My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As I reflect on this past school year, I am struck by the contrasts that exist between the struggles we have faced and the triumphs we have experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic. The summing up of this past academic year as a triumph may seem unbelievable to most. Yet, it is evident that through faith, perseverance, and hope, the Catholic Academies and Parish Schools of the Diocese of Brooklyn have indeed flourished.
In the face of fear and uncertainty, school communities worked together to provide safe, in-person learning environments for all students. September 2020 welcomed students through the open doors of our 69 Catholic Elementary Academies and Parish Schools throughout Brooklyn and Queens. From our youngest nursery students to our graduating eighth graders, classroom opportunities were available to each of them.
We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to each member of the faculty and staff for their efforts in making this a reality. Teachers, with students’ best interests in their hearts, worked tirelessly to cultivate a return to the “new normal.” Through each bump in the road, they were ready to provide exactly what students needed, whether academic or emotional support. This year, the world truly bore witness to teachers as “essential workers.”
For the Catholic Church, the role of our teachers surpasses that of other educators. They are entrusted not only as imparters of knowledge, but are witnesses to our faith, critical in guiding our children in Brooklyn and Queens to knowing and loving Jesus. The dedication of our teachers is a true gift and hallmark of the mission of Catholic education.
The willingness of our teachers to come back into the classrooms, with the support of our principals, to provide “in person” Catholic education this year has made the difference. The adjustments made by our teachers to teach “in person” and “online” has been remarkable. The sacrifices of our teachers to accomplish this educational task is truly a reflection of their commitment to their students.
The Catholic school difference in our reopening and sustained investment in students and families did not go unnoticed. Kindergarten through eighth-grade enrollment increased in 40% of the elementary schools this year. It has been a blessing to welcome new students and families to our Catholic family and provide them with the experience of a safe, caring, and value-centered environment during this difficult time.
I am reminded of an excerpt from our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, written in celebration of the Year of St. Joseph: “In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had.”
From day one of this school year, the Diocese of Brooklyn was creating solutions and developing resources to accommodate all students and families. As new students enrolled for in-person learning, an innovative online program was also being created. For the first time, students were connected through a vibrant, online community, the St. Thomas Aquinas Distance Learning Program.
Over 2,000 students benefited from live online instruction and the faith community that was developed through the program. We are pleased to continue Catholic Education online through the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Online Academy. Online options will continue for those that thrived in online learning or are not ready to return to the physical classroom.
The triumphs of this year would not be possible without the families who have placed their faith in our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools to educate their children. Your commitment to providing your child with a Catholic education is a responsibility that we hold close to our hearts.
Children are such an incredible gift to our faith. It is also through the perseverance of our students that our schools thrived. Students, in the face of incredibly uncertain times, showed resilience and selflessness as they focused their efforts on following all safety protocols. Students came to school, masks ready, with minds and spirits open to learning. Their positive energy has been an incredible boost to our school communities.
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. This year, we truly came to understand the importance of each stakeholder’s role in the success of our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools. Our families, students, teachers, staff, clergy, and parishioners came together to make this year a success. Our Year of Renewal for Catholic Education celebrated their efforts with a virtual summit that can be viewed online at catholicschoolsbq.org/catholic-education-event/.
Our Catholic High Schools within the Diocese of Brooklyn have played a vital part in this Year of Renewal for Catholic Education. Through the Consortium Model between the Catholic High Schools and the Catholic Academies/Parish Schools, we have been able to offer students advanced courses in Science, Math, and the Fine Arts.
Throughout the pandemic, we have shared resources with the Catholic High School Principals that further ensured the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students. One of the areas that has yielded a great response has been the reconnection of Catholic High Schools as an extension of our elementary schools within the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.
Our Catholic High Schools play an important role in the Mission of Catholic Education within the Diocese of Brooklyn. High School Chaplains, Priests of the Diocese, and Campus Ministers support the Catholic Identity of each of the Catholic High Schools. In this “Year of Renewal,” we have definitely renewed a partnership with our Catholic High School Principals. We look to the future for continued communication, sharing of educational resources, and identifying ways of strengthening the K-12 Model of Catholic Education.
As we have put out into the deep during this challenging school year, I am filled with hope, having seen our Catholic Academies and Parish Schools rise to triumph. Thank God we all can celebrate the triumphs of this past year, and we all can look forward to welcoming our students back to another successful academic year this coming September.
Registration remains open for the 2021-22 school year at catholicschoolsbq.org/welcome/.