Sunday, January 18, 2009

Catholic Schools


The heroism of women religious.
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This photo of nuns was taken at the funeral for the numerous victims who died in the tragic fire that consumed Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago, December of 1958. The nuns proved heroic in rescuing the children who survived. Sadly, as I was told at the time, one entire class was found, dead from smoke inhalation; the trapped Sister and students seated in prayer. I read that another Sister repeatedly rolled down the flights of stairs with children clinging to her habit, to evacuate as many as possible beneath the heavy smoke.
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Those Sisters exemplified the heroic charity every School Sister in the United States daily exercised in their vocation to teach and guide Catholic students in the faith, arts, and sciences. People my age may claim all the nuns were mean or disgruntled, but that type of religious was really the exception. Most of the priests, nuns and brothers who taught school, though strict, were generous, loving, and devout men and women dedicated to their vocation and educating the young.
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Catholic schools in crises?
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That is what the NY Times says. Many are closing due to lack of enrollment. However, laity, clergy and religious alike are beginning to come together to correct that - as much as they are able to at this point. Yet I believe the bishops are the ones who really need to promote Catholic education, just as they did in the beginning. Up until a decade or so ago, the Catholic school system seemed to be an institution that was pretty much taken for granted - something that would always be there. Religious vocations may have diminished, but lay teachers took their place - albeit at much greater expense. Hence the increased cost of education - and the sad realization we may have taken the nuns for granted as well.
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A local priest reopens his school.
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I went to Mass at Holy Family parish this morning. It is a strong parish situated in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The pastor, Fr. Thomas Dufner is a very solid, spiritual, and dynamic priest. He seems to be an excellent administrator as well. I believe he made it his personal goal to reopen Holy Family Academy, which he did, and it is prospering. While the parish is growing, it is also very active, and they need to expand and build a parish center. Which points to the obvious fact, the care of souls is Fr. Dufner's number one priority.
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He also has a crowd of altar boys who serve Sunday Mass. A church full of young families with lots of kids - who kneel and follow Mass attentively, reverently, and quietly. It is so edifying to be there early on a Sunday morning and see Father in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament two hours before Mass, one hour before he hears confessions.
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Likewise, every Saturday morning Fr. Dufner stands outside an abortion facility in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, praying the rosary with a group of other pro-life people - he has done this for years. He is also very active with the youth in his parish, and nourishes his entire flock with solid spiritual instruction and direction, while providing for fun, wholesome recreation. He is one of the most dedicated priests I have ever seen, and I think the parish loves him and supports his initiatives.
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Bishops, priests, and religious like Fr. Dufner is what the Church in the United States needs to revive Catholic identity, Catholic education, and Catholic morality in our culture.
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Photo source: Life Magazine. When I came across the photo I thought it was a photo of rows of television sets. This particular photo demonstrates why habits needed to be modified.

10 comments:

  1. What a phenomenal priest Fr. Dufner is. Yet, if it wasn't for people like you, he might go unnoticed and unrecognized. If, on the other hand, he so much as spits on the sidewalk, you'll not only hear about it on the news, but some will imply ALL priest spit on the sidewalk.

    Is the decline in Catholic school enrollment something that is attributed to the current economic downturn, or is this something that was happening for quite sometime now? Maybe a combination of both?

    I had not heard of the fire that destroyed Our lady of the Angels School. How tragic and sad. God bless those venerable nuns for their lack of self preservation and focusing on their kids.

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  2. I was a second grader when that fire happened. It was on the news, my parents and teachers talked about it. The fire department in our town got a safety film that they showed in all the schools. I had nightmares about fires.

    I wish Fr. Dufner success; it's really hard to re-start a school once it's gone. Part of the problem is funds, as you point out. Another is the enrichment and sports programs that today's parents believe are a necessity, perhaps taking precedence even over religious instruction.

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  3. michael r.6:53 PM

    Pretty extreme head gear! I wonder if there is some kind of resource available which documents all of the various religous orders and their garb? I ask because I've seen a few religous with distinctive habits that I didn't recognize, and I was unable to speak to ask what the order was. It seems like there should be a published resource documenting all of the orders and their habits. Anyone?

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  4. Tom ~ Fr. Dufner is a very well known and very respected (or villified, to those on the outside of the Magisterium) priest, and has been for years. Holy Family has long been known as "St. Agnes West", and Fr. Dufner...quite in demand for many reasons. He's also a secular Carmelite and advises one of the local secular Carmelite communities (I think they are based at Holy Family, but I'm not sure.)

    He'd never go unnoticed. But there ARE very holy priests who DO go unnoticed for their average everyday holiness. They don't make the news, they don't reopen schools, but it doesn't negate their own care and concern for souls...one at a time.

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  5. Our local Catholic high school costs over 7,000 dollars per child per year. Nuff said.

    Secondly, It's wonderful to hear nice stories about our Priests. I think that the majority of them are wonderful, good ,men. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Adoro - you are correct, there are many equally good priests in our archdiocese - we are very blessed. Nevertheless, the accomplishments and dedication of Fr. Dufner are rather impressive. The school has been successful for a few years now. The laity in the parish appear to be extraordinary Catholics. The parish is quite a bit more than another St. Agnes. There is a distinct 'contemporary' awareness and active participation/inclusion at Holy Family that I never sensed at St. Agnes.

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  7. Great post, Terry.

    I've been to Holy Family a couple of times. Very impressive.

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  8. I dislike when I see those stupid t-shirts that read, "I survived Catholic school." I didn't survive - I thrived.

    The Dominican sisters who taught us back in the Bronx might have been strict, but they were not the hysterical and sadistic women that popular culture likes to portray. Indeed, many of them were lovely women and on Halloween, every kid was sure to ring the convent doorbell, because the sisters handed out some pretty good treats. I received an excellent education and formation in my Catholic faith.

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  9. David9:30 AM

    WOW I have never heard of the OLA fire...had sad.

    Michael R there ARE old (pre-Vat II) books that illustrate just about every order in the USA and show/explain their habits but any remaining copies are hard to find and mucho-expensive.

    I just gave mine away as a gift to a monk who appreciate sit and will assure its safety in their library.

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  10. The nuns pictured are the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My great-aunt was a teacher in that order. Headquarters in Dubuque, Ia. I have a picture of her in her habit, and I always thought it looked terribly uncomfortable.

    I'm from the Chicago area and well remember the OLA fire. I believe that they were Franciscans of the same order who taught me. It was an unspeakable tragedy. If you google it, you'll find a lot on the fire. The Chicago newspapers had a long story around Dec. 1, the fiftieth anniversary of the fire.

    I taught for ten years at an independent Catholic school in Virginia that then was designated a regional school. That designation helped kill it in the course of two years. It was no one's school then. The four priests who had a say in the school wouldn't get along, and several resented being asked to support the school.

    I taught at that school because of the wonderful memory that I have of Catholic education and the sisters who taught me.

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