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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

Catholic Faith Formation Day for educators

Catholic schools need to be joyful, innovative places to grow and thrive, the director and superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told nearly 235 Catholic school educators and administrators at the Catholic Faith Formation Day Oct. 16 at St. Michael’s College in Colchester.
 
“Innovation does not mean iPads is every kid’s hands. You can be very innovative without technology,” Dr. Kevin Baxter said, explaining innovation is celebrating successes and improving on past performances. “Avoid staleness. We want to be a continually growing organization. We must be continually growing individuals.”
 
More than maintenance is needed, said Baxter, who is responsible for coordinating and implementing the vision for growth for Catholic schools in the archdiocese with a student population of 80,000 from preschool through grade 12. “Change is a requirement for growth.”
 
Innovation can come in such areas as technology integration, curriculum innovation and governance innovation. He encouraged his listeners to be bold and creative and not to be satisfied with always doing things the way they’ve always been done.
 
“In order to be a great school, you have to face the brutal facts of your current reality,” he said. “This is the seed of innovation.”
 
Baxter, a part-time faculty member in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, encouraged the creation of a culture in which people can be heard, not worrying about what cannot be controlled (like the economy or the increase in charter schools) and not losing faith.
 
St. Michael School in Brattleboro is poised to meet the emerging needs of 21st-century education and extend its tradition of excellence through a set of innovative changes, noted Principal Elaine Beam. At the heart of its principal initiative will be a  curriculum of classical liberal arts. "The new high school program, emphasizing academic excellence, will feature a classical  curriculum, an integrated program of instruction and  the introduction of seminar-style instruction," she said.

St. Michael's already has added a high school program.

She concurred with Baxter's remark, “We want to be a continually growing organization.” At St. Michael School, she added, "observing the need for innovation, and acting boldly to realize it, incline the school to continual growth."

Basing much of his talk on Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), Baxter said Catholic schools — like the Church — must operate with joy because “the real mark of a Christian is joy.”
 
Yet he acknowledged that people live and work with barriers to joy: defeatism, “sourpusses” who can sap energy, competition from a technological society, conflict.
 
Baxter encouraged constructively dealing directly with persons with whom there is conflict and forgiving. “Forgiveness is a grace for ourselves,” he added, because holding on to a wrong “burdens us.”
 
To live and work with true joy, he emphasized, “we must have constructive debate and disagree at times but always be able to forgive. … The idea of forgiveness is crucial.”
 
Baxter called upon the school personnel to uplift others and bring them joy.
 
Lisa Lorenz, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Burlington, interim principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and principal of St. Therese Digital Academy, welcomed the educators to the conference, told participants at the conference they are called “to be madly in love with God.”
 
“When you are, people feel it,” she said.
 
Also presenting at the event was Ben Walther, a singer, songwriter and worship leader.
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne celebrated Mass for the formation day participants in the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel.
 
The daylong event, sponsored by the Diocese, was an opportunity for the educators to deepen and focus on their faith.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

St. Michael's high school accreditation

Rodney Duteau and Catherine Mazzer, both 16-year-old sophomores at St. Michael’s School in Brattleboro, began their education there as freshmen. He had attended public school through grade eight; she was homeschooled. Both look forward to completing their high school education at the Catholic school that now has received both regional and state accreditation through grade 12.
 
She likes the family atmosphere and small class size. He appreciates the faith-based education and the confidence instilled in students.
 
Last year the New England Association of Schools and Colleges expanded St. Michael’s School’s accreditation from a pre-kindergarten through grade-eight school to one that educates students through grade 12. And in April the Vermont State Board of Education granted the school approval to include all high school grades.
 
The school currently goes to 10th grade, and plans call for one grade to be added each year until the high school section includes grades nine through 12.
 
There are currently five students in the ninth grade and seven in tenth. In the fall a dozen students are expected to be enrolled as freshmen, five as sophomores and eight as juniors. The goal is to have 10-20 students per class eventually.
 
“This is very promising,” said Principal Elaine Beam.
 
The Walnut Street school building used to house both elementary and high school grades, but the high school closed in 1968. The high school reopened in 2015, and the first class is expected to graduate in 2019.
 
The high school is filling a need in the tri-state area for not only a solid academic education addressing individual learners and a religious-based education but for a secondary education that prepares young people to become “invested citizens,” said Bethany Thies, the school’s development/admissions director.
 
The community aspect of the school is also important to parents, Beam said. “We are a Catholic school for all children not a school for Catholic children.”
 
Numerous families have joined or returned to the Church through the children’s experience at St. Michael’s School. “The New Evangelization is Catholic schools bringing people into a loving, respectful, caring community and presenting them with opportunities to feel God’s grace in a safe environment,” Thies said.
 
And if parents want a St. Michael’s education for their children but have difficulty affording tuition, scholarships are available. “If you desire to be here, we do everything we can to make it happen,” Thies said, noting St. Michael Parish has been generous with aid.
 
Beam hopes that during the next academic year, when more courses are added, St. Michael’s School will participate with the Diocese of Burlington’s St. Therese Digital Academy with a sharing of staff.
 
The Brattleboro school also is connecting with local educational resources and community leaders to offer additional hands-on learning experiences that support classroom learning and get students “invested in being community citizens,” Thies said.
 
“I love the education here,” said Rodney, one of the sophomores. “I feel confident to go out into the world from here.”
 
 
 
  • 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

Pour Le Merite awards

The principal of Mount St. Joseph Academy and the interim president of The College of St. Joseph – both in Rutland – were honored with “Pour Le Merite” awards during the college’s Founders’ Day Award Ceremony March 29.
 
MSJ’s Sarah Fortier and CSJ’s Lawrence Jensen were recognized for their outstanding care, support and leadership in the community.
 
“This is a huge honor,” said Fortier, a graduate of both schools and of Christ the King elementary school in Rutland, who considers it her vocation to be a Catholic high school principal in the Diocese of Burlington. “Our students and staff truly care about the community and know and practice Christ’s teachings,” she said in remarks at the award ceremony. “I thank God every day for calling me to be the principal at MSJ.”
 
Fortier was named principal in 2014; she had served as dean of students and as a history instructor.
 
Fortier is an active member of the Rutland community, serving as advisor for Project Help, a Christmas project at MSJ, which provides dinner and presents for 100 local families in need. She has participated in several walks and runs, including the Walk for Alzheimer’s, the Walk to Prevent Child Abuse and others in honor of her son, Jack.
 
Fortier earned a master of education degree from The College of St. Joseph and a bachelor’s degree from Quinnipiac University.
 
Jensen said it is a “privilege and pleasure” to be interim president of the college, and he reaffirmed his commitment to the values of the Sisters of St. Joseph who founded both the college and MSJ: hospitality, love of neighbor without distinction, reconciliation and unity of all people with God, one another and all creation.
 
“Pour Le Merite” is French for “one who is deserving.”
 
The Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in France.
 
During the ceremony, Rutland Mayor David Allaire read a proclamation from the City of Rutland making March 27-31 College of St. Joseph Recognition Week in Rutland.
 
“This is a time of celebration and solemn remembrance of those who have given so much in the past” to bring the college to where it is today, Jensen said of the event.
 
He has dedicated years to The College of St. Joseph as both a member and chair of the Board of Trustees before becoming interim president in 2016.

A retired healthcare executive and well known community leader, Jensen has chaired and served on several boards in the Rutland region including the James Bowse Health Trust and the Rutland City Police Commission, Vermont Public Radio, Killington Music Festival, Rutland Mental Health and Rutland Regional Medical Center.
 
During his career, he served as vice president for corporate development and Rutland Health Foundation major gifts officer at Rutland Regional Medical Center. He was also vice president and controller for Killington Resort.
 
Jensen holds a master of business administration degree from The University of Vermont and a bachelor’s degree from The State University of New York at Geneseo.
 
Another award given at the ceremony, the Mother Teresa Student Award, went to David Wallant, a junior from East Bridgewater, Mass.

 
  • Published in Schools

St. Therese Digital Academy grants

The Diocese of Burlington’s St. Therese Digital Academy, an online Catholic high school with a rigorous program grounded in the Catholic faith, has received two grants totaling $116,000 to support the development of a digital learning platform, curriculum and marketing.
 
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Communications Campaign awarded $96,000 and Our Sunday Visitor awarded $20,000 to provide access to a Catholic education to families limited by geography and for Catholic formation courses and catechism education for children and adults.
 
"This support will provide us with the resources necessary to develop Catholic formation courses for Catholics young and old who desire to continue to grow in their knowledge of our Catholic faith beyond the traditional means. Faith formation is no longer hindered by conflicting work, school or extra-curricular schedules," said Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne. "We want to reach out to people and provide as many options as possible to grow in their faith; to do so we must embrace technology."
 
The academy works with parents in their roles as primary educators by offering an online Catholic high school with flexible options to assist in their child’s education while also providing weekly local opportunities for enrichment courses, community service projects and social and spiritual formation.
 
“This format of a Catholic high school overcomes the obstacles of no Catholic school nearby. We are serving military families whose children would otherwise not be able to have access to a Catholic education such as Okinawa, Japan,” said Lisa Lorenz, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Burlington and principal of the digital academy. 
 
The school’s goal is to develop well-grounded disciples of Jesus Christ who possess 21st-Century skills that equip them to fulfill their roles as members of the Body of Christ within today’s society.
 
This spring plans call for offering classes to students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington who need specific classes to meet their requirements or are in need of advanced classes.
 
“We will be offering to our smaller high schools that cannot afford to have a large variety of courses this online format as a supplement to the rigors of their already in-person classes,” Lorenz said, referring to Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland and St. Michael High School in Brattleboro. “We even have students taking classes merely for enrichment. Our hopes are that we can also aid those families who may not be able to send their children to Catholic schools but really would like to have their child continue growing in the faith by studying theology classes.”
 
In addition, there will be adult theology classes for ongoing catechesis. “All of this can and will be built with the funding made possible by Our Sunday Visitor and the USCCB,” Lorenz said.
 
She has been speaking at parishes about the digital academy and has found it is met with enthusiasm, support and a sense of hope for Catholic education being restored in their communities in a 21st-Century model.
 
“Without the funds this endeavor would be impossible,” Lorenz said. “It will permit Catholic education to reach beyond brick and mortar, as well as being able to offer a more affordable Catholic high school.”
 
St. Therese Digital Academy currently enrolls five students.
 
There are three other Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Burlington: Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland and St. Michael High School in Brattleboro.
 
For more information about the digital academy, go to stdavt.org.
 
 
  • Published in Schools
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