It has been an interesting few days for me recently and this blog entry might just end up being something like the morning newspaper – lots of filler but not a lot of content, so you may wish to stop here.
In the “Comings” category, last week saw the arrival of the 20th Anniversary ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) bus tour stop in Tampa and St. Petersburg for two days. ACE is the brainchild of Holy Cross fathers Sean McGraw and Timothy Scully who, slightly more than twenty years ago, dreamed about a strategy of taking recent graduates of Catholic colleges and universities (mostly Notre Dame and St. Mary) and offering them a two-year service project teaching in low-income Catholic schools around the nation based on the AmeriCorps model. Accepting about ninety new teachers a year who spend two full summers at Notre Dame in classroom and hands-on teaching experiences, they earn a M.Ed. degree from Notre Dame at the end. During the school year, they fan out around the country and teach in Catholic schools.
The Diocese of St. Petersburg currently has eight ACE teachers working at St. Petersburg Catholic, Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park, Holy Family in St. Petersburg, St. Joseph’s in West Tampa, Incarnation in Tampa, and three at Tampa Catholic High School.
With about 180 young teachers in the two year program, that was not enough for Fathers Scully and McGraw and they fashioned a dream of a slightly longer program which would prepare candidates for principal positions and to be Administrators in Catholic Schools throughout the country. Called the Remick ACE Leadership program, three summers are required to attain a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. What I like best about it is that it gives a local church like ours a “bench” which we did not previously have from which to cull the best candidates to administer our Catholic schools. Now St. Leo has put in place a similar program and some of our better candidates are attending it as well. All because dreams do occasionally come true.
But Fathers Scully and McGraw did not stop dreaming and with the generous assistance of the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), they began a third initiative which at this moment only exists in the dioceses of Tucson and St. Petersburg – ACE Academies. Here our two “ACE Academy Schools” are Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park and St. Joseph’s in West Tampa. What’s all this about?
Well, Notre Dame University sends a team of consultants to schools which are on “life-support” financially (at the moment in Arizona a “tuition voucher” program and Florida the “Step-Up Florida” program by which corporations can choose to send a portion of what they would owe the state for corporate income taxes to a separate corporation which provides tuition assistance to qualifying low income parents so that they can exercise true choice in education for their children in public as well as private schools). The consultants study the demographics, the ability-to-pay of parents, etc. and if the school looks ripe for “Step-up Florida” student scholarships, then in partnership with the diocese, the management of the school is turned over to Notre Dame which has two special goals: increase the enrollment and improve the text scores. As a matter of fact, the ACE Academy program has this mantra: “College First, Heaven Second.” In one year, both Sacred Heart and St. Joseph have been taken off “life-support” and have significantly increased enrollment and incredibly improved test scores.
So the “dreamers” were in town last week to celebrate twenty years of making what once might have seem fantasy become fulfillment. They honored me with the Father Edward Sorin Award and they honored Tampa’s John Kirtley who dreamed of allowing poorer parents school choice and founded “Step Up Florida.” Of even greater significance to myself was that my award was presented by Patrick A. Graff, Assistant Director of the ACE program located now in South Bend on campus but for the last two years Patrick was the third grade teacher at our Incarnation School in Tampa.
Also last Friday among the “comings” our Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul presented me with its annual St. Vincent de Paul Award at an evening prayer service in the seminary chapel. I resisted, refused, ranted and raved that I should not be so honored while I am alive and/or in office for simply doing what as a bishop I should do, but I lost. The Board of Trustees chooses the recipients.
I believe deeply in both seminaries and since arriving here as bishop have given my all to both. Signing checks is not that hard a manner of supporting seminaries but I have also allowed the diocese of share some of its best and most talented priests to both places for seminary formation: Father Joseph Waters, Father Kenneth Malley, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups for full-time service. God knows we needed these men here working in this diocese but influencing the formation, education and preparation of our future priests is an even higher priority. So, perhaps this was an award more for giving good men to the enterprise than simply giving money, but who knows?
Now for the goings. I lost two lovely and influential men to death in the last two weeks. The first was a New Testament professor of mine, Father Daniel Harrington, S.J., who taught me at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts during my own seminary formation days (1975-1978). Father Harrington was only beginning to take his place among the eminent scripture scholars at the time but was already a brilliant and exciting teacher. He was challenged from birth with a speech impediment, but no one cared. What passed through his lips was pure gold to us sitting at our places in his classroom.
I knew Father Harrington also because several of my Jesuit friends lived in the house in Cambridge on Linneman Street where Dan was in residence so learning at his feet took place for me not only in the classroom but often at the dinner table. He would write many books on the New Testament in the years since I was in his presence and I have them all and often use them for crafting homilies. He died at my age of cancer and the Church, Sacred Scripture and its study, the Society of Jesus, and priestly formation lost a great gift. Daniel Harrington was one of those people one occasionally spends too little time with in life but with whom in eternity I hope I can once again learn from.
Finally, word came of the death of an exquisite priest friend in London, England with whom I often stayed and at whose table I often sat. I first met Canon Adrian Arrowsmith (a Canon is a “monsignor” plus one in the Catholic Church in England), pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in the Kensington-High Street area of central London, because my English counterpart as General Secretary, now since last Saturday Cardinal Vincent Nichols, lived in the rectory of Our Lady of Victories during his years in London.
Canon Adrian operated under the assumption that any friend of any of the priest residents in the house was a friend of his and I always felt welcome by the Canon as my host on many trips to London. I probably abused the welcome by going so often to OLV. If there were a Catholic edition of Downton Abbey, Canon Arrowsmith would have had a major role. He was, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern English monsignor (sorry, could not use “modern major general” here). If Maggie Smith were a male, Canon Adrian would be like her – able to decimate with a quip or an eyebrow flip.
He had young priests as associates who represented well the priesthood of the time with whom he was patient, kind, supportive but doubting. He loved those moments when the occasion called for him to don the clothes of a canon, ermine cape and all, and in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop (Basil Hume at the time), almost pontificate on the fate of the local Church. Having served in His Majesty’s Navy during World War II, salty and seasoned, Adrian was always a delight. If by now you have not figured it out, I loved him.
In his later years (he was almost ninety when he died last week and soon to be sixty years a priest) he was infirm, but I went to visit him at the Assisted Living and Nursing Care facilities when travel took me near London. I shall make a fifty-two hour round trip to his funeral next Tuesday which will be celebrated by his “star-boarder” Cardinal Nichols and I am sure that His Eminence and I will be united to thanking God for the presence of this good man in our lives. Rest now in peace, dear Adrian.