The Brooklyn Diocese has announced that it is going to open a tuition-free Catholic elementary school in September to serve low-income children and their families. The family aspect of this academy is a pretty critical and interesting part of this plan, but we'll get to that in a minute.
The Pope John Paul II Family Academy, which will be housed in the former St. Barbara's Parish School in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, will open next fall with pre-kindergarten through third grades, adding grades four through eight in subsequent years.
What makes this endeavor particularly interesting and potentially life changing is that families in the new academy must commit to be active in the faith formation of their children. In his column, "Put Out Into the Deep," Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced that the educational model of the new academy will be "to create a covenant between the families whose children will attend the school, and the Academy."
"This means that the parents or guardians will commit to be active participants in the faith formation of their children and in the life of their local parish. For its part, the school community will offer programs to assist the family to grow in the life of our faith," he wrote. "...The John Paul II Family Academy will be dedicated to this fundamental mission to evangelize all who will attend it by providing an excellent Catholic education to its children, strengthening family life and reestablishing a meaningful relationship between parish life and a Catholic elementary school."
Amen, to that. It is time that our parishes and Catholic schools try to recapture the kind of connection that once existed between parish and home life. Too many of today's adult Catholics do not enjoy the kind of faith-infused home life that so many of their parents took for granted, which has led to a complete disconnect between many Catholics and the faith of their birth. If what happens in our Catholic classrooms and Catholic churches is left at the doorstep when we head home, it can never have a lasting impact on our day-to-day lives and the larger faith community. Kudos to the Brooklyn Diocese for recognizing that fact and taking the first step to reverse the course.
According to a story in The Tablet, the newspaper of the diocese, students at the new Family Academy, which is being funded by a single anonymous donor, will come from the immediate neighborhood. Their families must be at or below the poverty level.
News of Family Academy comes on the heels of the Brooklyn Diocese's announcement just a few weeks ago that it was considering converting several of its failing schools into charter schools.