The heads of Catholic establishments, the clergy and the lay leaders called to fight against racism by “educating themselves”

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Emily Dahdah, left, director of educational quality and excellence at the Office of the Catholic Education Mission, discusses the agenda for a conference for Catholic school leaders on 21 October with keynote speaker Danielle Brown, associate director of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. BARB UMBERGER | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

The world would want people to think of one of two things, Danielle Brown said in her opening address on Oct. 21 at a conference of Catholic school educators in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: it’s all about race, and racism can be found in anything, or racism doesn’t exist, and claims about it are political ploys and false cries of victimization.

“The truth is, as we all know, somewhere in the middle,” said Brown, who is Black, lawyer and associate director of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

She spoke at a conference organized by the Office of the Mission of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, entitled “The Call to Open Our Hearts Wide: Catholic Schools Face the racism ”and held at the University of St. Thomas School. from the law campus in Minneapolis.

The objectives of the conference included the invitation to meetings of reflection and prayer with the mind and heart of Christ to honestly face racism, engage with the experiences of those who have been hurt by the evil of racism, and to seek justice and “good relations” in schools and communities in the Archdiocese. Prior to Brown’s remarks, educators had time to chat with their peers in small groups and over lunch.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the vicar of Catholic education in the archdiocese – who will be installed Bishop of Crookston on December 6 – was also recognized in words and with a standing ovation for his service to Catholic schools during his eight last years as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Bishop Cozzens introduced Brown, saying she brings to the discussion a love for the Church and for evangelism.

In his speech, Brown referred to the American Bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” published in 2018. Brown said bishops teach that racism occurs when a person ignores the basic truth that because all humans share one origin, all are equally made in the image and likeness of God. When this truth is ignored, she said, the result is prejudice and, too often, hatred.

Through the pastoral letter, the bishops instructed priests, deacons, religious, lay leaders, parish staff, leaders of Catholic schools and the faithful to be missionary disciples, bearers of the message of fraternal charity and human dignity.

“We ask them to fight the scourge of racism by educating themselves,” said Brown, reflecting on his personal thoughts and actions, listening to the experiences of those affected by racism, and developing and supporting programs that help repair the damage. caused by racial discrimination.

“Friends, the rubber meets the road where parishes and schools begin to zealously bring the gift of faith to the most underserved communities, especially black and indigenous and indigenous communities, to whom we, as Catholics, looked at with… negligence based on our desire to go where the numbers are, ”she said.

What hurts the most, she said, is the “spiritual apartheid” in which American Catholics seem to be engaged, adding that many are not ready to encourage, meet and integrate the idea of ​​normalizing Catholicism. in communities of color beyond the well-known numbers of Hispanic people.

Catholic schools bring cohesion to communities, Brown said. She recalled that last year in the United States, more than 1.7 million students were enrolled in 6,183 Catholic schools. Ethnic minorities made up 21.8% of these students.

Research shows Catholic schools are closing the achievement gap in low-income neighborhoods, Brown said. “A black or Latino child … is 42% more likely to graduate from high school and two and a half times more likely to graduate from college if they attend a Catholic school,” she said. declared.

Blacks make up about 4% of Catholics, she said, which represents a great opportunity for catechesis and evangelism.

Catholic schools in the archdiocese are already doing a great job, said Emily Dahdah, director of educational quality and excellence in the archdiocese’s office for the mission of Catholic education. The conference was a way for school leaders to reflect more deeply on the precious gifts of faith, which “direct our efforts” against injustice and further strengthen the ability to serve all students, she said. . While not everyone was able to attend, 115 people from Archdiocesan schools and parishes registered for the event. More than 50 were presidents and directors of schools and 24 were priests of parishes with Catholic schools. Teacher-leaders, deans, directors of advancement and development and business administrators were among others in attendance. A handful participated by livestream.

The conference consisted of five concurrent breakout sessions focused on topics related to educators serving students of color. At the end of the gathering, participants were invited to a racial healing mass celebrated by Bishop Bernard Hebda in the campus chapel.

Kari Zobel, Director of Annunciation in Minneapolis, attended a session led by Joshua Blonski, Dean of Student High School at Providence Academy in Plymouth, which aimed to support students from all cultural backgrounds. Simply changing policies is not enough to fully engage in this effort, Zobel said. People have to be ready to change their hearts, she said.

“We need to be bold in our conversations about race and how we treat each other, she said. “We must think like Jesus thinks and have a heart like Jesus. He calls us to live the truth that all mankind was created in his likeness and image.

Zobel said teachers, administrators and families need the skills and tools to have age-appropriate conversations about race and racism when the topic is brought up in classrooms, schools and homes. homes.

“A lot of people in our Archdiocese are working towards this goal, and I have a feeling that there are school leaders who are knowledgeable about this and willing to help schools that are just starting conversations.” she declared.

“We want our Catholic schools to be places where all of our students feel loved and respected, regardless of their skin color,” Zobel said. “Jesus teaches us that everyone is created in his image and our schools should follow this teaching. “

Joelynn Sartell, principal of Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis, and Mike Rogers, its president, participated in a session on culturally specific strategies for serving Hispanic students and families. This demographics apply to about 90% of Risen Christ students, they said.

With the large number of Latin American families, especially newcomers to the United States, Sartell said, it’s important to learn more about how best to serve school families, including sharing ideas.

“For me, the idea that I took was to continue to help my families and to help my students believe that they have a voice,” she said. “They have a place here and to give them hope here in Minnesota, and that our school is a safe place for them to find their voice.”

Rogers said the session presenter spoke of a “sense of otherness” that some students might experience, which is important for Catholic school staff to understand. There might be students who feel they might not belong, that there are people different from them, he said.

“But really, what we want is for this high level idea of ​​human dignity and oneness, and for everyone to be made in the image of God, to shine through, so that what whatever the difference between people, there is always the one human family that everyone is a part of, ”said Rogers.

Providing this is unique to Catholic schools, he said.

“You can’t necessarily get that somewhere else because you don’t have that faith, that background and that foundation of faith and the purpose of the school, which is primarily to evangelize, to train students in there. ‘mind, body and spirit, ”he said. “I think it’s kind of the unique thing that we offer in Catholic schools and that everyone here can learn from.”

Key words: Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Catholic Education, Catholic School Educators’ Conference, Danielle Brown, Keynote Address, Office for Catholic Education Mission, Racism, Call to Open Our Hearts Wide: Catholic Schools Confront Racism, St. Thomas University Law School, Victimhood

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