SOUTHINGTON – Saying, “I do think it is time,” Archbishop Leonard P. Blair shared his aspirations for the future of the archdiocese and for Catholic schools, envisioning greater evangelization and cooperation among all Catholics.
“I make no claim to be a great visionary but, in my own way as archbishop, I certainly have dreams about what might be, and what I would like to see, for our Archdiocese of Hartford,” Archbishop Blair told parents and educators at the 39th annual HOPES (Help Our Parish Elementary Schools) dinner on Sept. 29 at the Aqua Turf Club.
During his address, the archbishop acknowledged the decreased numbers in the Catholic pews and decreasing enrollment in the Catholic schools.
“We can’t close our eyes to the demographic and economic changes and changes in religious practice that are happening, especially in our part of the world,” he said, noting parish and school closings in the “formerly Catholic strongholds” of the Northeast and the Midwest.
He assured everyone that he is not interested in “simply closing things” and looking away, or about “mere survival” in a time of diminishing practice of the faith, or about “nostalgia” for the past.
“My dream is about the Catholic people and for the Catholic people in our archdiocese,” he stressed.
According to the archbishop, his vision embraces the one-third of Catholics who are “faithful and true” and attend Mass most every Sunday; the two-thirds of Catholics who are registered but don’t always practice their faith; the growing Hispanic Catholic population and other ethnic groups, “many of whom are not registered anywhere and may even be going to an evangelical church”; and the truly fallen-away – “Catholics who are alienated and whom I as a bishop and you as Christ’s members are obligated to seek out like the good shepherd.”
And what is his dream? “It’s simply a vision of sitting down all together and being truly interested in the welfare of not just my group but of every other group,” Archbishop Blair said. “It’s a vision of coming together not to say ‘this is mine’ and ‘that is yours,’ but of saying that all the parishes and all the schools are ours.
“We are heirs together to centuries of Catholic institutions and apostolates,” he stressed. “How are we together going to hand this on to the future?”
Borrowing the phrasing of President John F. Kennedy, the archbishop said, “Mine is a vision of 500,000-plus Catholics not saying ‘What can the local church, the archdiocese do for me, for my parish and my school,’ but ‘What can I do, what can my parish and school do for the common good of our entire local church and all its people and all its children?’”
The archbishop invited attendees at the dinner to envision a future in which a greater portion of Catholics in the archdiocese truly embrace their faith.
“Dream with me for a moment,” he said, “of what several hundred thousand people in three counties could accomplish if they set their minds to it; if they opened their wallet to it, each according to their [ability]; if they were committed to it as a matter of religious faith because they saw what they were doing as part of a mission to bring Jesus Christ to other people, to their families, their children and for the salvation of the world.
“This is the dream I have and I’m utterly convinced that if together we are doing God’s work, if we are truly Catholic and, therefore, not just going our own separate ways, then we will be blessed and we will prosper – whether we have 100 schools or 20, according to the reality and need of our times.”
The archbishop also cautioned against the potential human pitfalls ahead.
“If we indulge in turf wars or have petty axes to grind, if we let other priorities overrule our Catholic vision and mission,” he said, “and if we fall into these because we are afraid and don’t put our trust in God, then we will suffer the fate of all worldly secular agendas.”
The answer, he said, lies with all the Catholic people of the Archdiocese of Hartford – priests, religious and, above all, laity.
“I ask you to help my dream become a reality by working together and getting many others also to work together for the sake of Catholic education in our great Archdiocese of Hartford.”
Honoree still volunteering for Catholic education
SOUTHINGTON – In 2014 – nearly a decade after her three children graduated from Catholic schools – Donna Finn was asked to serve on the steering committee to help form the new Southington Catholic School from the now former St. Thomas and St. Dominic schools.
In 2015, Mrs. Finn was elected chair of Southington Catholic’s first school board, which laid the groundwork for the new school through the development of a board constitution, bylaws, a mission statement, a vision statement and a strategic plan. She also oversaw the foundation of a new home and school association and fostered close working relationships among the faculty, administration and school board.
“We had an opportunity to take the best of what each school had, put it together and create something that was better than the sum of its parts,” she said.
For her many years of commitment and advocacy, and for her leadership role in encouraging cooperation and melding two communities into one at Southington Catholic, Mrs. Finn was honored with the 2016 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.
The award was bestowed by the archdiocese’s Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis at the 39th annual HOPES (Help Our Parish Elementary Schools) dinner on Sept. 29 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. Each year, the award is given to a volunteer who has made an outstanding contribution to a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Hartford, advancing Catholic education.
At this year’s HOPES dinner, 81 volunteers from 40 elementary schools also were awarded the 2016 St. John Neumann Award for Volunteer Service. In addition, Father Frank Carter of St. Bernadette School in New Haven was named the 2016 Distinguished Elementary School Pastor.
The awards were presented by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair; Sister Mary Grace Walsh of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, provost for education, evangelization and catechesis; Dr. Michael S. Griffin, superintendent of schools; Marcia Maynard, deputy superintendent of schools; and Laura McCaffrey, director of school support and academic services.
During her acceptance speech, Mrs. Finn said that when her daughter asked her what she did to win the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award, she really didn’t have a good answer.
“I guess if I am honest, what I did do was I said ‘yes.’ And that’s it,” she told the audience. “Someone asked me to serve on a steering committee and I said yes. And because I said yes, I have had all sorts of opportunities to do little things that have added to the little things of countless others and thus made a big thing.”