Catholic schools emergency relief fund: A ‘game changer’

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Learning in a classroom has its challenges; learning from home, however, is a challenge all its own.

Third grader Emmanuel attends St. Stephen Catholic School in Glenwood Springs. Since the suspension of in-school learning many weeks ago, he’s been using his mom’s “burner” cell phone to try to access his school assignments. It’s not ideal, but it’s all he had. Emmanuel’s mom, Eladia, shared how getting a computer and internet would impact his education.

Everything would change because right now, on the cell phone, he doesn’t have access to sites that require the internet and can’t read the books on EPIC,” Eladia said. “It will help our family because he will be able to learn more. It will benefit Emmanuel and us, too, to be able to be online with his principal and his teachers.”

Many of our Catholic school families, like Emmanuel’s, were struggling to access their children’s distance learning content, putting the students at real risk of falling behind. Kathleen Peek, a third grade teacher, said, “My students who do not have access to computers at home are not able to view my lesson plans (and therefore complete the lessons), join class Zoom meetings, or turn in completed work.” For other students, the challenge is having only one device in the home when both parents are trying to work from home at the same time several of their children are scheduled for online classes.

“I have students who have not been able to attend Zoom meetings because families are doing their best to work and learn from the same devices. They have lost the opportunity to communicate with their peers in this isolating time,” says fifth grade teacher Sara Guerrieri.

Hard to track progress

For teachers, the challenge is trying to assess how well their students are learning when they don’t have access to technology.

Without access to YouTube videos, online lesson plans on parents’ web, and Google forms for assessment it is difficult to track the learning that is occurring,” says Katie Glennon, a middle school science and math teacher.

Now, however, thanks to the new Catholic Schools Emergency Relief Fund launched by the Office of Catholic Schools and Seeds of Hope, Emmanuel and more than 500 students across our schools now have access to computers, their lessons, and their teachers.

Donna Bornhoft, principal of St. Mary in Greeley, holds newly purchased computers which made distance learning for the school’s students much more feasible. (Photo provided)

Sara Alkayali, Principal of Frassati Catholic Academy, says they’ve been making it work. “Our administrative assistant has been printing items for our families and coordinating delivery to further assist them, but having their own technology in their homes to attend Zoom meetings and watch video tutorials allows our students to fully access all of the quality learning our teachers are providing.”

A “game changer”

“This is a game changer for our students and their ability to connect with their teachers and classmates; these computers will allow the learning and teaching to continue during this pandemic,” says St. Stephen Principal Glenda Oliver.

In addition to the computers for kids, the Emergency Relief Fund is providing about 50 of our Catholic school teachers the technology they need to better facilitate their distance learning programs, improving their students’ overall engagement.

Donna Bornhoft, principal of St. Mary in Greeley, expressed gratitude that is echoed by all of our principals who received computers for their students in need. “This donation is an amazing help for these families. We are so very grateful for the generosity of the donors.”

Much more than providing devices

The other critical piece of the fundraising effort was to help our Catholic school families — and staff members as well — who have been most impacted by job loss or cutbacks due to business closures, causing real financial hardship. This fund will allow them to apply for emergency tuition assistance or help with registration fees for next year.

Applications for help have started to pour in, with more than 250 requests in only the first two weeks. As the days and weeks go on, that number will likely grow exponentially. The really good news is that the first disbursement of around $110,000 has already gone out to schools to help families.

Hundreds provide helping hand

Jay Clark, Executive Director of Seeds of Hope, the organization that raises scholarship dollars for students in our Catholic schools, says that more than 400 donors came forward to help.

“With just two emails, we raised more than $600,000 and counting to help these students, teachers and families,” Clark said. “To have so many people rally to help Catholic education is another stunning example of the generosity in our community and it is testimony to a belief in what goes on in our schools. Our community continues to shine a bright light and inspire through its actions.”

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!