This story is reposted with additional information
BRISTOL – Close to 1,000 Catholic school teachers and administrators heard a variety of speakers during the two-day 2015 Catholic Educators Faith Conference March 23 and 24 at St. Paul Catholic High School. The event is hosted each year by the Office of Catholic Schools.
Reflecting the theme “The Joy of the Gospel in Catholic Schools,” the conference began with a Mass March 23 celebrated by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair and concelebrated by Msgr. Thomas Ginty, pastor of St. Matthew Parish, Forestville; Jesuit Father (and keynote speaker) Joseph O’Keefe, professor of education at Boston College; Father John L. Lavorgna, master of ceremonies, secretary to the archbishop and assistant chancellor of the Archdiocese of Hartford; Father Alexander Avendano, chaplain of St. Paul Catholic High School; and Father Jeffrey V. Romans, pastor of St. Bridget Parish, Cheshire.
Archbishop Blair also was the principal celebrant of the Mass on March 24. Concelebrants were Father O’Keefe; Msgr. Ginty; Father Michael T. Casey, parochial vicar at St. James Parish, Manchester; Father Stephen M. Sledesky, pastor of St. Bridget Parish, Manchester, and Distinguished Catholic Elementary School Pastor for the 2014-15 school year; and Father Avendano.
The guest choir was made up of consecrated women religious, which Archbishop Blair remarked was fitting during this Year of Consecrated Life, as proclaimed by Pope Francis.
“We all know it’s the sisters who are the foundation of Catholic school education,” the archbishop said.
Repeating remarks made days earlier at the Archbishop’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, Archbishop Blair said, “It’s no secret that schools across Connecticut, both Catholic and public, are facing challenges of declining enrollment as a result of several factors, primarily demographic and economic.”
He said he is working with pastors and school communities to find creative solutions “so as to preserve and improve the treasure of Catholic school education in the archdiocese.”
Archbishop Blair offered remarks on the Gospel reading (John 8:1-11) as an example of effective teaching by Jesus. When scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus if he agreed with the law of Moses ordering that adulterers be put to death by stoning, Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt, then suggested that the person who is free from sin cast the first stone.
“God loves us despite sin,” the archbishop said. “God also forgives others who have sinned against us.” No one knows what Jesus was writing in the dirt, but, Archbishop Blair said, “Let us be prepared to receive what God has to give.”
At the end of the Mass, superintendent of Catholic schools Dr. Dale R. Hoyt presented Archbishop Blair with a sweatshirt emblazoned with the new logo for Catholic schools: “Believe, learn and excel.”
The conference included a breakfast followed by Father O’Keefe’s remarks on how Pope Francis’ message in his book The Joy of the Gospel pertains to Catholic education.
Father O’Keefe’s talk on both days was followed by a panel discussion. Panelists on March 23 were Father Romans, former assistant chancellor and secretary to the archbishop, pastor of St. Bridget School, Cheshire, former board member at St. Matthew School, Forestville, and former spiritual director at St. Peter-St. Francis School, Torrington; Maria Testa, St. Stephen School, Hamden, an archdiocesan Distinguished School Administrator; Edward Goad, a teacher at St. Bernadette School, New Haven; Jennifer Furlong, a teacher at St. Thomas School, Southington; and Deborah Mulhall, a teacher at St. Mary Magdalen School, Oakville.
Panelists on March 24 were Father Michael Casey, parochial vicar at St. James Parish, Manchester; Margaret R. Williamson, principal at Northwest Catholic High School, West Hartford; Helen Treacy, principal at St. Augustine School, Hartford; Eileen Carroll, a teacher at St. Bridget School, Manchester; and Samuel Todzia, a teacher at St. Paul Catholic High School.
In addition, more than 80 educators were honored for their years of service, from 10 years to 50 years.
Dr. Hoyt told the Transcript that the meaning of this year’s theme is, “How do we live the joy of the Gospel in the classroom? How do we live the joy of the Gospel to our students? And how can we instill joy in the teachers themselves so they can spread that joy as Catholic school educators?”
Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Mary Kolbe Heffern, director of faith formation at the Office of Catholic Schools and coordinator of the conference, said she hoped attendees would “feel more energized and enthusiastic about all they do day to day as Catholic school educators.”
Patricia Devanney, principal of St. Anthony School, Winsted, said, “I come every year. It makes me feel refreshed and renewed. It’s very inspiring.”