Celebration Of Catholic Schools Begins

Diane J. Savino

January 26, 2009

Mass at St. Margaret Mary's inaugurates weeklong tribute

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Willie Concepcion transferred from public school to Catholic school two years ago, and the seventh-grader said that has made all the difference.

"There's a smaller amount of kids in the room and you get more attention from the teachers," said the student in St. Margaret Mary's School in Midland Beach. "It's like a whole family environment."

The Midland Beach resident sees a dance career in his future, and hopes to continue his Catholic education at either St. Peter's High School or Monsignor Farrell High School.

Willie and his brother, Christian, were chosen to represent their school yesterday during the local mass that inaugurates Catholic Schools Week, a nationwide annual event that showcases the benefits of a parochial education through open houses, special activities for families and, for many Island schools, community service projects.

Two students from each of the borough's 38 Catholic elementary schools attended the mass at St. Margaret Mary's in uniform, with their parents and some of their teachers and principals packing the pews.

Barbara Bortle-Gainey, president of the Federation of Catholic School Parents, thanked parents for their commitment to Catholic education.

"We know that what we teach them in the home is also being taught at schools," she said in her remarks from the altar after mass.

Later, she told the Advance that, although she has some concerns about the financial future, she remains convinced that Catholic schools can weather the bad times, with help from state funding from Albany.

"I think we're all a little on edge, but honestly I think we're going to be fine," she said.

In a related matter, Ms. Bortle-Gainey, whose son attends Moore Catholic High School, said she has no concerns about the Archdiocese of New York's plan to turn over the administration of Moore and Farrell to boards of directors, which will comprise the principals, religious and laypeople.

"I think that running the school with that input from everyone will be good," she said.

Monsignor Peter Finn, co-vicar for Island Catholics, celebrated the mass with the Rev. Keith Fennessy, St. Margaret Mary's pastor. The monsignor called it a "national disgrace" that non-public schools don't receive more help from the government.

He urged state Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn), who was in attendance, and her colleagues in state government to "find a way constitutionally" to provide more financial assistance for parochial education.

Mike Zaccardo of Rosebank has a daughter at St. Joseph's School in Rosebank and another at St. Joseph Hill Academy, Arrochar. He said both he and his wife attended Catholic schools and deem it important that their children do the same.

"I'm just trying to follow what my parents did for me," he said.