By Anne Marie Amacher
Strengthening the legacy of Catholic schools was the mission of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) conference held July 9-12 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Lee Morrison, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Davenport; Father Stephen Page, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville; and Father Charles Fladung, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Keota and St. Mary Parish in Sigourney, attended the conference.
Workshops designed as professional development opportunities worked to promote excellence and hope for our Catholic schools, said Morrison.
He noted that the Davenport Diocese will begin a strategic planning process this fall to strengthen the diocesan system of Catholic education. The ACE workshops were a wonderful opportunity for pastors and superintendents to examine potential solutions to challenges facing Catholic education.
Initially, three priests from the Davenport Diocese were slated to attend the ACE conference: one with first-time responsibility for a school, one with extensive background in Catholic education, and one with no previous experience as a pastor with a Catholic school. Morrison thought that combination would lead to some rich conversation surrounding the issues presented at the conference. One pastor had to cancel because of parish responsibilities, but Morrison believes the conversations will still take place and lead into the strategic planning process.
Fathers Page and Fladung attended the school pastors’ institute, designed to bring together pastors whose parishes include a Catholic school. They also learned skills to manage and to better leverage the distinctive relationship between a parish and its school.
Fr. Page said he attended the conference because it was highly recommended. He became pastor of the Coralville parish July 1, which is part of the Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City.
“A couple-hundred priests from the United States and foreign priests serving in the U.S. attended,” he said.
He thought a variety of topics offered were informative, especially when pastors shared their personal experiences. “The most enlightening was on tax credits and vouchers,” Fr. Page said. “It’s not well understood, and many do not realize it’s not just for Catholic education. These are the best-kept secrets.”
Hearing from priests and school leaders about what has worked and what challenges others have faced was also enlightening. “There are some areas that are a lot worse off than we are,” he said.
Fundraising, increasing enrollment and increasing Hispanic enrollment were among topics of other workshops he sat in on. “I was very impressed.”
Topics at the superintendent’s workshop included an overview of the parental choice movement, the importance of stewardship in advancing the mission of Catholic education, blended learning, inclusionary programs, building on diversity, Catholic Relief Services’ global neighbor project, and school finance.
“While one goes to a conference looking for magical solutions, the presenters always begin with ‘there is no such thing.’ Nonetheless, it was an exceptional conference filled with practical solutions and ideas as well as plenty of inspiration to forge ahead with this powerful piece of the mission of the Church, Catholic education,” Morrison said.
Sister Barbara Bozak, in her keynote, “reminded us that Jesus taught by action and word and, as Catholics and leaders of Catholic institutions, our actions and words should lead people to the presence of God. She challenged us that our actions must reflect our faith and that a goal of Catholic education should be forming intentional disciples of Christ.”
Morrison added, “I want our schools to be worthy of profound generosity. We want to unleash Catholic generosity because our mission and vision for Catholic education is tied directly to the values of the Church.”
Steven Virgadomo, associate director of ACE consulting, challenged school boards, principals and pastors to see their meetings as opportunities for wisdom-sharing and to see selling “the experience of community as experienced by our Catholic school students as priority one.”
“I left the conference feeling very proud and honored to serve the many families who entrust their children’s education to a Catholic school community rooted in the tenets of our faith and the pursuit of knowledge and academic excellence and excited for our future here in the Diocese of Davenport,” Morrison said.