Diocesan News

New Group Offers Advice, Support for Priests With Role in Catholic Schools

By Maisy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholic priests have a “critically important” role in Catholic schools and need a source of advice and support for that role, said Father Peter M. J. Stravinskas.

Father Kenneth Zach, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, N.Y., chats with third graders Jan. 28, 2020, during his visit to the parish school. (Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

To that end, he has formed a new association called the Priestly Society of Christ Priest and Teacher.

“Now more than ever before, priests are needed in our high schools as the visible presence of the church, exercising a ‘ministry of presence,'” he said. “In addition to providing the lay leaders of the future, our high schools continue to be the most reliable sources of priestly vocations.”

The new organization, he said, is a fraternal society for priests who currently serve in Catholic secondary schools as well as for priests who have served in the apostolate, or who wish to do so in the future. Seminarians also are welcome, he added.

“Over the past several years, priests either engaged in the high school apostolate or contemplating such work have sought advice and support for their unique and critically important ministry,” the priest told Catholic News Service.

The new society he has started is “guided by the educational principles and example of St. John Henry Newman” and “seeks to foster fraternity and promote best practices among those priests who serve the church in this most privileged apostolate,” explained Father Stravinskas, who is the founder and superior of the Priestly Society of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Canonized in 2019, St. John Henry Newman was a well-known British scholar, theologian and an Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church, became a Catholic priest and later was named a cardinal. Central to his ministry was his role as an educator.

Father Stravinskas said he finds that new, young priests are enthusiastic about Catholic schooling and willing to take on a role in a school, but he said it is essential they be prepared for the responsibility this entails. Much of what they need to know isn’t taught in the seminary, he added.

A priest’s foremost responsibility is to be available for the liturgical and sacramental needs of students and school faculty, Father Stravinskas said, but they also are engaging with young people who as high school students are at a time in their lives when they are most easily influenced by many factors, including peers and society at large.

Father James Kuroly, for one, said he could have used the support of an organization like the Priestly Society of Christ Priest and Teacher when he began his work in a high school.

Cathedral Prep
Bishop Brennan visits Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary, Elmhurst. (Photo: courtesy of Cathedral Prep/Facebook)

Now the rector/president of Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, Father Kuroly said at that time he “was thrown into the deep end of the pool, with no preparation.”

Father Michael Davis, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Miami, who also is a longtime Catholic educator, said he sees the new association as “precisely the kind of collegial and ministerial support which would greatly benefit priests who serve in the education apostolate of the church today.”

The idea for the organization came out of the workshops the Catholic Education Foundation has sponsored “for seven summers on the role of the priest in today’s Catholic school,” said Father Stravinskas, who also is president of the foundation.

“One of the consistent demands has been the establishment of an association to provide mentoring and support for priests serving as chaplains, teachers or administrators in our high schools,” he said.

“Priests in schools are needed now more than ever,” said Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.

“A priest in the secondary educational apostolate is often assigned by himself,” noted the bishop, who is himself a longtime educator. The Priestly Society of St. John Henry Newman and its new association, the Priestly Society of Christ Priest and Teacher, offer “the wisdom, guidance and fraternity that will assist him in this essential ministry,” Bishop Daly added.

The executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Catholic Education also expressed support for the new society.

“In this apostolic age, our schools must vibrantly witness to the teachings of Christ in every aspect of the school’s mission, from its curriculum and pedagogy to its culture and social elements,” Mary Pat Donoghue said. “The guidance provided by a priest — an ‘alter Christus’ — is critically important to this effort.”

Father Stravinskas said society members will be able to obtain advice on challenges they face from veteran priestly educators. He also envisions holding an annual retreat for the group.

Editor’s Note: For further information about the Priestly Society of Christ Priest and Teacher, send an email to: fstravinskas@hotmail.com.