Catholic Free Press

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  • Mar
  • 28

Investing in education brings more youngsters to know the faith

Posted By March 28, 2013 | 12:35 pm | Local

By Tanya Connor

Reaching out to the underserved through Catholic schools was a key theme sounded by the president of a Jesuit school at the Adopt-A-Student Sixth Annual Recognition Dinner.
Alex Zequeira, president of Nativity School of Worcester, replaced Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as the dinner’s keynote speaker because the cardinal went to Rome for the election of a new pope. The first Jesuit, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected pope. Pope Francis is known for his own outreach to the poor.
“Many are asking if our Catholic schools are abandoning the underserved they have historically served,” Mr. Zequeira, president of the independent Jesuit middle school for boys, said in his keynote.
“Nationally, in the last 50 years, the number of Catholic schools has declined by almost half,” and enrollment has gone from 5.2 million to just over 2 million, though the Catholic population has increased, he said.  Since the year 2000, more than 2,100 Catholic schools have closed or consolidated, mostly in urban centers.
“We are at a crossroads – a moment where we are being challenged to identify who and what are truly important and to make that a priority as we move forward,” Mr. Zequeira said.
“We can look back on a time when the missionary zeal of the Church was realized through its schools.  In 1884, Catholic bishops convened in Baltimore to respond to the ‘imminent danger to faith and morals’ that they perceived growing in the educational system in the United States. They ordered all parishes to build a school and, at the turn of the last century, the number of students in Catholic schools doubled. … Organizations like Adopt-A-Student remind us of where we need to once again focus that missionary zeal. …
“We live in a city where less than 25 percent of people over the age of 25 have a college degree. Investing in education is investing in our human infrastructure.” And in “a time of a pervasive moral relativism,” values-based education is important, he said.
Studies show Catholic schools do a better job of educating children, especially the poor and students of color, than other schools, and that nearly 3 out of 4 students in Worcester public schools live in poverty, he said.
In seventh grade, Mr. Zequeira switched from a public school in Miami to Belen Jesuit Prep. “It was at that point that my life changed completely,” he said.  He then attended the College of the Holy Cross.
Catholic schools are no longer staffed primarily by religious receiving low salaries, Mr. Zequeira noted. So, he said, there is a need to recruit and develop lay leaders and pay them competitive salaries, and for Catholics to make education and development of the human infrastructure a priority.
“Let’s go back to that missionary zeal alive at the turn of the last century … realizing that our inner-cities and recent immigrants are our Church’s new frontier in this country,” he said.
He spoke of Pope Francis calling Catholics to be “protectors of one another and of the environment.”
“Our Catholic schools and the educational excellence and values they instill are the perfect place to be the protectors of God’s most vulnerable and equip them with the knowledge, tools, and skills to do their part to bring his kingdom to earth,” Mr. Zequeira concluded.
Four seniors received awards and videos of them and their activities were shown. Two seniors received college scholarships.
Kathleen Engdahl, St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School, received the Wilfred and Bette Iandoli Award for Service. She was featured in this year’s Adopt-A-Student video produced by Stephen Kaufman, of the Diocesan Office of Communications.
Daniel Kegbeh, Holy Name Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School, received the Paul and Dorothy Kervick Award for Leadership. Taylor Victoria Boucher, Holy Name, received the Charles and Beth McManus Award for Academic Achievement.
Destinee Lucier, Holy Name, received the Bill and Kay O’Brien Award for best exemplifying the values of the Adopt-A-Student program. Ms. Lucier also received a scholarship to Anna Maria College in Paxton and won the iPad-mini drawing. Bishop Reilly, who gave the invocation and closing remarks, said she was well-named.
Nicholas Paul received a full, four-year scholarship to Assumption College.
Kourtney Hallice, a former Adopt-A-Student scholarship recipient, spoke briefly. She recalled overhearing, as a cashier, two customers talking about the Adopt-A-Student program, and expressing her thanks for it. Unbeknownst to her, one of the customers was Robert R. Pape, steering committee chairman, who later told that story at an Adopt-A-Student dinner her family attended.
She said her mother, a single parent, wanted a Catholic education for her and her sister, now a Holy Name sophomore, and Adopt-A-Student helped make that possible.
“It was because of the core values of faith and deep relationship with God I developed during my time at Holy Name, that I became the person I am today,” said the UMass Amherst graduate who now works at AdCare Hospital and wants to go on for a master’s in education so as to inspire students as her teachers did.
The March 21 dinner at Mechanics Hall was one of two major fundraisers which enable the Adopt-A-Student program provide financial assistance to students in the diocese’s central Catholic schools. The other major fundraiser, a golf tournament, is scheduled for Aug. 26 at Worcester Country Club.