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Royal engagement announcement brings attention to Catholic school

When the news broke Nov. 27 of Meghan Markle's engagement to Prince Harry, reporters descended upon the Los Angeles Catholic school Markle attended: Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School.
 
"They've been scaling the walls," Callie Webb, communication director for the school, said with slight exaggeration, but maybe not too much, of the reporters calling and visiting the 112-year-old school with mission-style terra cotta roofs just a few miles from the landmark Hollywood sign.
 
For two days, Webb's phone was ringing off the hook and her email mailbox was flooded with requests from local newspapers and TV stations as well as national media and British tabloids about the school's famous fiancee -- the 1999 graduate who is not Catholic but attended the school from seventh grade (before the sixth grade was added) until graduation.
 
ABC's "20/20" spent a day on the campus -- with six of their vans parked on the school's ball field -- for an episode airing Dec. 1.
 
The attention, and the news itself, has been exciting for the school's 674 students, Webb said, pointing out that some of them had never even heard of Markle and others knew every detail about her 15-month romance with Prince Harry, her engagement, her TV career, activism and now discontinued lifestyle blog, The Tig.
 
The school, founded by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1906, tried to put the engagement news in perspective, at least on social media. Its Nov. 27 tweet said: "Over 10,000 women of great heart and right conscience have graduated from Immaculate Heart, and we are proud to count actress and humanitarian @meghanmarkle among them. Today, we send her our very best wishes as she celebrates her engagement to His Royal Highness Prince Harry."
 
It posted a similar message that day on its Facebook account, but added that as a global ambassador for World Vision Canada, Markle campaigned for clean, safe drinking water. And as a UN Women's Advocate, she has spoken up for women's rights and gender equality.
 
"She's so inspirational to many of us, not just as an actress, but also as someone who is into philanthropy and altruism and giving back," the school's student body president Mia Speier told KABC, the Los Angeles ABC affiliate.
 
 
Webb said Speier's reaction, that she has now often repeated, about the school's connection to the royal engagement is: "She is a sister who walked our hallways and was already inspiring."
 
And that's pretty much how the school sees it.
 
"We've been proud of Meghan for a long time," said Webb of Markle's advocacy for gender equality and clean drinking water and her work with the United Nations as a women's advocate for political participation and leadership.
 
"That's very much in keeping with the goal of all our students," she told Catholic News Service Nov. 28, adding that it reflects the school's mission, which "encourages students to become women of great heart and right conscience through leadership, service and a lifelong commitment to Christian values."
 
Webb also noted that Markle, 36, was exposed at an early age to helping others, something that was reinforced at school with community service projects. "Her upbringing meshed with the school's mission and philosophy," as she put it.
Markle was chosen as a Kairos retreat leader during her senior year and she took part in the school's theater productions -- long before her role as Rachel Zane in the television drama "Suits."
 
"She's gone from one stage to a bigger stage," Webb added, noting that in "whatever small way" the school contributed to her current achievements, it is proud.
 
Immaculate Heart makes no mention of the royal engagement on its website. Instead, the school news is about sports wins, charity drives, upcoming events and a 2007 graduate who is featured in 2018 edition of Forbes "30 Under 30" -- the magazine's list of 600 visionaries in 20 different industries.
 
Webb pointed out the school has plenty on tap right now with its Dec. 2 open house and ongoing visits from perspective freshmen during the school's "shadow" days, where they shadow current students on a school day. She knows the media focus on the school is likely to wane, for now, although it's been great publicity.
 
She also continually hopes to reinforce the message that Immaculate Heart is thrilled for Markle but not just for the wedding at England's Windsor Castle when the former student, described as a "classy girl" in the school's yearbook, will take on the title Duchess of Sussex.
 
"We always tell our students to dream big," she said, "but not necessarily about marrying a prince!"
 
  • Published in World

St.Therese Digital Academy enrollment increases

Enrollment at the Diocese of Burlington’s St. Therese Digital Academy has grown from four to 52.
 
Principal Lisa Lorenz attributes the growth to several factors including grant money from Our Sunday Visitor and the Catholic Communications Campaign of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, word of mouth, courses for the Lay Formation Program Institute for Missionary Discipleship, the building of the digital academy’s own curriculum and existing brick and mortar schools using its courses.
 
St. Therese Digital Academy is an online diocesan Catholic high school with a rigorous program grounded in the firm foundation of the Catholic faith. The academy works with parents in their role as the primary educators of their children by providing flexible options to assist with the diverse educational needs of students and their families. Its goal is to develop well-grounded disciples of Jesus Christ who possess 21st-century skills, equipping them to fulfill their roles as members of the Body of Christ within society.
 
The digital academy offers high school courses and theology for the Lay Formation Program, with projections for catechetical classes for ongoing professional development.
 
“We are rolling out our own courses. We are beginning our adult theology classes and have projected to roll out courses for the Diocesan Lay Formation Program as part of the Institute for Missionary Discipleship. In addition, our courses are being used in our existing [Catholic] schools now with increasing interest,” said Lorenz, who is also superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Burlington and principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington.
  • Published in Diocesan

Laity in Catholic schools

When David Estes, principal of The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington, walked into his first meeting of Vermont Catholic school principals in 1987, he looked around the room and saw one religious brother; the rest of the principals were women religious.
 
Now he is no longer the minority; Vermont has no Catholic school principals who are members of religious orders.
 
And according to Lisa Lorenz, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Burlington, this years marks the first year there are no religious sisters on staff of any of the 14 Catholic schools in Vermont, though pastors and other clergy are “wonderful” about visiting the schools.
 
Father Scott Gratton is the new part-time vice principal for Catholic mission at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington.
 
Staffing is just one change Estes – a husband and father of two -- has lived through in his nearly 40 years in Catholic education – all at the Bennington school where he used to teach third and fifth grades.
 
“I have a lot of history” here, he said as he sat in a school office that was once a choir loft overlooking what was Sacred Heart Church.
 
The 1995 closing of the church located within the brick school building is but one of the changes Estes has witnessed. When Sacred Heart Church was merged with St. Francis de Sales Church, the Bennington parish became Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, and eventually the name of Sacred Heart School was changed to that of the parish.
 
Other changes he has experienced during his tenure at the school are numerous: the reinstatement of grades seven and eight and the addition of a preschool; the expansion of the school into the church space for use as a multi-purpose room; an increase in interest in Catholic education among non-Catholics seeking quality education and a safe, disciplined environment; and the retirement of the last Sister of St. Joseph to teach in the school.
 
“For decades, schools were staffed entirely by religious but as numbers of religious decreased, schools were staffed by very capable, committed lay colleagues who ministered with religious and understood/understand what Catholic education is about,” commented Sister of Mercy Marianne Read, a former Catholic school teacher, principal and superintendent in Vermont.
 
“All lay teachers today in Catholic education understand that by the words spoken and by their presence to children and young adults, they can bring faith and hope and joy,” she continued. “Our lay teachers, continue the legacy of religious [congregations] and continue to build on a strong foundation, for they teach us that it is not just the crucifix on the wall or the statue of Mary or Joseph in the school building that makes a school Catholic. It is not just the priests, religious sisters and brothers or lay teachers we have that make a school Catholic. It is this and far more. It is the living out of the charism of the religious orders who taught in the schools. It is the teaching of Gospel values and striving to model the message of Christ on a daily basis, not just in religion class but witnessed to throughout the school day; it is our conscious participation in the life and mission of the Church that makes us Catholic.”
 
When the last Sister of St. Joseph at Sacred Heart School retired, Estes said there was concern about maintaining the Catholicity of the school, but the lay teachers and staff members live, teach and pray in ways that make it clear this is a Catholic school. “There is a joy here surrounded by the Catholic faith,” Estes said.
 
School Masses and prayer are key, he added. “When you see the students singing the Lord’s Prayer, they’re not singing. They’re praying. They mean it. It’s the presence of God here among everyone.”
 
Last year six students were baptized, an example of the evangelization role played by the school, once filled with only Catholic children. “We are evangelizing all the time,” Estes said.
 
Other changes he has witnessed through the years include the addition of technology and technology education to keep up with the changing times; the addition of athletic teams that build school spirit; more single-parent families and safe environment training for teachers, staff and volunteers.
 
“The gift of religious and clergy is truly a gift, and the gift of the laity is a gift,” Lorenz said. And having all-lay staffs in Catholic schools “is different, but this is a new time in our world” when there are fewer religious and clergy available to staff schools.
 
When Estes first came to the Catholic school, tuition was $50 a month; now it is $475. Though financial assistance is available, Estes said new ways of financing Catholic education need to be found.
 
As he looks to the future, Estes can’t help but look back on the changes he has experienced. “We’ve had a lot of change here at the school,” he said. “Change takes a lot of work, a lot of forethought and a willingness to change. …Change is a risk, but you have to go forward.”
 
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in Diocesan

Flynn Estate Scholarship Program

For more than 40 years Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. has been supporting the educational and economic needs of children in Chittenden County with funds from the late John J. Flynn bequest.
 
“The Flynn Estate Scholarship Program is available to provide supplemental assistance to families who find themselves unable to meet their tuition commitment at a Catholic school in Chittenden County because of unforeseen circumstances,” noted Mary Beth Pinard, executive director of Vermont Catholic Charities. “The funds are not intended to be planned budget tuition income for the schools.”
 
In February $40,997 was awarded to 16 families (23 students), and in May $19,022 was awarded to 11 families (16 students). Each year $60,000 is available for Vermont Catholic Charities to distribute.
 
Students who have received scholarships this year attend Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, Mater Christi School in Burlington, St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, Christ the King School in Burlington and St. Therese Digital Academy.
 
“The Flynn scholarships help families, tremendously, because they serve as a safety net … for families who with all good intentions contracted to pay a specific amount for the year and then an unforeseen hardship occurs and they are falling behind in their financial obligations,” commented Sister of Mercy Laura DellaSanta, Rice principal. “It is a one-time appeal that Rice can make for a particular family. It is not something families themselves apply for, but an appeal made by the school for an identified during-the-year hardship. It is always a pleasure to inform the family; [the scholarship] is received with relief and thankfulness by the family.”
 
  • Published in Schools

Catholic Schools Care for Creation

In response to Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne's call for a Year of Creation focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home," Catholic schools in Vermont immediately sprang to action planning a statewide day of creation education, action and prayer. On April 12, each Catholic school participated in Catholic Schools Care for Creation Day. Initiatives included immediate tasks and long-term projects.
 
Responding to the call to care for creation is part of the Catholic schools’ mission “to instill faith values in students and to create a desire to make a positive difference in the world.” Some schools began the day of service with Mass or another form of prayer. Others read and reflected upon quotes from “Laudato Si’” throughout the day. It was important for students to understand that this day wasn’t just in service to the world, but to their neighbors and to God as well.
 
“Care for creation is a matter of social justice because the ones who are most affected by pollution and climate change are the poor of the world,” Bishop Coyne said. “I hope many Catholics will take advantage of the opportunities being offered throughout the diocese to celebrate this Year of Creation.”
 
Vermont Catholic schools emphatically embraced the opportunity to spend some extra time beholding God’s creation and ensuring that it remains bountiful for generations to come.
 
Read about each school’s Care for Creation Day projects below. For more about the Year of Creation: vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation.
 
Students at St. Monica-St. Michael School in Barre learned about reusing and recycling materials with an eco-fashion show, where students designed and modeled clothing creations made from materials found in recycle bins. As part of an ongoing project, students planted seeds in recyclable containers that will later be transferred to the school garden. Once in the earth, the seedlings will grow into food that sustains bodies. Students and their families share in the cultivation, growth, harvest and consumption.
 
Students at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington used old newspapers to create biodegradable flower vases. The potted plants will be gifted to elderly individuals in the area and can be placed directly into the ground.
 
Everyone who attends St. Michael School in Brattleboro was encouraged to use sustainable transportation on April 12. Many walked, biked or carpooled to school. Members of the school community worked together on waste reduction strategies that could be implemented, with specific grades focusing on recycling and compost efficiency. Other grades focused on area beautification with litter pick-up and gardening. Others created an awareness and education bulletin board for visitors and as a reminder for everyone at the school.
 
Each classroom at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville has prominent recycle and compost bins with a smaller trash bin alongside them. The school no longer provides single-use plastic straws or water bottles. There are water-bottle filling stations for reusable water bottles. Lunch trays are biodegradable. All of this is part of the school’s ongoing sustainability efforts.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Rutland led a prayer service designed to help people understand how they can contribute to ecological justice. Throughout the year, students will work with Marble Valley Grows to plant a garden and participate in tastings to promote the Farm to School programs. They will also learn about and begin a composting program for the lunch room.
 
Students at Christ the King School in Burlington and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland spent their mornings cleaning up local parks and beautifying creation for area residents to enjoy.
 
Good Shepherd Catholic School in St. Johnsbury recently received a grant that allows them to begin construction on an outdoor nature classroom. After “greening up” the local area on April 12, students and staff gathered in the gym to plant seeds. Later in the spring, flower seedlings will be donated to the local eldercare home and vegetable seedlings to the community garden. Some of each will be reserved to plant in the outdoor nature classroom upon its completion.
 
Students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington helped to return the local ecosystem to balance by removing invasive species from a trail on school grounds and cultivating the land for new growth. Money collected from a dress-down day on the April 12 was donated to Pure Water for the World, a Rutland-based non-profit dedicated to sustainable, safe water solutions.
 
At St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, students learned about the impact of separating food waste and began implementing a compost program in their cafeteria and classrooms.
 
  • Published in Schools

Reduce, reuse, recycle, compost

Nineteen kindergarten and first-grade students from St. Michael’s School in Brattleboro donned green construction hats as they learned a lesson in the three R’s – not reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic – but reducing, reusing and recycling.
 
During an April 12 visit to the Windham Solid Waste Management District in Brattleboro they saw how recycled materials are sorted and bundled for sale and how compost is made.
 
It was part of the school’s observance of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, and the children understood the importance of caring for what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” the Earth.
 
“Not reducing, reusing and recycling is bad for the Earth,” said Jackson Ferreira, 7, a first grader.
 
“The Earth is our home, and we should respect it because God gave it to us,” added classmate Kalyn Curtiss, 7.
 
Before taking a tour of the facility, the children and their chaperones listened to a presentation by Kristen Benoit, program coordinator for the management district. “Everyone makes trash, but we can make the trash smaller by making smarter decisions,” she said.
 
Reducing consumption, reusing items, recycling recyclables and composting food waste and other compostables are all smarter decisions.
 
Benoit said every Vermonter produces about four and a half pounds of trash a day; that equals 1,640 soccer balls per year per person. “Our job here is to help make it less,” she commented.
 
Seventy-five percent of all trash is recyclable; recycling 2,000 pounds of paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water and 380 barrels of oil, she noted.
 
Paper, for example, can be recycled to make tissue paper, bathroom tissue and egg cartons. Soda cans can be recycled to make more soda cans, and milk jugs can be turned into carpet backing.
 
As for compost, Benoit said 30 percent of household trash is generally food and yard waste – items that could be composted “to make really good dirt for your plants.”
 
Putting food into landfills is not only unnecessary, it creates harmful methane gas.
 
Liz Martin, the kindergarten and first-grade teacher at St. Michael’s School, said during Lent the children made a special “sacrifice” to take better care of the Earth God has given them. “We’re going to try to do that for the entire year, not just Lent,” she added.
 
  • Published in Schools

Students research water quality

Sarah Eustis and Katie Garret, students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, are doing research to determine the health of two local streams and their impact on Lake Champlain.
 
It is more than research; it’s a way for them to put their faith in action.
 
“God created us as the caretakers of the rest of creation, so it’s our duty to protect the environment and protect other species,” Katie said.
 
The Research on Adaptation to Climate Change program in which they are participating is funded by the National Science Foundation through The Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a program designed to fulfill the foundation’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide and to get students involved in research.
 
Rice has participated in the program for eight of its nine years.
 
Sarah and Katie began the project in June. It entails collecting water samples from Potash Brook and Bartlett Brook in South Burlington and sending them to St. Michael’s College for analysis regarding levels of phosphorous, suspended sediments and nitrogen. This helps determine the health of Lake Champlain, into which both streams flow.
 
The teens also collected insects from the bottom of the streams, as they are indicators of the quality of the water.
 
“Both streams are urban-impacted so we expect to find bugs that are tolerant of pollution,” said Sharon Boardman, a Rice science teacher who is working with the students on the project.
 
A third component of the students’ project is an experiment: Sarah and Katie made leaf packs – one with faux foliage, one with maple leaves and one with witch hazel leaves – to collect bugs to see if they have feeding preferences. They were analyzing those packs in January in the school lab.
 
The two students are scheduled to make a presentation at a symposium with other Vermont Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research participants in March.
 
“My main motivation is to get kids involved in doing field research…like they would do in college studying biology or ecology,” Boardman said. “Also, this gives them a chance to do original research.”
 
Sarah is considering studying environmental science in college; Katie might pursue a degree in classics.
 
Sarah sees that the project she and Katie have undertaken is contributing to care of the Earth. “We are learning that when the environment is not good we can come up with ways to fix it” like ensuring there is no construction close to the edge of streams to prevent erosion and the addition of sediment to the stream, she said.
 
Both students studied Advance Placement Biology with Boardman as juniors and are enjoying the stream project, which is an independent project and garners them no school credit.
 
The project included a week-long training last summer at St. Michael’s College in Colchester.
 
“It’s important to think of the long-term health of the environment in Vermont,” Katie said. “Polluted streams will end up killing off wildlife.”
 
Boardman wants to instill in her students the attitude of caring for the Earth that Pope Francis espouses in “Laudato Si’,” his encyclical on the topic. “We’re called to be stewards of the Earth, and by studying ecology and understanding how ecosystems work, students become better stewards of their planet.”


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
  • Published in Schools

Good Shepherd basketball coach's success

Two hundred wins as The Good Shepherd Catholic School boys’ middle school basketball coach: It’s a milestone Daniel Hughes deserved to reach, said Dimitri Fischer, a seventh grader on his team. “He’s giving up his time to help the team,” he elaborated. “It shows Good Shepherd is a small school but we can win.”
 
And under the guidance of Hughes – in his 11th year coaching at the St. Johnsbury Catholic school team – Good Shepherd had logged 203 wins and only 62 losses as of Feb. 27.
 
The coach’s 200th win came Feb. 1 with a win over Concord School, 48-30.
 
Player Colby Garey-Wright had told the coach the night before the milestone game that it would be a special day: Colby’s birthday and the coach’s 200th win. The seventh grader celebrated his birthday sinking 25 points into the winning effort.
 
Before each game Hughes and his players pray the Hail Mary. “We pray…so nobody gets hurt and we play a good game,” Colby said. “It’s special. The whole team does it.”
 
There are 10 members of the seventh- and eighth-grade team this season; they play local middle school teams in the northern Vermont and New Hampshire area as well as St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski.
 
“Before every game we say the Hail Mary enthusiastically as a team,” Hughes said. “We pray to play the best we can. … I don’t think they’d feel comfortable taking the court without saying the Hail Mary first.”
 
Principal Lynn Cartularo called Hughes “a great example of faith.” The school has an all-female faculty and staff, so he is a good male role model. He shows his players the importance of prayer, and “they know God is their guide,” she said.
 
Hughes, a parishioner of Corpus Christi Parish who attends St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Johnsbury, served on the parish council there. He is president/owner of Celtic Marketing Food Brokers, located across the street from the church.
 
He and his wife, Mary, a teacher at Good Shepherd School and the boys’ basketball team scorebook keeper, have three children and one grandchild.
 
Hughes played basketball in junior and senior high school in Peru, N.Y., but at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., played rugby while earning a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing. He graduated in 1979.
 
When his son, Brendan, was a sixth grader at Good Shepherd Catholic School, he volunteered his father to help with the basketball team. Hughes laughed when he recalled that as the assistant coach, he and the head coach had one practice together with the team before the coach told Hughes he had to be away on business for six weeks. When he came back, the team had “become my team at that point,” Hughes said.
 
Through the years, he has had several assistant coaches, including Brendan when he was in high school.
 
Many of Hughes’ former players return to support the Good Shepherd team and their former coach. Current and past players signed his 200th-win basketball – about 30 signatures.
 
“I was only going to coach for a year,” Hughes said. “But I got attached to the kids. It’s very rewarding. They all come with different abilities. For some, this is the highlight of their basketball career in seventh and eighth grade. They don’t play in high school. For others, they’ve done very, very well in high school.”
 
Hughes began this season with 193 wins.  But it’s not about winning. “It has always been about the kids,” he said. “We talk a lot about being a team and not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. They grasp that concept.”
 
Before each game he tells his players to play hard, play smart as a team and have fun. “You gotta have fun,” he said with a smile.
 
And he is clear about priorities: “The first priority is God,” he emphasized. Second is family, third is schoolwork and fourth is basketball. …Video games are not in the top four.”
 
Eighth grader Carter Gingue said not only has he learned about the game of basketball from Hughes but about teamwork and leadership.
 
“The word is out. Good Shepherd is a [basketball] force to be reckoned with,” Cartularo said. Hughes “is a local celebrity in the basketball world, and he’s a blessing for us.”
 
  • Published in Schools
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