WINDSOR TERRACE — “Each child who experiences Jesus in our Catholic academies and parish schools or religious programs is more likely to carry their faith into adulthood and guide their own children to the faith,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio during the 2021 Catholic Education Year of Renewal Summit.
This year’s summit, a virtual Diocese of Brooklyn event held April 21, celebrated the diocese’s resilience during the pandemic and encouraged further development of vibrant, rigorous religious education in local schools and faith formation programs.
“By strengthening these entities, we are ensuring a strong future for Catholicism and the continued sharing of the Word of God,” Bishop DiMarzio added, stressing that the renewal continues to revolve around the children.
The summit’s panelists — Msgr. David Cassato, vicar for Catholic schools, Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, vicar for development, Father Joseph Gibino, vicar for evangelization and catechesis, and Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, superintendent of school support services — discussed the importance of teamwork and partnership. They argued that success stems from these facets working simultaneously throughout the diocese.
Clergy members, principals, and religious education personnel also shared stories of success and discussed why Catholic education is more important than ever.
The dual-language immersion program at St. Michael Catholic Academy in Flushing was among the curriculum programs taking place within the diocesan schools that was highlighted. Students are learning how to speak and write in Spanish and Mandarin, which St. Michael’s faculty believes will help their students succeed in the future.
Father Alonzo Cox, coordinator of the African-American Apostolate in the diocese and pastor of St. Martin de Porres, also spoke about the importance of cultural integration in the schools.
“Culture is very important, especially when it comes to academic excellence,” Father Cox said. “I think for me, as the priest, being able to allow that to happen from a Catholic perspective is really such a formative opportunity for a child to grow and to really see that, although they may be different, they’re all created in the image and likeness of God.”
Msgr. Gigantiello reiterated that it is of the utmost importance to continue reinforcing those values so that today’s children will “hopefully make this world a much more loving place than it is today.”
Extending the Reach of Religious Education
The diocese has also encouraged more collaborations between Catholic schools and parish religious education and youth ministry programs.
“Our children can be in the religious education program and in the academy,” said Diane Competello, principal of St. Athanasius Catholic Academy in Bensonhurst. “They all know that they’re part of the same family because we’re all here for the same reason — to form our children in the faith.”
One of the diocese’s goals is to boost academy enrollment by building and bridging a connection with families enrolled in parishes’ religious education programs. Msgr. Cassato argued that word of mouth is critical.
“You have to have people out there [who] recruit young children to the school and for the religious education programs — both,” he emphasized. “And the best place to do it is at Sunday Mass.”
Our Lady of Sorrows’ faith formation program has 1,400 students and has not missed a beat since the pandemic indefinitely forced classes to continue online.
“The kids and their families have made a great effort to follow the classes,” said Father Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows. “They are like the little seeds that, in their own time, will produce fruits of renewed membership for the parish.”
Investing for the Future
Futures in Education (FIE) — which provides assistance to the neediest of diocesan school students through endowment funds and fundraising programs — has helped over 30,000 children since 1989. FIE Executive Director John Notaro speaks with Chadzutko daily for updates on the diocese’s 69 academies and schools.
“You say, ‘Well, our job is just to raise the money,’ ” noted Msgr. Gigantiello, who is part of the FIE team. “No. Our job is more than that because we have to get that message out to our donors about what is taking place in our schools, what’s going on, and that their money is going to good use.”
He added, “It’s so important that we work together.”
Father Gibino noted that FIE also helped launch junior high school youth ministry programs.
“The youth ministry initiative has helped our programs grow by seeing the youth ministers as a really important part of the educational process,” he said.
Chadzutko added that picking up the phone to brainstorm can continue to help the diocese grow and flourish.
“[It’s] that informal approach to say, ‘Monsignor, I just have to run something past you — what about this?’ ” Chadzutko explained. “I think that’s the message we also have to bring in the Year of Renewal — that we’re in this together.”