Preparing schools to be ‘Unapologetically Catholic’

April 9, 2019

Cathy Stephen, assistant superintendent of excellence, demonstrates one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy for teachers. photo courtesy of the Catholic Schools Office.

HOUSTON — As Catholic schools remain committed to the evangelizing mission of the Church to educate young people and form witnesses who transform the world, preparing them to stay “unapologetically Catholic” is vital.

This focus, as well as ensuring academic excellence, affordability and accessibility to anyone that desires a Catholic education, is part of the mission of the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The CSO has extended its services to the schools it serves, including 50 elementary schools and 10 high schools with 2,200 employees, and approximately 18,500 students in the elementary and high schools. The CSO also works with other Archdiocesan offices, Catholic Charities, Christus Foundation, San Jose Clinic and the University of St. Thomas, among other entities.

The CSO is one of 60 ministries supported by the annual Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

Debra Haney, superintendent of Catholic Schools, said facilitating the professional development of employees in the areas of catechesis and core content instruction helps to ensure excellence in Catholic education. The CSO works with school personnel to ensure that all full-time, Catholic teachers and administrators are catechist certified. They receive training in various areas, including: awareness of federal and state laws; local policies and procedures; accreditation expectations and guidelines; best practices in education, management of personnel, legal issues and finances; enrollment, marketing and advancement plans; preventative maintenance and health requirements; and federal lunch-programs for some schools.

“We also support principals when dealing with facility, personnel, parent and student issues, as well as help schools in crisis, such as those that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey,” Haney said. “CSO has a strong and dynamic team of qualified experts in their fields to serve our schools, and I am fortunate to work with such an amazing, smart and talented group of individuals. We exist to serve and strive to model that service after our master teacher, Jesus Christ.”

Sarah E. McDonald, M. Ed, has been an educator with the Archdiocese since 2010 and is currently serving as a first-year principal at St. Ambrose Catholic School. She said CSO staff, veteran principals and several Archdiocesan employees have been an asset to her formation as a leader when she sought their assistance.

“The CSO staff members have many strengths in specific areas, and I have requested their guidance when making decisions and planning for the future of the school,” said McDonald. “It takes a lot of people working together to make a school successful, and CSO is a part of that team.”
McDonald said she became an educator in the Archdiocese because of a graduate-school program supported by the CSO and Daniel Cardinal DiNardo for close to 10 years, as well as attending a leadership program that followed.

“About two years ago, I started a doctoral degree in Catholic Educational Leadership, and the assignments from these courses have sometimes required assistance from CSO staff,” said McDonald. “They have been willing to help me with whatever questions I’ve had or pointed me in the direction of someone who could help. As a result of the CSO’s support, my vocation as a Catholic School educator has strengthened, and my genuine love for those I serve has deepened.”

Deena Wolf, who has been involved with CSO for more than 18 years as a teacher, principal and currently as an instructional specialist, said the training and assistance provided by the CSO staff have been instrumental.

“It is evident that God has a hand in choosing those who serve in the CSO; their responsibilities are significant because their decisions directly affect our children,” said Wolf. “I have seen firsthand their love for our students while providing the necessary support to make certain our schools are witnesses to God’s love. While academic excellence is crucial, the CSO makes it clear that we are forming disciples of Christ, and this mission is paramount.”

Wolf said she recently took part in an Archdiocesan-wide training with CSO leaders, principals, teachers and staff to ensure a Catholic identity is cross-curricular and witnessed daily in every classroom and subject.

“During training, we are given the tools to help accomplish our mission to educate and form witnesses who transform the world,” Wolf said. “Our superintendent, Debra Haney, along with the other CSO leaders, visit our schools frequently to provide guidance and support in fulfilling this mission.”

McDonald said through the DSF, the faithful in the Archdiocese are supporting the collaborative efforts CSO puts forth to improve continually, not only itself but every Catholic School within the Archdiocese.

Haney said for the Catholic Church to accomplish its evangelization and social justice work in its schools in current times, CSO becomes more dependent on lay ministers that need training and support. This training, in addition to employee salaries and benefits, also are supported through the DSF, which means CSO is completely dependent on the annual fund to accomplish its mission.

Wolf said contributions to the DSF are crucial to ensure ministries within the Archdiocese are sustainable and receive the resources, guidance and direction to help support its members in answering their call to holiness.

“The support from CSO directly impacts our schools,” said McDonald. “As Catholic Schools, we are called to form our students to be models of the faith because, in turn, those children will transform the world. The DSF directly impacts that transformation.” †