Catholic Schools: Faith and Academics

It’s Catholic Schools Week! It happens every year and is always an opportunity to celebrate the amazing work being done at Bishop Kelley and at Catholic schools around the country. I am particularly proud to work with exceptional educational leaders in the Diocese of Tulsa.

I want to draw your attention to a recent talk given by Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown, OH. Bishop Murry is the Chair of the NCEA and is heading up the US Bishops’ effort to promote Catholic schools.

He is campaigning in his diocese and around the country to not only emphasize that Catholic schools help promote the Catholic faith (and they do!) but also that they are doing great work academically too. Here’s a summary of a June 2016 talk Bishop Murry gave at Fordham University.

Happy Catholic Schools Week!

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Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

It’s always a joy to visit parishes around the Diocese of Tulsa. When available, I sub for priests that are away for retreat, vacation, or who are ill. I typically bring some Bishop Kelley materials and encourage families to stop by the table and ask more questions. It’s led several families to consider Bishop Kelley. It’s also a time to catch up with current students and alumni.

Here’s my homily for Epiphany on January 7, 2017 at Church of the Madalene in Tulsa. Enjoy!

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GO for Catholic Schools

If you live in Oklahoma and you love Catholic schools, you need to watch this video. It’s a 2 1/2 minute video on GO for Catholic Schools, a wonderful organization on which I serve on the board. We’re helping families afford Catholic schools and it’s a win for you the taxpayer. With a gift to go, you get the regular federal deduction AND A STATE TAX CREDIT! That tax credit can be 50% and even 75% with a two year commitment. Individuals can do it and so can businesses. SO GOOD!
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“What Will You Do With Your Gifts?”An Address to the Students Being Inducted in the Bishop Kelley National Honor Society

Address to the Students of National Honor Society of Bishop Kelley High School

November 21, 2016

It’s a very interesting time to be alive. The world around us is changing at a rapid pace. Our recent election has tensions high. Mothers and father pitted against sons and daughters. Brothers taking on sisters to argue that their view of the world is better. This tension, this high tension makes it a very interesting time to be alive.

Just last week here at Bishop Kelley, we had Grandparents Day. It’s one of my favorite days of the year because the optimism and idealism of youth (something our world desperately needs) comes face to face with the beauty and grace of the wisdom of age (something our world desperately needs).

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world”, St. Paul says “But be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

You inductees into the National Honor Society of Bishop Kelley High School are here because you have achieved at a high level. This is not a participation award given to students for just showing up. This is a society that seeks to encapsulate the traits of leadership, scholarship, service and character. Not every student is invited, but you were. You were because you exemplify the best of what we are as a school. You are being inducted tonight because you have taken your God given abilities and used them to further your education and to love your neighbor. On behalf of the administration, faculty, and staff of Bishop Kelley High School, I say “Congratulations!” You should be proud. Your parents should be proud because you have achieved. You have not put your light under a bushel basket. You have let that light shine before others.

So what now? In this very interesting time to be alive, you have a choice as you leave this gym tonight. Life is full of choices big and small and a big choice lies before you. The choice is whether tonight’s honor will be used for yourself or for others. Will NHS be a resume builder? Will NHS be just something you put on your transcript to say that you achieved something or will be a spring board? A spring board to use the talents that God has given you to bring about his “good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Will the gifts God has given you, be for yourself or for others? That’s the choice set before you tonight.

Will you take on St. Paul’s challenge to the people of Rome to “Live in harmony with one another” to be “willing to associate with people of low position”, “to live at peace with everyone”, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, and to “overcome evil with good.” That’s the choice before you.

One of my favorite saints of all time is St. John Paul II.  I love him not only because of his faithful service to the Catholic Church and to the world but because who he was. He was an actor, an athlete, a man of towering intellect who spoke 13 languages, had a doctorate in Philosophy and Theology, was a prolific writer of not only Church documents but also poetry and works for the theater. Here was a man with tremendous gifts who put them at the service of God for the good of others. He made that choice.

Overlapping with the life of St. John Paul II, was a lesser known saint. Her birth name was Edith Stein, a German philosopher and convert to Catholicism who was an atheist in her teenage years but who was so moved by the horror of World War I, she became a nurse and began to read the works of great saints like Teresa of Avila. She later completed a doctorate and became a university professor before joining a monastery in Cologne where her Catholic faith, her public profession of faith, and standing up against the Nazis led to her death in a concentration camp. She took her intellect and her faith and put them at the service of God and the Church. We call her St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Two great saints, who at very important times in history, put their talents at the service of God. They chose it and now we call them saints.

What will you do new members of the National Honor Society. How will you use your God given talents to serve God and His people? In these interesting times, we need you now more than ever. We need your idealism, we need your energy. We need your minds, we need your hearts. We need you to take seriously St. Paul’s words to the Romans “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.” Leaving here tonight, the choice is yours. I pray that God will guide you to use your talents, not for yourselves but for the glory of God who made you.

Thanks for your time and, once again, congratulations on this most auspicious occasion of being inducted into the Bishop Kelley chapter of the National Honor Society.

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The Example of Pete Theban

Pete Theban is a hero of mine. The list also includes the likes of St. John Paul II, St. Damien of Molokai, my parents, my grandmother, and Pete. He wouldn’t like being included on such a list. He was humble. He was quick to deflect praise and put it on to others but nevertheless he makes my list of heroes.
I first met Pete when I arrived at Christ the King Catholic Church and Marquette School in the summer of 2007. I was assigned there in my first pastoral assignment as a newly ordained priest. I was excited to be at the parish and was especially excited about being assigned to Marquette School, a place I had long admired for it’s academic reputation and it’s fidelity to the Catholic faith. That summer, I met Pete. I didn’t know that I would soon lead a Catholic school but I had a hint that at some point in the future I might be a pastor at a parish with a school, so I watched. I watched Pete. I watched the way he interacted with people. I watched the way he spoke with students and parents. I watched what he did in the morning as the kids came into school. I watched how he interacted in meetings. I watched and I learned. A lot.
When I learned from Pete can be summarized in three words: Prayer. Kindness. People.
Pete was a man of prayer. He prayed alone and he prayed with others. He prayed for wisdom on big decisions to be made and he prayed for the intentions of others. He had a weekly Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. He led the school in prayer on many mornings. He was a man of prayer and he taught me to rely less on myself and more on the Lord.
Pete was a man of kindness. Great kindness. Each morning he would stand outside the school and greet students and parents as they came in. He had an umbrella when it rained so the students wouldn’t get wet. He would stand and take the questions of parents and grandparents. He was always so patient. His kindness extended to those going through a tough time. Pete went to a lot of funerals. Whether at funerals of former students, the parent or grandparent of a student, you name it, and chances were that Pete was there. I remember driving to Cleveland, OK (about a 45 minute drive) for the funeral of the father of a Marquette student. I thought to myself, “I’ll probably be the only person from Marquette there.” Wrong. Pete was there. I remember going to the funeral of the grandfather of a Bishop Kelley student. This student was three years removed from Marquette. It was a small funeral. There was the family, a few close friends, and Pete. That kind of kindness is all too uncommon in our world today. Pete taught me to be kind to people because we never know what they are going through.
Pete was a man of the people. He always seemed to be energized by people. This was especially true of his students.  Whether a kindergarten student or an 8th grader, whether a recent former student or an alumnus from 20 years ago, Pete drew strength from his students. I always admired that. In addition to loving students, Pete loved his teachers. I’ve never seen a school leader that was as beloved by his teachers as Pete. He was incredibly loyal to them. He listened to, and and was attentive to their needs. His teachers loved him.
But beyond his students and his teachers, more important than any of those important people, Pete was a family man. He loved his wife and children. I imagine there were sacrifices along the way to be at school early or to stay late for a parent meeting or to go to all those funerals, but in my conversations with Pete, at no time was his smile as big or his words as proud as when he spoke of Anita, Abbey and Nick. I always admired his dedication to his family and his example is one many fathers would do well to emulate.
Prayer. Kindness. People. For me, those define Pete Theban. He loved his life. He loved his job. His loved his family. He loved the Lord. And the best part of it all is that he still does. Rest in peace dear friend. Thank you for your example.
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Reinventing Catholic Schools

Earlier this month, America Magazine released an article entitled “Reinventing Catholic Schools” by Charles Zech of Villanova University. It is a nice synopsis of the state of American Catholic education from a financial perspective. You can read the article here.

As the leader of a Catholic school, the word of Mr. Zech resonate well but not all entirely. He claims that the “model that supported my education is broken.” He’s referring to the Catholic education of his youth that relied heavily on religious women as cheap labor. It’s true. At Bishop Kelley High School, the tuition on day 1 in September 1960 was $100. This was possible because the school was almost entirely staffed by Christian Brothers and Sisters of Divine Providence. They lived on campus. They cleaned their own classrooms. They worked for cheap.

Time have indeed changed. In 2016, Bishop Kelley High School has one Christian Brother and we haven’t had the Sisters since 1982. Our staff is made up almost entirely of lay men and women. The exception of our one Christian Brother (who earns a regular salary), a diocesan priest (that’s me!) who does not make what a Catholic high school president would typically make but who also doesn’t work for free (I’m paid what all other diocesan priests are paid), and two part time diocesan priests where we pay a small part of their salary.

Zech makes clear that the numbers are going in the wrong direction. Catholic schools are closing. Catholic schools are located where the growth isn’t. Catholics don’t contribute to their parishes as they should. Catholics are having fewer children. Millennial Catholic not not getting married in the Church at the same rate and many are not having their children baptized in the Church. Bad news right? Yes and no.

Our experience in the Diocese of Tulsa, OK does show many of these trends but we’re also a growing local church. Many Catholics ARE interested in sending their children to a Catholic school. Many non-Catholics are similarly interested in sending their children to a Catholic school. We have a growing Hispanic population in which there is growing interest in Catholic schools. In the State of Oklahoma, the public school system is in turmoil with massive funding issues and low morale. While that is sad and not something that any Catholic would think is good, it has increased demand for homeschooling, charter schools, private schools, and Catholic schools like Bishop Kelley. We expect to see a lot of interest from 8th graders and their families who are looking to get out of the public school system.

Oklahoma also has favorable school choice legislation including the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for special needs students and tuition tax credits which in the Diocese of Tulsa takes the form of GO for Catholic Schools..

Zech is right. “It is time to think outside the box by searching for new models for delivering the kind of education that Catholics have come to know and treasure.” What’s disappointing is that the solution he offers is a system of charter schools replacing parochial schools. That will solve the funding issue but charter schools are not Catholic schools. Yes, they can include some religious education after school but for a Catholic school to be truly Catholic, the church that Christ founded must be front and central. It must be at the center of everything, not an add on at the end of the day. To do so, is to make our beloved Catholic schools just academic institutions with a little faith thrown in, maybe. That’s not the best solution. We can do better than that.




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Class Size Matters

A 2014 article came to my attention this weekend. It’s called “Class size matters a lot, research shows” and it appeared on the website of The Washington Post.

My quick response is: “Duh.” Of course class size matters. Even the best of teachers will tell that there comes a point when there are too many students in the classroom and the numbers are inhibiting learning.

Here at Bishop Kelley High School, our classes are 25 and under with a rare exception of 26. Our average class size is 19. This allows our teachers to know their students and for the students to know each other. Even with enrollment up to 907 (a 12 year high), we don’t have room for many more students and plan to stay this size for the long term. Why? Because class size matters.

Read the article for yourself here.

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