso and Assemblyman Edward H. Thomson – for their great public service and expressed gratitude for their willingness to meet with him, given their very busy schedules.
“It was a wonderful conversation, the first of many I hope,” reflected Bishop O’Connell and Deacon Brannigan.