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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  • Daniel Kane

    Parents, through the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony, have the solitary responsibility to “procreate and educate children”. Similarly, the Office of the Bishop has authority over the name “Catholic” and all things claiming to be Catholic – including schools.

    Competition is the best antidote for the stasis in education – including Catholic education. If this upstart school can effectively compete on price, academics, etc., in an open market with the local Catholic high schools, and the soft opposition of the bishop, then it is the mediocrity of the local high schools that drives the families away – not some pseudo-Catholic institution. The tuition, is far from “cut rate”. And the particular gender specific formation of youth is a highly respected Catholic educational tradition that we have forgotten. Teen girls and boys do much better (and are less distracted) when educated in an all male or all female environment. We have forgotten this…

    Indeed, there seems to be a need that is not being met and some folks are bellying up to the bar with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars to fulfill it. It also seems that they are attracting some top tier talent to run the place – 20+ year principals do not grow on trees. Since it is not a seminary or in the business of granting degrees in theology, the lack of the Bishop’s blessing is a relatively minor point in the greater scheme of things. In fact, most bishops do not even visit their schools bi-annually.

    But aggravating a bishop is no trifling matter, especially one that you may have to live with for the next 18 years. Hopefully, they will someday reconcile.

  • Patrick

    Reminds me what is going on with Bishop Finn and the National Catholic Reporter – over their *AHEM* liberal use of the word “Catholic.” Like my English teacher use to say – words mean something.

    You can read what he wrote here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2013/01/bishop-finn-takes-aim-at-the-national-catholic-reporter/