Hundreds of diocesan PTA members were urged to take the light of Catholic education out from under the proverbial bushel, lift it high and let it shine at the 86th Annual Conference of the Trenton Diocesan Council of Parent Teacher Associations Sept. 24.
That was the message conveyed by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in his homily at the opening Mass in St. Rose Church, Belmar, and echoed by diocesan educators and officials at the conference, entitled “Lamp of Learning – Light of Faith” which followed at the nearby Waterview Pavilion.
Speaking of the vital role of Catholic education plays in securing the future of the Church, Bishop O’Connell urged the educators, advocates and officials before him to “spread the word on the value of Catholic schools,” which, he said, are where students can encounter “the living God.”
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Noting that he attended Catholic schools throughout his entire educational career, Bishop O’Connell, who served a 12-year term as president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., recognized the vital role PTAs play in supporting diocesan high schools and grammar schools and encouraged those present to continue doing all they could in that regard in the future.
Drawing on the example of the importance Pope Benedict XVI places on Catholic education, the bishop recalled hosting the pontiff’s 2008 visit to The Catholic University of America to address the heads of more than 200 American Catholic colleges and universities and superintendents of schools from the 195 dioceses of the United States.
“He spoke so beautifully of Catholic education,” said Bishop O’Connell. “He told (his audience) that they are the bearers of the message of God. That’s what we do. We carry the message of God – that’s what makes (Catholic schools) unique and special. Catholic schools, Pope Benedict said, are where students encounter the living God. Catholic schools are the (educational) landscapes where God enters in.”
Those who support these institutions are, themselves, messengers of God, he said.
Speaking of the decision to raise an additional $1 million through the Bishop’s Annual Appeal for student tuition assistance, he said: “the focus on Catholic schools is one reason I was sent here. Catholic schools are the hope of the Church and we have got to do everything possible to keep that hope going.”
That call for hope, epitomized by an illustration of Our Lady of Hope by M.B. Hopkins which embellished the cover of the Mass booklet, was repeated throughout the morning at the conference which followed the installation of this 2011-2013 Trenton diocesan PTA Executive Board.
Those installed were: Jason C. Briggs, principal of St. Gregory the Great School, Hamilton Square, diocesan advisor; Katherine Soss Prihoda, president, St. Gregory the Great Parish; Mary-Ellen Deckhut, St. Rose Parish, Belmar, first vice president; Karen Chmielewski, St. Katharine Drexel, Burlington, second vice president; Sharon Smith, St. Gregory the Great Parish, recording secretary and Maryanne Szalecki, Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony, Hamilton, treasurer.
Father Douglas A. Freer began his remarks at the conference by saying how he’d visited schools throughout the four counties since being appointed diocesan vicar for Catholic Education on July 1. The visits have reinforced the fact that “there is an amazing difference between public schools and Catholic schools,” he said. “We need to think of ways to (increase support for) them,” Father Freer said.
Harking back to the conference theme of theme of light, he said: “We need to work together to bring that light out from under the bushel.”
Sister of St. Joseph Eileen Rush, the guest speaker, who just completed her first year as campus minister in St. Rose High School, Belmar, lent her enthusiasm to the proceedings by echoing Father Freer’s call to take that light from under the bushel with her own.
Quoting from the Gospel of Matthew, she said: “you are the light of the world, let it shine! That was Jesus’ metaphor to his followers…You’ve got to capture the light and work (to enhance Catholic education) in ways that are manageable, attainable and on target.
She encouraged the PTA members to concentrate on “realistic choices. Many times, you try to be a flood light when a single spot light often shines with more focus.” She urged the PTA volunteers to “be willing to make changes and position yourselves to keep the light (of Catholic education) shining. That’s what it’s all about.”
Mary-Ellen Deckhut who stepped down from diocesan PTA president to first vice president at the installation service, said such remarks left her and many others feeling energized and appreciated.
“The (conference) was wonderful,” Deckhut said. “From the bishop’s homily to Father Doug’s remarks to Sister Eileen’s speech…the focus on working to keep the schools open was really appreciated.”
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