When Catholic schools opened after summer break across the 15 counties of the Diocese of Harrisburg, 34 schools welcomed more than 10,000 students to begin the new 2023-24 academic year. That number marks a seven percent increase in enrollment over the past two years, according to Diocesan Superintendent Daniel Breen, who addressed the more than 800 Diocesan educators at the annual Education Conference hosted by Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg on September 20.
Breen also noted that the Diocese ranks in the top third nationally in enrollment numbers, and every student as been educated in the Virtus safe environment training in the past two years.
The conference’s theme was “Behold, I Make All Things New,” (Rev. 21:5) and some new numbers regarding the recent STAR testing completed in the Diocese show that 72 percent of Diocesan students tested above proficiency in reading compared to other Pennsylvania schools. That is some 20 points higher; the same is true in math, where 77 percent tested higher, which was 19 points above all other Pennsylvania schools.
The keynote addresses for the conference were presented by Lincoln Snyder, President and CEO of the National Catholic Education Association and Crystal Berry, Vice-President of Marketing and Corporate Sales for the NCEA. Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer for Renaissance Learning, also spoke to the educators in break-out sessions that featured more than 40 other speakers.
“Humans love a good story, and our brains are designed to pay attention to them. Every time you tell your story about how you love Catholic education, you are passing along that story of love,” Berry said. “Marketing your school is just about storytelling; you must tell your story and tell it fearlessly…. You cannot be afraid to tell your story about why you love Catholic education, and you must tell it from the rooftops. You are the day-to-day reminder to parents of why Catholic education is great.”
She also noted that it is a hard time to be a kid, but we want “kids who can talk to each other” in a healthy way, and it is important to show that all kids belong.
In his brief address, Snyder related the perils of his experiences of dealing with the Covid pandemic while serving in the Diocese of Sacramento, California. Opening schools almost immediately after the pandemic hit in March 2020 required heroic measures by many administrators and teachers, he said. “The parents in our community wanted a place to bring their children to learn, and they came to our Catholic schools to do that safely.”
“A hero is a person who leaves the world of his or her everyday life to undergo a journey to a special world where challenges and fears are overcome in order to secure a quest, which is then shared with the community,” Snyder said, referring to a definition of a hero by his favorite Catholic author, Joseph Campbell.
This year’s Education Conference marked the first for Bishop Timothy Senior, who was the main celebrant for Holy Mass along with 12 concelebrants from around the Diocese. In his homily, Bishop Senior expressed his appreciation for all the teachers in the Diocese.
“I want to thank you, all of you, for your sacrifices to teach in our Catholic schools. I really cannot thank you enough…. I have such a love for our Catholic schools – they are jewels in our Diocese, jewels in our communities and jewels for society…. You teachers are so precious.”
Bishop Senior related his upbringing in Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and noted that his mother was a teacher in Catholic schools during his childhood. “The work is challenging,” the bishop said. “Perhaps the greatest challenge is: Might what I am doing be meaningful, am I making an impact and are they listening to me?… It is, they are, and what you are doing is planting the seed and that has meaning for the future, and you may not see it grow right away, but it will grow.”
After Mass, Bishop Senior presented awards to teachers who are marking their 20th year of service. In addition, he presented the 2023 Distinguished Educator Award to William Traphagen of St. John Neumann School in Lancaster. The 2023 Bishop’s Mission Award, presented by Father Robert Sharman, Diocesan Director of the Office of Pontifical Missions, was awarded for the second year in a row to Our Mother of Perpetual Help School in Ephrata, for their generous raising of funds during the 2022-23 academic year.
20-Year Teacher Honorees:
Stephanie Rushinski – Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School, Harrisburg
Ann DiNovis – Our Mother of Perpetual Help School, Ephrata
Lisa Ulrich – St. Andrew the Apostle School, Waynesboro
Karen Henry – St John Neumann School, Lancaster
Lisa Warriner – St Jospeh School School, Danville
Marcie Wintersteen – St Joseph School, Danville
Amy Erb – St Joseph School, York
Jill Seymore – St. Teresa of Calcutta School, McSherrystown
Jude Olivetti – Trinity High School, Camp Hill
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness