A tale of Two letters

Posted: March 9, 2009 by datechguy in catholic, personal
Tags: ,

I mentioned the letter I sent to the Bishop of Worcester Mass. concerning my visit to Anna Maria College and the letter I received in response from Anna Maria’s president Jack P. Calareso.

I stated that I would hold off putting up my letter until I talked to him to get permission to put his response up. I’m pleased to say that he has not only given that permission AND said he would welcome questions or comments from readers about the college AND referred me to specific posts at his blog , AND sent me a copy of an article of his from the Catholic Free Press.

Anyway the letters are below the fold with a few comments after them…

Most Reverend Bishop:

Thank you most kindly for your quite unexpected letter of the 16th. We are very happy that you have an interest in the education of our son Sam. Like you we believe in the value of a Catholic Education and because of this have spent a considerable amount of our limited resources to provide our sons with that faith filled basic education; first at St. Anthony di Padua in Fitchburg for both, and then St. Bernard’s Catholic High School for Sam.

Sam has rewarded us with not only an extremely fine academic record (top ten in class) and continued service in faith, active in campus ministry, serving alter boy, lector in training, and three trips to the March for Life. (This year midterms were moved due to the ice storm in Fitchburg or it would be four). Dan although in public school has also rewarded us with his continued service at our parish and the honor roll academically. Both of them will be joining me at the Catholic Men’s conference next month.

We were excited when Sam was accepted at Anna Maria; even more so when they offered the largest (in dollars) scholarship of any of the nine colleges that have accepted and attempted to recruit him. We looked forward to the visit to the college and liked the prospect of a college that would expand both his faith and his educational horizons.

Then we actually visited the college.

Comparing your description of the college as a “great example of a Catholic institution…” and my experience I thought of George Weigel’s line commenting on the differing press releases concerning Speaker Pelosi visit to the Holy See: “Were Benedict XVI and Nancy Pelosi in the same meeting, or even in the same city?”

Speaker Pelosi would feel at home at Anna Maria. I’m not sure I could say the same for the Holy Father. I blogged about our visit of January 16th and noted:

I saw nothing affirming their Catholic identity. No portrait of the pope, no schedule of Masses (although they do offer daily Mass). There were pictures celebrating the new president all over the place, banners celebrating diversity, announcements of the woman’s study courses but nothing on the March for Life later this month in Washington. The concert was a “holiday” concert. In the Anna Maria in the news bulletin board at the admissions office there was an article talking about protesting the pope in the US. That was the extent of any recent mention of religion.

The Chapel is downstairs at basement level, it’s a nice enough place and the corridor leading once one goes downstairs does feel Catholic but it seems to be hidden in order to make sure it doesn’t offend anyone.

When I talked to the gentleman from admissions after the tour he informed me that this was not unusual at Catholic colleges and seemed to stress diversity rather than the Catholic identity, in fact seemed happy to reassure the next visiting student that he would not have to take any courses having to do with religion. Continuing my quote from the blog:

…It would be nicer if Catholic identity actually meant something. I’ve spent much more than I can afford over the last 10 years giving my sons a Catholic education. If I’m going to spend a whole lot more for a Catholic College then I expect a Catholic College.

I can’t reconcile your description of Anna Maria with what I saw and I can’t believe you would make that description after visiting the college yourself. While academically I believe it would be strong I don’t believe attending would foster his faith, in fact I suspect if he choose to wear his faith proudly it would go hard on him there.

Lucky for Sam and us Fitchburg State College has offered a full scholarship which will allow him to live at home and remain in our parish as well. This would seem to be much more conducive to both his Academic and spiritual development.

Thank you again for your prayers and your interest in our son’s future. I do humbly suggest that before you send further letters of this sort concerning Anna Maria that you visit the college and see for yourself if my description is accurate. It would be a poor thing for other faithful Catholics to get such a letter under your name and get the same impression that I did.

May God continue to bless you:


Bishop McManus has forwarded to me your letter of February 21, 2009 concerning your impressions of Anna Maria College. As we share a deep commitment to quality Catholic education, I thought I would respond.

First, I want to congratulate you and your son, Sam on his admission to Fitchburg State. While I believe strongly that private, independent colleges, especially those deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition and values, provide a superior educational experience, I am sure that he will receive a great education at this fine institution.

I certainly respect your right to your opinion of Anna Maria based on your visit. However, in all due respect, I could not disagree more. In my experience having taught and served as a professor and administrator at seven (7) Catholic colleges and universities, Anna Maria College embodies, reflects and practices Catholic education boldly, proudly and effectively. No institution is perfect and had you chosen to review our Strategic Plan you would have seen our deep commitment to continuing to improve our Catholic identity and the quality of the educational experience for all of our students.

Please know that we proclaim and practice our core identity as a Catholic and sisters of St. Anne institution in the classroom, through our programs and services, and in our practices on and off campus. We welcome all people of all faiths and traditions to the common search for truth which is at the center of the Catholic intellectual tradition. But in doing this, we expect all members of the community to fully understand that we are a Catholic college. We respect all people…we encourage free and open debate and dialogue…but it is always within the context of our core beliefs, values and traditions as a Catholic and Sisters of St. Anne College.

It is unfortunate that your assessment was made on cursory observations and casual conversations. I wish you had sat in on a class taught by our extraordinary faculty. I wish you had visited with our Chaplain, Campus Ministry Director, or student leaders to learn about our programs, services and community action. I wish you had researched my speeches and public statements on the meaning of Catholic education and the commitments of this institution. I wish you had taken the time to learn about the great women who founded this institution…women of deep faith and commitment to quality Catholic education for those with limited means.

We are proud of our history, tradition and enduring commitment to Catholic identity. We are pleased to work with Bishop McManus and the Worcester Diocese in so many ways to promote quality Catholic education and our core values. I hope that if in the future you have an opportunity to visit Anna Maria College again, you will join us in celebrating our Catholic identity.

Finally here is his Catholic Free Press Article. I wasn’t able to find it online but he sent me a copy:

Support, Hope and Challenge

In the weeks leading up to Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States, much was written and speculated about his scheduled speech to the education community. Phrases like “become more Catholic or else,” and “he wants to control theology” were included in articles with headlines predicting “Catholic College Leaders Expect Pope to Deliver Stern Message.”

As with so much of the Pope’s extraordinary visit to Washington and New York, the prognosticators missed the mark. In addition to the powerful healing presence of the Holy Father to victims and mourners, the pastoral care extended to the faithful and the searching, and the spiritual uplifting to a nation in need, Pope Benedict’s message to the leaders of Catholic education was one of support, hope and a positive challenge.

Perhaps the most significant evidence of the Pope’s support of Catholic Education was the very fact that he included this address in his itinerary. One can only imagine the demands on the Holy Father’s schedule and the requests for meetings, visits and attention. By taking the time to address Catholic educators, Pope Benedict reflected his support for this ministry.

In his address, he thanked Catholic educators for their “dedication and generosity.” He acknowledged the strong reputation of “Catholic institutes of learning,” and made specific mention of our contributions in the areas of research and educating the poor in urban areas. Pope Benedict also supported one of the fundamental principles of higher education when he stated, “In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges and universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom.”

It is no surprise that this former college professor and distinguished scholar and writer understands and respects the world of education. It was gratifying to hear his words of support for our mission, our ministry and our commitment to the “search for truth.”

The idea of hope was also central to the Holy Father’s remarks. He described Catholic Education as an “apostolate of hope.” He said that the “noble goals of scholarship and education, … become an especially powerful instrument of hope.” Catholic education provides opportunity and meaning in the lives of millions of children and families in this country.

Continuing with this theme, the Pope also expressed his own hope for the future of Catholic Education. He encouraged Catholic educators to continue to fulfill the mission of our schools, colleges and universities. Through our educational efforts, we serve the needs of society, help our students to encounter Christ and see the powerful relationship between faith and reason. The Holy Father expressed his hope that we continue to “recognize (our) profound responsibility to lead the young to truth,” and that this “is nothing less than an act of love.”

While supportive and hopeful, Pope Benedict’s address included a number of challenges. He repeated throughout his remarks the responsibility to continue to serve the needs of the poor and those in the inner cities of this country. Perhaps one of the most explicit and most powerful statements in the address was, “No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of the nation.”

The Pope also challenged Catholic Educators to imbue all things with our faith. Whether in our role in the formation of our students or our responsibility to speak out in the “public forum,” faith must be at the center of all that we do. Even though supportive of academic freedom, the Holy Father was clear that nothing must “contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church.”

While relatively short in length, the Pope’s address to Catholic educators was rich in content. As with all of Pope Benedict’s speeches and writings, it requires a careful reading to appreciate the many dimensions of his ideas and the richness of his message. The Holy Father is clearly the spiritual leader of the Catholic community throughout the world. But perhaps he is best in his role that Jesus modeled so well … the Teacher.

Jack P. Calareso, Ph.D.
Anna Maria College
May 6, 2008


One clarification I did in fact meet with the head of campus ministry. The meeting was brief as Mass was about to start, that didn’t change my opinion.

In fairness he has only been president of the college since July of 2007. From what I’m seeing from the blog posts he referred me to and from his fast and positive response my reaction is the same as an infantry man of the Army of the Potomac said when he first saw US Grant after his transfer east: “It looks like he means it.”

It takes time to change a college and a mindset. It may be that the college is not where I think it should be but I think he intends to take it there.

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