NCEA convention: Combination school, recess, faculty retreat

BOSTON — The annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association is a busman’s holiday of sorts.

Every year thousands of Catholic school teachers and administrators take a big chunk of their Easter vacation to learn how to do their jobs better.

They attend dozens of workshops dealing with the nuts and bolts of how to get kids to write more creatively or understand math concepts. They also get tips on ways to use

Attendees and exhibitors at NCEA 2012 convention in Boston. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

technology in class and suggestions for ways this technology should be curbed, if possible, by students off campus.

The educators also deal with bigger challenges: how to cope with closing schools, competition from charter schools and how to teach the faith in a world that seems to continually grow further from it.

But the three-day event, which took place April 11-13 in Boston this year, was not all learning. The 10,000 participants, most of whom were women, also just seemed to enjoy their time together. (One sign there were more women than men were the men’s bathrooms in the convention hall that were temporarily converted to women’s rooms.)

These educators, including catechists, congregated in groups in between “classes” and got together for meals that were most likely better than the usual cafeteria fare.

Although some joked that they “don’t get out much,” they seemed to know just how to get out in this city gearing up for its opening day Red Sox game at Fenway Park tonight and the upcoming Boston Marathon this coming Monday.

The regulars at these conventions know the drill. They comb through the convention program for workshops that catch their eye and then many complain that there are too many good workshops offered at the same time.

The overall mood of this group was certainly upbeat. These folks are really committed not only to their students but to the whole idea of educating young people in the faith.

Even this reporter, who has been to lots of NCEA conventions, was impressed. I was also glad my kids have had the benefit of dedicated men and women such as those in this crowd.

In no way was this a group of Pollyannas either. In discussions during some workshops, these educators expressed frustration that they sometimes feel they are lone voices stressing the importance of  Catholic schools. It seems they not only have to fight for funds to keep going but also for support.

Often people reminisce about the old days when schools were staffed by nuns and some lament how those days are over.

A photo at the NCEA headquarters from the first convention illustrates these old days: All the participants attending a general session are sisters wearing habits.

Those days are gone. Certainly there are still women religious, priests and brothers leading schools and religious education programs, but the bulk of the work is done by the laity.

And from the looks of things, these men and women are taking their charge seriously.

One workshop presenter told NCEA delegates that their schools better be ready for Monday morning when these teachers and principals return reinvigorated.

Maybe the whole Catholic Church should be ready.

Reflections on a visit to the Gaza Strip

Sami El Yousef, regional director in Palestine and Israel for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, just returned from his first trip in seven months to the Gaza Strip.

In reflections posted on the website of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, he writes of the “the heroes in Gaza and how brave they all are to live under these difficult conditions, yet how they are still able to smile and laugh and continue to hope that tomorrow will be a better day.” Israel controls traffic in and out of the Gaza Strip, although Egypt has opened a border crossing to people only.

El Yousef speaks of fuel shortages and their cascading ramifications; trying to lift the spirits of Christian university students; and seeing goods that had been smuggled through tunnels from Egypt.

His reflections can be read here.

Three Catholic priests among those lost in Titanic tragedy

I heard a historian say that for people in 1912 the loss of more than 1,500 innocent lives when the Titanic went down April 15 was for them a tragedy akin to the monumental loss of life this nation experienced in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Poster from Titanic exhibit now on display at National Geographic in Washington.

Commemorations, remembrances and exhibits abound on this 100th anniversary of the great “unsinkable” ship’s infamous voyage. Stories about it are everywhere, too, including in the Catholic press. Check out the story in the April 15 issue of Our Sunday Visitor  headlined “Priestly heroes of the Titanic,” which relates the role three Catholic priests — a Lithuanian, a German and an Englishman — had “in bringing comfort to the passengers of the doomed ship.” OSV also has a small sidebar about another Catholic who came to the aid of passengers and survived the peril — Margaret “Molly” Brown, a Denver philanthropist. Born Margaret Tobin to Irish Catholic immigrants in Missouri, she moved to Leadville, Colo., at age 18. There she met and married a man who had made his fortune in the mines, Jim “J.J.” Brown. They later made their home in Denver. The couple’s Victorian house was almost lost to demolition but was rescued by preservationists in the late 1960s. It was restored it to its grandeur and established as the Molly Brown House Museum. The website tells Molly’s whole story. Also take a look at the blog on that site called “Chasing Molly,” by museum docent Janet Kalstrom, writing from aboard the Titanic memorial cruise.

Earlier this week Catholic News Service carried a story about a Jesuit, Father Frank Browne, who as a seminarian took photographs aboard the Titanic, capturing images of its opulent accomodations as well as its passengers as it sailed from Southhampton, England, to Cherbourg, France, and on to Queenstown, Ireland. He took the last image of the captain, Edward Smith, and he took a photo of the ship leaving port from Queenstown for the last time to head to New York.

As our story says, before the ship left he sent a telegram to his provincial seeking permission to remain on board for the rest of the voyage. But the brusque answer in a reply telegram was: “Get off that ship.” A collection of his photos, “Father Browne’s Titanic Album,” has been reprinted for the centennial.