ELMHURST — Students at St. Bartholomew Catholic Academy became the teachers on Monday, Jan. 31, when Bishop Robert Brennan toured their classes at the start of Catholic Schools Week 2022.
The SBCA Robotics Team — dubbed “The Sharp Blades” — demonstrated their skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) by applying them to a real-world issue: pollution caused by cargo ship traffic in New York Harbor.
The team described how alternative fuels and mechanical applications can be used to help restore the harbor’s ecosystems. Eighth-grader Jesson Phagoo and seventh-grader Mauricio Sosa operated small, motorized Lego robots to simulate more efficient and environmentally friendly ways to unload cargo. The Sharp Blades will compete with these robots in February in the FIRST Lego League (FLL) Queens Qualifiers Robotics Competition.
There were a couple of small glitches in their demonstration, prompting the students to concede, “It’s a work in progress.” Still, Bishop Brennan was fascinated by the team members’ ingenuity.
“This is amazing,” he told them. “And I’m glad to see it’s a work in progress. I’d rather see that so that later we can see how you will overcome the problem. I’m really proud of you.”
Bishop Brennan talked about Catholic education and his commitment to it before he was even installed in November to lead the Diocese of Brooklyn. He said he was eager to meet students, faculty, administrators, and parents at diocesan schools throughout the week.
For more than 50 years, the annual Catholic Schools Week has highlighted how Catholic education benefits children nationwide in learning about their faith, academics, and service to humanity.
“I’ve had the chance to visit a couple of schools along the way,” Bishop Brennan said before touring St. Bartholomew. “But now I’m excited to be able to dedicate this week in a very intense way to visiting schools.”
“From the moment I arrived at this school, I could see how impressive it is, like so many of our schools,” he added. “I met a number of parents and I get a sense of their profound appreciation for what the school does for their children, and also for some of the support that is given through the Futures in Education program scholarships. It really, really makes a difference.”
Father Rick Beuther, pastor of St. Bartholomew’s Parish, called SBCA “a place of mission,” where parents sacrifice to send their children, and where that sacrifice “pays off” in how the students are guided in their Catholic faith, and in the knowledge of important subjects, such as STEM.
Danielle Tuble and Nicholas Borja, both 8th graders, said their Catholic faith is reinforced by science.
“It’s really cool because, you think that science and religion aren’t alike, they’re not together,” Tuble said, “When, in fact, there are things that do correlate.”
“What happens,” Borja added, “is that science actually makes religion look a lot more detailed, and a lot more planned. Like with DNA — it’s really complicated and super precise. And it’s in every cell. It just makes you think about how God programmed us.”
Father Beuther estimated that about 5,000 parishioners attend Mass at St. Bartholomew each Sunday, adding that about 70% are from countries throughout Latin America, and 30% are from Asian nations. The school’s kindergarten through 8th-grade enrollment reflects those demographics, he said.
“Most of our parents here in the academy were not born here in this country,” Father Beuther said. “I would say a lot of our families are undocumented, some are Dreamers, on the way there, but they’re all first-generation who believe in the Church. And they believe in the Church community.”
SBCA Principal Denise Gonzalez estimated that about 65% of the 162 students come from undocumented families. She said 70 of these families receive scholarships from the diocese.
“Our families are very committed to their children’s education — a Catholic, faith-based education,” she said. “And so they sacrifice, especially after the pandemic when they struggle economically. They still want to keep their children here.”