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Schools are hub for families in need

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Here's an inonvative idea for social service delivery: "We really think about schools as being the center of the community where everything comes together," said Josefina Alvarado-Mena, executive director of Safe Passages, a nonprofit organization in Oakland, Calif.Alameda County youth.

"The old paradigm was that families had to go to multiple services, often at multiple locations," Alvarado-Mena said. "Many got lost in transit or lost in translation."

By contrast, Safe Passages uses schools as conduits to bring social services to youth and their families. Focusing on poor and underperforming youth in middle school and early childhood, the organization offers academic support, physical and mental health services, violence prevention classes, and family therapy. Full-time site coordinators at each participating school help Safe Passages reach the most vulnerable students, including undocumented immigrants and young people with violent backgrounds and unstable families.

Catholic Charities' volunteers of the year

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Catholic Charities USA has named its Volunteers of the Year. They are:

William Rainford, associate professor and chair, Master of Social Work program, Boise State University, for his tireless work on behalf of Catholic Charities of Idaho; and a trio of dedicated women -- Elsa Amboy, Melissa Kreisa, and Andrea Lee -- for their refugee work with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, in San Jose, CA.

Bishops on health care reform

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The U.S. bishops waded into the debate over health care reform with a letter to congressional leaders pointing the four criteria that governs the bishops’ thinking on health care and giving special attention to two of these points.

The four governing criteria are: respect for human life and dignity, access for all, pluralism and equitable costs. The two that need special attention, according to the letter signed by Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., are: respect for human life and access.

Voice of the Faithful lives to pray another day

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Voice of the Faithful, the lay Catholic group founded during the church's clergy sex abuse scandal, has raised enough money to keep operating.

The group sent a letter to its members last week, saying its financial situation was so dire that it might be forced to close its Needham headquarters unless it raised $60,000. Today, the group said its plea raised more than $63,000. The money will be used to pay operating costs for July and August.

Employment and the church

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I've recently written about the fact that too many dioceses fail to provide unemployment benefits for terminated employees, as well as an article describing a Catholic approach to "justice in employment" as found in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis

In Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court is expected to decide whether a fired Catholic school teacher can sue for age discrimination, or if such lawsuits against the church are barred.

First Friday half-days coming to an end

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The Archdiocese of New York is pitching an initiative to get Catholic schoolchildren spending more time in the classroom, a move that could spell an end to the venerable tradition of First Friday half-days. And parents are rejoicing.

Superintendent of Schools Timothy McNiff is encouraging principals to limit the number of half-days in the school year to 11. Schools may have an additional two half-days for teacher workshops.

Kim Longo, a South Beach mother whose daughter attends St. John Villa Academy in Arrochar, said it was about time the archdiocese stepped in.

As vice president of the Staten Island Federation of Catholic School Parents, she hears complaints from parents all the time about how their children barely have enough time to settle into their classrooms and open their books before it's time to pack them up and head home again after 11 a.m. dismissal.

The Episcopal church: a canary in the ecclesial coal mine

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Last week was historic for the Episcopal church, not only approving the ordination of openly gay and lesbian bishops and clergy, but also agreeing to begin the process of developing liturgies for the blessing of same sex unions.

Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, described to The New York Times the atmosphere in the hall after the vote on same-sex blessings: "It was amazing. We took the vote, there were closing prayers, and usually somebody says amen and we're up and out of there. But last night not a person moved, for 10 minutes. There was absolute silence. I think we realized the momentousness of what we'd done. People just sat their quietly praying. It was amazing. It was almost as if we didn't want to leave each other."

It was momentous, and all of mainstream Protestantism will be watching to see how the Episcopal church handles its new policies. They will be the "test case," if you will, the proverbial "canary in the coal mine."

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September 26-October 9, 2014

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