Program #0227 for Wednesday, February 1, 2012: Catholic Schools Week: Cardinal Spellman High School

February 1, 2012

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams

Today’s guest(s): Dr. John McEwan, president, and Cathy Demers, head of the religion department at Cardinal Spellman High School, Brockton

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Today’s topics: Catholic Schools Week: Cardinal Spellman High School

Summary of today’s show: For the third day of Catholic Schools Week, Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams welcome Dr. John McEwan, president, and Cathy Demers, head of the religion department at Cardinal Spellman High School, Brockton, to talk about their unique school. From the famous school Masses that have priests on waiting lists to celebrate them to the cutting-edge instruction that will bring e-textbooks and iPads to every student and teacher in the school, we learn just why students and their families love their high school.

1st segment: Scot said we continue Catholic Schools Week. Fr. Matt is a product of Catholic schools. He was born in East Braintree and he attended Sacred Heart School in Weymouth, Xaverian Brothers High School, Stonehill College, and St. John Seminary so it was a Catholic education his whole life. His parents worked very hard and sacrificed to put them through Catholic schools. He said the Sisters of St. Joseph modeled the love of Christ, but they also put the fear of God into the students as well. Fr. Matt also remembers the joyful witness of Fr. O’Donovan, the pastor at Sacred Heart at the time.

Today we profile one of our leading Catholic high schools at Cardinal Spellman in Brockton, but first Fr. Matt went on a Cursillo retreat this past weekend. He’d been invited so many times and had wondered what makes Cursillo so different. When he was invited, he saw he had a free weekend and he invited his uncle to come along. To sum it up, it was a beautiful foretaste of the communion of saints. The saints in heaven share in the eternal love of God and that overflows to us. In heaven, everyone is in sync with beautiful harmony and sharing of life. On Cursillo, you experience people’s authentic gift of themselves, pure love directed at you from a number of different angled and you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the love of God coming through people. He recommends anyone to go, especially his brother priests, as an opportunity to renew your faith or discover it for the first time. There were people there who haven’t been to church in years and who are regular worshippers.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed John McEwan and Cathy Demers to the show. Scot was inspired to know that John is not just the president, he was a student, the parent of a student, and a teacher too. John said Cardinal Spellman has changed quite a bit in the 60 years since he came there as a freshman. His was the fifth class to graduate from the school. Prior to Spellman he had been in 9 schools because his family moved a lot, and it became a home for him. He also received a full scholarship in his sophomore year which left him ready for the rest of his life. He went to the seminary for four years, but later left and ended up back at Spellman as a student-teacher and then on staff. He also married his wife, who had been in the same class as Spellman with him. Years later he has become the first lay president of Cardinal Spellman. He was very nervous to follow in the footsteps of Sr. Thomasina who was retiring and had been the first president of the school.

Cathy also grew up at Sacred Heart in Weymouth, but this is also her second stint at Cardinal Spellman. She said it’s like her second family. She had her first teaching job there. She went to Regis College for her undergraduate work and went to work at Spellman until she had kids and stayed home with them. Ten years ago she came back and hasn’t regretted it.

Scot asked what makes Cardinal Spellman distinctive. Cathy said it starts with their admissions program and Sr. Pat Lynch, CSJ, who runs admissions. The eighth graders come in and are “called by name” by the seniors and freshman who give them tours and have lunch with them so they already have a social connection when they come back in the fall. They also have a big brother/big sister program.

John said Spellman was founded in 1958. There are 678 students and 75 staff members. They have made major changes in curriculum and the way the faculty work together. They’ve also enhanced athletics, arts, and sciences facilities. They are working on the cafeteria right now to make it like a food court. The classrooms have enhanced technology. He said it’s due to ensuring they have good finances, fair and reasonable tuition, and good alumni. Cathy said the faculty have had some ongoing workshops for faculty development and enhancement.

Scot said Spellman is not named after a bishop of the diocese, but instead is named for native son of Massachusetts who went to become archbishop of New York. Cardinal Spellman grew up in Whitman. Cardinal Cushing built the school in honor of Cardinal Spellman and Cardinal Spellman built the auditorium in honor of Cardinal Cushing. The auditorium has numerous murals on its walls of the life of Cardinal Spellman.

3rd segment: Scot asked Cathy what are the goals for faith formation for students. Cathy said they first want them to know that Jesus loves them. Right from the beginning of the religion curriculum, the teachers are ministers in the classroom. They have to balance ministry and teaching theology. She said they get a lot of support from administration for their mission.

Fr. Matt said faith is not something that’s taught, but it’s caught and caught from people living authentic Christian living. He asked why they need to evangelize in the classroom and what it means to minister in the classroom. Cathy said Christianity is counter-cultural and even parents are having the voice of theChurch drowned out for them. So they show the students how to be counter-cultural and strong in their faith. The seniors’ classwork is ministry work. They split up the different responsibilities of the Church and give them to each of these groups. They have a peer ministry program and food drives, but they also put a new kind of spin on it, including adoration ministry (every First Friday the religion classes pray in adoration all day), small prayer service ministry (chaplet of divine mercy), art and decoration ministry (decorating the auditorium for the monthly Mass), witness ministry educating the younger kids about the lives of the saints, and pro-life ministry. In pro-life ministry, they took kids to the March for Life in DC and are educating the seniors who will be voting this year on physician-assisted suicide.

Fr. Matt said school Mass at Spellman is one of the most beautiful and spirit-filled liturgical experiences in his years as a priest. They have 126 members of the Choir-Band. One in 6 students belong. They have weekly rehearsals on Wednesdays. John said the Masses are a full house with families and friends and community members who want to be part of that.

Cathy said the kids continue their fervor in college and even their school t-shirts get attention and they become evangelists for the faith and for the school. Fr. Matt said it’s easy to see why the Mass is so fervent because the leaders in the school are so animated by their faith and their love for the Eucharist is a good example for the students. Everyone has an obligation to evangelize to young people by their example.

John said this is the most important priority and the reason for their existence is to show the love of Christ. They want to be a highly rated 21st century school, but they want to be a highly respected Catholic school most of all. When they ask the kids their favorite part of the school, they say overwhelmingly its the Mass. Of the three things they don’t want to change is the religion classes, adoration and other prayer experiences.

John said one lesson for parishes looking to increase Mass attendance is that there is responsive. The kids see that it is thoughtfully done, is personal and communal.

Cathy said Deacon Joe Nickley is the chaplain and he is responsible for bringing in priests for the Masses, but they actually have priests coming to them and there’s a waiting list.

4th segment: It’s time to announce this week’s winner of the WQOM Benefactor Raffle.

Our prizes this week are the book “Parent Power” by James Sedlak and a copy of the CD “Catholic Answers Live: IS Anything Deviant Anymore?” signed by Teresa Tomeo and Jerry Usher.

This week’s benefactor card raffle winner is Mary Kate D’Souza from East Weymouth, MA. Congratulation, Mary Kate!

If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.

5th segment: Scot said Cardinal Spellman is embracing the latest in technology with an iPad initiative. John said two years ago they set up a special technology committee of parents, students, faculty, and community leaders to look at the next step in education. They decided that the Apple iPad and etextbooks are the future to replace outdated books and heavy backpacks. In December they started meeting with Apple to be one of the first schools to do this. They visited Burlington High which is the first in Massachusetts to do this. For Christmas they gave all the teachers new iPads to get them started and familiar with it. They encouraged them to spend Christmas break coming up with ideas on how to use it.

Every classroom has an electronic whiteboard and they’re using AppleTV to allow the teachers to write on the board from her iPad wherever she is in the room. After February vacation, the teachers will be able to use them. Tonight, they will meet with parents that they will tell parents that every child will receive an iPad next year. They are meeting with textbook publishers to talk about ebooks.

They don’t anticipate every textbook will be replaced in September, but John guesses that in 3 to 5 years all their textbooks will be replaced by ebooks. Cathy said she’s excited that a lot of textbooks are from the 90s and new ones based on the bishops’ new curriculum won’t be ready for a few years. They will have a chance to write their own textbooks.

John said it’s technology to enhance teaching, learning, communication, and organization. It prepares students for their future lives. He thinks this positively affect all subjects. With all the apps available they affect and enhance English, math, and science. Teachers can put together learning and testing materials.

Scot said he is so proud that one of our schools is so much on the cutting edge to prepare our students to use this technology well. John said he wishes he was 25 and just starting his teaching career because it’s an amazing new opportunity.

Scot said students come from 41 communities. John said they are planning to rebuild an on-campus former convent to provide more space, but right now they’re almost at capacity.

Cathy said for Catholic Schools Week the seniors have come up with their own theme and they come up with t-shirts. The “Prayer Posse” organizes it and their theme is “Have it God’s Way”. They started with a prayer service on Monday and their question is “Are you down with the King?” and they search for students performing random acts of kindness. On Tuesday, they did an opening ad drive for the program for their annual musical and play religious family feud, teachers vs. students. It was also Hawaiian day, which is just a spirit week sort of activity.

Today was the annual faculty-student basketball team. The seniors compete for the privilege to play the faculty. Tomorrow is Mass with Bishop Dooher and ending the week with adoration. Fr. Matt said he keeps hearing how they help the kids discover their gifts to give to the community and encourage their creative genius in those gifts. When young people are invited to relationship with Jesus they respond.

For those interested in attending Spellman, call Sr. Patricia Lynch in admissions at 508-584-3004.

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