When is a Catholic School NOT a Catholic School?

Answer: when it’s a “School in the Catholic tradition.” And when your bishop already told you he doesn’t want another school in his diocese.

Trinity Hall is supposedly opening its doors in September, but it doesn’t seem to have a campus yet, just a location somewhere in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The problem is, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Diocese of Trenton, already said he wasn’t interested in another private Catholic school in his diocese.

Today we received this release from the bishop:

I was approached early in my tenure as Diocesan Bishop to give permission to build an “all-girls Catholic High School” in Monmouth County. This was not the first time such a request was made of the Diocese although it was the first time I was asked.

After multiple conversations with those parties interested and very broad consultation among the principals, pastors and others concerned with Catholic education in the Diocese, I invited the interested parties to conduct a feasibility study which I then shared and discussed with those I had previously consulted. That the school be “Catholic” was not high on the list of priorities of those who responded in the survey and did not seem to be a compelling factor in its establishment. That such a school would harm enrollment in currently existing Catholic schools was a concern of mine.

The Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires the consent of the “competent ecclesiastical authority (that is, the Diocesan Bishop)” for a school to bear the title “Catholic school.” I did not give such consent or permission and so informed those interested in establishing the school. I was told by numerous individuals within the Diocese that those seeking to establish this new school were going to do so regardless of my consent or permission. And so they have.

The school’s founders are using the expression “in the Catholic tradition” to describe Trinity Hall. That is not the same thing as being a “Catholic school” and I simply want to make clear that this new institution is not affiliated with the Diocese of Trenton or our Office of Catholic Education.

I have been directly involved in works of Catholic education all my life as a priest. That individuals have the freedom to establish a school of whatever kind is not something that I question. People have that right and I bear them no ill will. That they call it “Catholic,” however, is subject to my consent according to Church Law and I have not given it. Catholics in the Diocese have the right to know that and I have the responsibility to tell them.

Bishop O’Connell is my bishop, and I like him a lot. He’s orthodox, smart, and no-nonsense. He’s also the former president of Catholic University, so his experience with education is extensive. Given what I know of Catholic education in this region (I’ve written about the subject for the National Catholic Register), I can understand why he didn’t want a high-end private school for girls with $16K+ a year in tuition. Its lack of oversight and approval from the bishop should be a concern for Catholic families considering it.

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