Strong saints for our doubting times

Archbishop Aquila

“I declare in truth and with joy in my heart — before God and his holy angels — that I have never had any motive in my work except preaching the Good News and its promises. That is the only reason I returned here to Ireland — a place I barely escaped alive.” These words from The Confession of Saint Patrick echo the strength of the Holy Spirit, which coursed through Jesus as he gave his life on the cross, animated St. Stephen the first martyr, and continue to move people around the world to give witness to Christ no matter the cost.

In the space of one week, we have observed the feast days of two strong holy men, Saints Patrick and Joseph, both of whom lived during trying times and sought to fully live the faith. The example of these two men, our forefathers in the faith, provides us with a model for a successful Lent, but also for evangelizing in a culture that doubts everything.

Saint Joseph was, according to Matthew’s Gospel, a “righteous man” (Mt. 1:19), whose desire to follow God in all he did was apparent in his actions. Under the Jewish law, Joseph was required to divorce Mary because she was found pregnant after they were betrothed but before they had lived together. And yet, Joseph saw how good and pure Mary was.

When an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit, he did not hesitate to bring her into his home, even though his fellow believers would certainly question his and her integrity. This is a valuable lesson for people of faith today. It is far better to follow God’s plan for us than to go along with what society considers wise.

We see this, too, in St. Joseph’s willingness to flee into Egypt at the prompting of another angelic dream. Perhaps he also had to conform his heart to the Father’s plan when he heard the prophet Simeon foretell that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart and that Jesus would be a “sign of contradiction” (cf. Luke 2:22-36). Surely his heart would have been moved to protect his wife and foster son, but he also could see God was at work in his family.

At the age of about 15, St. Patrick was captured from his home in western Britain by Irish pirates and sold into slavery. He spent six years as a slave tending the flocks of his master, but during that time he also progressively grew closer to God and the faith that he had previously cast aside.

Soon after returning home from escaping slavery in Ireland, Patrick had a vision in which the people of Ireland called out for him to come back. “Holy boy!” they cried out, using the nickname that he was mocked with as a slave, “Come here and walk among us.” Interestingly, rather than being angry, St. Patrick said his heart was moved by their pleas.

Saint Patrick knew what he was facing: a land populated by 150 tribes each led by a king, a society influenced by the Druids and other pagan religions and a Christian Church that likely numbered only in the hundreds. But St. Patrick was undaunted, and faithfully, joyfully made his way to Ireland.

There were many competing ideas vying for the hearts and minds of the people in Ireland, just as there are today, and many of them are harmful. As we make our way through Lent and seek greater intimacy with God — who is the Way, the Truth and the Life — let us ask for the strong faith of St. Joseph and St. Patrick to help us in our journey. Let us listen to the voice of God, to the voice of Jesus, and not that of the world, or worse yet, of the devil.

With the gift of faith and the courage of the Holy Spirit, may we say with St. Patrick, “God heard my prayers so that I, foolish though I am, might dare to undertake such a holy and wonderful mission in these last days — that I, in my own way, might be like those God said would come to preach and be witness to the good news to all non-believers…”

COMING UP: Working to make our schools safer

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By Carol Nesbitt

The issue of school safety is always on the minds of parents. Parents want to know that schools have a plan in place for all types of emergencies, from fires to intruders to staff or students feeling unsafe for various reasons.
The Archdiocese of Denver is excited to share that they now have someone directly supporting the safety preparedness and plans of the 37 Catholic schools under its watch and care.

Matt Montgomery is a former police officer and award-winning school resource officer (SRO). He’s also a chemistry and forensic science teacher as well as Director of Security and Safety at Holy Family High School. And, as of Nov. 13, he is the new Interim Director of Schools Security and Safety for the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. The position is new and the first of its kind for the Archdiocese of Denver, but important.

“As a Catholic school community we believe the safety and wellbeing of our students comes first. Time and again we hear our parents rate school safety as one of the top reasons why they entrust the care and formation of their children to our schools. As such, we believe we have a duty and moral obligation in our schools to ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure our children are safe from any type of harm,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “Historically, each of our schools has had to take on the crucial task of defining and implementing their own safety and security plans and systems. While our schools have certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of their school community, we believe it is critical in our current reality that we provide our schools with the expertise and qualifications of someone like Matt to support them in really analyzing their plans and assisting them in ensuring best practices are being implemented. It’s the least we can do for our school communities.”

“My role is really to lead a task force with the intention of identifying needs around school safety,” said Montgomery. He says there are a number of great models for school safety around the area, so it’s more about bringing it all together. “All public schools have someone overseeing safety and security, usually with staff members doing threat assessments, suicide assessments and emergency drills, building security, fire drills, and those kinds of things, but there really isn’t a position like this in other dioceses that we are aware of.”

Montgomery says that his job will be taking the variety of practices at schools and helping to bring consistency in efforts across the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic School community. He also says that the term ‘school safety’ is more broad than people realize. “When people think about school safety, they always gravitate to school shootings, but I think we really have to step away from that and realize that school safety and security is an umbrella. It encompasses everything from events prior to an incident all the way through recovery (post-incident).”

The five areas Montgomery is focusing on include:

Prevention
What do we do to create a loving and responsive Catholic community where students and staff feel safe and are empowered and given resources to report any behaviors or activity that is unsafe and counter to our values?

Protection
What systems and proceses do we have to vigilantly monitor for behavior or activity that is harmful to our Catholic community?

Mitigation
What procedures and policies are in place to mitigate issues?

Response
If an incident occurs, how do we respond to that incident? How do we support that school from an archdiocesan perspective? What tools are we able to provide to that school? What relationships do we have with law enforcement and first responders in that community?

Recovery
Recovery begins the second an incident occurs. How do we reunite students with families, provide counseling support and address staff issues in the case of a crisis?

Montgomery says his work will also help establish a plan for the archdiocese in the case of a larger emergency.

“What is our incident command structure going to look like so that we can respond to an incident, while also keeping in mind the unique structure of the various schools beneath the Office of Catholic Schools?”

He’d like to see the Standard Response Protocol — created by the I Love You Guys Foundation — used throughout the school system.

“One of the issues I noticed is that there are a lot of different agencies who respond to various incidents and they don’t know what the other ones are doing,” Montgomery said. “The crisis plan needs to be uniform, created for a specific age group. We need to standardize our crisis plans throughout the AoD and work with the schools to create private plans for each school that is specific to that school, simple plans that outline for administration on how they implement the plan at the moment of crisis.”

One of the biggest things Montgomery will be doing is identifying policies and procedures and training. “This is uniformly saying ‘This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it, and these are the amount of times we will practice it each year.’” This also includes training of staff on mandatory reporting, the importance of documenting things, and threat assessments that ask the right questions to get a non-biased, vetted approach to assessing threats. “There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the chance of someone being hurt at a school. That’s by good training, good policies and procedures, and hardening our targets, meaning the physical security of our school buildings,” said Montgomery.

As a teacher, Montgomery says he has a unique perspective. “I’m not just some cop or just an SRO. My heart is in the classroom. I’m a Catholic educator who used to be a cop. My goal is to make sure kids can focus on being a kid and learning, not having to worry about being hurt at school or being bullied or having thoughts of suicide. I want them to feel that school is a safe place. That’s why I do it. I really love doing school safety.”