What a way to begin the school year.
The National Catholic Educational Association has named the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese of New York as a recipient of the 2016 NCEA St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award.
The award, named for the renowned Catholic education advocate and New York City native who was the first U.S.-born saint, honors individuals and organizations devoted to faithful service to Catholic education. It will be conferred Oct. 3 in Washington, D.C.
“I’m absolutely delighted that our schools are getting this national recognition, and particularly delighted that we’re able to start the 2016-17 school year with the recognition,” said Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.
The NCEA officially announced the recipients on Sept. 7.
“Catholic schools are at the heart of what it means to be witnesses to the faith,” said Dr. Thomas W. Burnford, NCEA president and CEO.
“Our honorees demonstrate great passion and support for Catholic schools and stand as an example to all of us.”
The citation for the archdiocese noted the Pathways to Excellence strategic plan; the regionalization of parish elementary schools; a re-investment into Catholic education by participating parishes; new funding that has helped provide advanced teacher training and technology in classrooms; and new academic programs, including blended learning, which utilizes both online/digital and in-person learning experiences.
“Most importantly, the Catholic Schools Office has ensured their schools are places where Catholic culture and values will continue to thrive, now and in the future,” the citation said.
Dr. McNiff said his office receives regular calls from colleagues in school systems across the country seeking to understand the archdiocese’s approach to regionalization. “They’re intrigued, and they’re hearing a lot of buzz about New York,” he said.
The award is presented annually to individuals and organizations whose support and service impacts Catholic education and the well being of the nation’s youths.
In addition, Seton honorees have a scholarship presented in their honor to a deserving Catholic school student in their local community. That scholar is awarded a $2,000 scholarship, which is sent directly to the school for application toward tuition.
Representing the archdiocese as a Seton Scholar is Christian Martinez, a senior at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx. Christian, 18, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Manhattan and an alumnus of the parish school, will attend the Seton Awards Gala along with his mother and Father Joseph Tierney, the president of Cardinal Hayes.
“I was very surprised” Christian said of learning the news. He added that he was also “relieved.”
“They were in a rush to find me,” he said. “I thought I had done something wrong.”
“It definitely is a great honor as well as a great opportunity,” Christian said. “It’s a very surreal experience for me because I wasn’t always a hardworking student. Once I got to high school, I really stepped up my game. Before, I had the idea that hard work didn’t really get you anywhere.”
The president said the school is proud. “Anytime Hayes educates and helps a young man reach his potential in life is a wonderful thing,” Father Tierney said. “But then when it’s recognized or he’s honored in terms of a greater work that we do for our community, for our country, for the South Bronx area, it’s a wonderful thing for Cardinal Hayes High School.
“And Christian is a perfect role model for the rest of the young men of Hayes to look up to,” Father Tierney continued. “I think he was a great choice. We’re very honored to be able to participate in the NCEA Seton Scholarship program.”
“This award really brings about a great spotlight on the good work that Mother Seton did, and it has continued today through the generations of students who have gone through Catholic schools here in the archdiocese,” Father Tierney included, he said, “but particularly here in New York that one of our own is recognized, one of our own in terms of the archdiocese is recognized, and the good work of the Lord through good schools is continued.”
The Seton Scholar nomination essay, submitted by Father Tierney, described Christian as “a fine young man who has exhibited many Christian qualities as a student at Hayes,” including volunteering his time tutoring other students as a member of the National Honor Society and, on Sundays, with the school’s Exceptional Children’s Program for mentally and physically challenged adults.
“He has given his time for school functions and events as an ambassador for our school. He is a well spoken and kind hearted young man.”
Christian is also a member of the President’s Men Club, which represents the Hayes community to guests, alumni and donors.
Catholic schools in New York, Dr. McNiff said, commit to ensure “we have excellent teachers in front of the kids every day…skilled and experienced principals who know how to do administration…clergy that are engaged to keep the pastoral dimensions of our school alive…a whole collection of community people helping us with boards, and…we’ve got a dynamic and a really committed cardinal who believes in this mission,” he said of Cardinal Dolan.
“This recognition is not the end game,” Dr. McNiff said. “There is still and will always be a tremendous amount of work, and sweat equity, that needs to be invested in these schools. But that’s the magic and the beauty of why Catholic schools work. It’s that continual effort that’s being made by so many people.”
“The schools were created for one express purpose, and that is to bring the Catholic faith and Jesus Christ to these kids. I absolutely believe that’s lived out every day in our schools.”