Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Nov
  • 14

Honored for helping Catholic schools locally and nationally

Posted By November 14, 2013 | 12:44 pm | Lead Story #3
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By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

LEOMINSTER – Parked outside the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel last week was a large bus decorated with pictures of Catholic school students.
This was the Fighting for Our Children national bus tour, which made a stop in the North County during its New England outreach mission. The bus is part of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Schools (ACE) Initiative, an effort to promote excellence in the Catholic schools.
Inside the bus, Father Sean McGraw, C.S.C, Eric Prister and Alec Tourigian greeted visitors.
“We’re blessed to work for ACE,” said Mr. Tourigian. “We’re celebrating the work that Catholic schools do across the country.”
The ACE team was also celebrating the 20 years their organization has been in existence and this grand tour was designed in recognition of this milestone.
Stephen A. Perla, former diocesan superintendent of schools, is now senior director of ACE, based in South Bend, Ind.
His position places him at the forefront of working to help the country’s parochial schools survive and thrive. Many Catholic elementary and high school students continue their education at Notre Dame or at another Church-affiliate college or university.
Mr. Perla was the recipient of the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award in recognition of his commitment to Catholic education. He was presented with the award during the St. Paul Catholic Schools Consortium Dinner on Nov. 7, when the ACE bus was parked outside the hotel.
The consortium was formed seven years ago to help strengthen the local Catholic elementary schools. One of its principle functions, at the moment, is to raise money for tuition assistance and also to help market the schools.
Mr. Perla, who was instrumental in getting the consortium up and running, believes local Catholic schools have a bright future, despite a nationwide trend of declining enrollment.
“I do believe in this area there’s still a very good demand for Catholic schools,” he said, adding that they provide a faith-based education coupled with strong academics.
However, he noted that efforts must be made to have the schools reflect the changing demographics of the region, which has a large Hispanic population.
Mr. Perla said he was grateful for the award, but believed there were others more deserving. He noted that his own faith developed when he was a student at St. Anna Elementary School in Leominster. And he thanked the Venerini Sisters, who once taught there, for instructing him in the teaching of the Catholic Church.
“These wonderful women and their witness to the Gospel gave me the best gift I have ever received – The gift of faith,” he said. “This gift has had an enduring impact on my life’s trajectory and, most importantly, has sustained me through so many of life’s important moments.”
Delma Josephson, the current diocesan superintendent, said Mr. Perla was chosen as recipient of this year’s award, the highest diocesan education award, because of his ongoing commitment to fostering Catholic education.
She said he’s made significant contributions locally, as a civic leader, and as a champion for the schools within the diocese, in addition to his work at a national level. He has also previously served as executive director for the statewide Parents Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE).
“Just truly, he continues to find ways to advance the mission of Catholic schools,” she added.
A number of Catholic school families were at the Doubletree, either as guests at the fundraiser event or because they had a child in the Consortium Choir, which performed just before dinner.
Angie Judkins, whose children attend Holy Rosary Elementary School in Gardner, was waiting in the lobby with her son, Dylan, aged 7. Her daughter was singing in the choir.
She said she’s thrilled with the idea her children can have a Catholic education, and she said the big advantage is, “The idea of having religion in their everyday lives, which is something you couldn’t get at a public school.”
Also, she noted, the school “provides a sense of family.”
“Having no relatives in the area, they’re my family,” she added.