It is called an inflection point. In mathematics it means a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. In life it means a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point. For the Catholic schools of the Fall River Diocese we have arrived at an inflection point. This is good news. When our bishop arrived more than two years ago, he called for a thorough, comprehensive and data-driven review of our schools. He wanted to discern the academic, financial and Spiritual health of our institutions of learning. More to the point, he wanted to engage the stakeholders; educators, pastors, parents and parishioners to fully understand the role of our schools in preparing our young people in the faith and in preparing them for meaningful roles in society.
Over the course of the past two years we have learned much and devised strategies to improve, grow and amend the 22 schools of the diocese. As we launch Catholic Schools Week, an annual time to promote our schools, it is appropriate to get the perspective of the leaders whom the bishop has appointed to lead implementation efforts as well as reflect upon some of the tangible progress they are responsible for.
Dr. Mary Pat Tranter and Father David Costa are the co-chairmen of the Implementation Task Force that is charged with executing the recommendations of the Education Task Force. Each brings a lifetime of dedicated service to the task. Each is uniquely qualified to inform and lead. Their lives have been shaped by love of teaching, each called to lead by deep faith, inculturated by family and Catholic educational values to see service to others as a duty and a vocation.
Tranter is perhaps the only Harvard Medical School Ph.D. who eschewed a post-doctoral fellowship in physiology to teach high school science. Why did she do it? She discerned a gift for teaching and loved Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton. This was not an easy decision nor was it reached without careful consideration. Ultimately Dr. Tranter said yes to teaching as a vocation because she wanted others to get from a Coyle and Cassidy education what she had: “At Coyle I had learned how to think, how to reason, and more importantly what to value. Over the years I came to realize that instilling a sense of values in addition to facts was critical to forming young people into contributors to our society.”
Since 1991, when Tranter began her career at Coyle and Cassidy, she has worn many hats. Science teacher, chairman of the department, director of Guidance, academic principal, principal and since 2007, president. She has the vantage point of one who appreciates where she came from as well as a well-informed vision of what change should look like.
Father David Costa has been a priest in the diocese for 31 years. He is the pastor for St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart parishes in North Attleboro. His ministry has included time as high school chaplain for Bishop Connolly in Fall River, director of music for the diocesan choir, and now as chaplain for Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro. Father Costa has an upbeat and optimistic nature. He seems to have a perpetual smile and goes about his various tasks with fervor and élan. His perspective on the importance of our schools comes from his history as a product of elementary and high school: “Our schools are among the most important vehicles to bring Jesus and our Catholic values to the young. Our schools are tangible tools for evangelization and we must strive to make them vibrant places of learning where Catholic culture can be understood and promoted. The secularization of our society means that we need every opportunity available to us to reach the whole family with a message of hope and love.”
Tranter and Father Costa express a zeal for the process of renewal that has begun in our schools. Resources for principals and faculty to self-assess and improve the academic, financial; and religious dimensions of their schools are underway.
Due to the generosity and foresight of many donors our scholarship resources have increased dramatically. Efforts to bring enrollment of more students into our schools have been launched.
Plans to increase our technological capacity, assistance to teachers seeking advanced degrees and continuing education and to make our schools even better incubators of informed and engaged Catholic citizens are signposts of progress throughout our diocese.
Tranter stated, “Love is at the core of our schools. We accept the idea that when you send your son or daughter to us, they will be in the care of people who love them. We espouse that value and the lesson it imparts is that they matter. We are here to educate their conscience as well as their brain.”
Father Costa sums up his feelings about this moment this way: “What we are learning through this process is that we are stronger when we view ourselves as a system rather than an individual school. We have talent throughout all our schools and we can learn from one another. It is more apparent than ever that our schools are an integral part of the mission of the Church. My pastoral perspective is that every parishioner should care about how our schools can grow, even if you don’t have a school in your parish.”
The goal is for thriving schools throughout the diocese; families and youth inflamed with the love and knowledge of Jesus’ message; teachers and staff embolden to serve better and smarter; and families better able to afford tuition. We are pointed in the right direction. We have the plan, we have the leadership, and we confidently seek greater resources to ensure our success. With help we will move beyond inflection to an inspiring, stronger and brighter future for Catholic education in the Diocese of Fall River.
Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.