President Bush on Father Mychal Judge

President Bush spoke this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. You can read his entire remarks “here.”:http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/02/20070201.html

Toward the end, he spoke about Father Mychal Judge (below), the Fire Department chaplain who died on 9/11 and was a beloved figure for many New Yorkers. Here’s what he said:

“Many in our country know the power of prayer. Prayer changes hearts. Prayer changes lives. And prayer makes us a more compassionate and giving people. When we pray we surrender our will to the Almighty, and open ourselves up to His priorities and His touch. His call to love our neighbors as we would like to be loved ourselves is something that we hear when we pray. And we answer that call by reaching out to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and aid the widow and the orphan. By helping our brothers and sisters in need, we find our own faith strengthened, and we receive the grace to lead lives of dignity and purpose.

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We see this grace in the life of a young American named Shannon Hickey. Shannon was one of Laura’s guests at the State of the Union. When Shannon was growing up, her favorite priest was Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain with the New York City Fire Department. Father Mychal helped Shannon and her family through Shannon’s struggle with liver disease. On September the 11th, 2001, Father Mychal lost his life in the World Trade Center. In memory of her friend, Shannon founded Mychal’s Message, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing Father Mychal’s loving spirit. Over the last five years, Mychal’s Message has collected and distributed more than 100,000 needed items to the poor and the homeless. With each gift to the needy, Shannon encloses a card with Father Mychal’s personal prayer. It reads: “Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way.”

Father Mychal’s humble prayer reminds us of an eternal truth: In the quiet of prayer, we leave behind our own cares and we take up the cares of the Almighty. And in answering His call to service we find that, in the words of Isaiah, “We will gain new strength. We will run and not get tired. We will walk and not become weary.”

And so I thank you for joining us on this day of prayer. I thank you for the tradition you continue here today. And I ask for God’s blessings on the United States of America.” (Applause.)

What is the Catholic school future?

My colleague Randi Weiner “reports”:http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070201/NEWS03/702010408/-1/WEBHEAD02 today on Cardinal Egan’s visit to St. Peter’s School in Haverstraw yesterday to celebrate Catholic Schools Week, which ends tomorrow.

St. Peter’s School opened in 1862 and has been going ever since, making it the oldest Catholic school in Rockland and one of the oldest in New York. Cardinal Spellman visited in 1967 to dedicate what was then a new school building.

The students were understandably excited to meet the Archbishop of New York, who sang along to “O Santissima.”

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It’s hard to overstate the influence of New York’s Catholic schools through the last century. Many of today’s captains of industry were schooled at the feet of nuns and priests and brothers.

You have to wonder what the future of Catholic education may be, though. In New York and across the country, Catholic schools have been closing at a slow but steady pace in recent years.

The challenges facing Catholic education are pretty clear. Catholic schools were once run by those nuns and brothers and priests — an unpaid workforce. Today, they are run almost entirely by lay teachers and administrators. Those people have to be paid and given expensive benefits.

So parishes and dioceses face a growing financial burden to run their schools. If they increase tuition, fewer people can pay and enrollment goes down. Budgets get tighter.

The Archdiocese of New York is in the process of reconfiguring how schools are funded. It will likely end the one parish-one school relationship and make all parishes in a given region responsible, in some way, for contributing to the schools in their area.

This will be an important step. But will it be enough? It’s hard to imagine New York without thriving Catholic schools.

Today, there are 150 Catholic elementary schools and 15 Catholic high schools in the Lower Hudson Valley.

“Our Catholic schools are a treasure,” Egan said yesterday. “It’s a treasure we have to build up. Take a look at these children: You know they’re being given the best in academic training and the best in spiritual formation as well. There’s no gift that can be given apart from life, family and parents that could match this and I hope all the teachers understand what a tremendous vocation you have.”