Students at St. Saviour Catholic Academy Partner with CHiPS to Feed Migrants One Bag at a Time

By Jessica Easthope

A group of students navigate their way through a sea of brown paper bags. They’re packed with snacks, water and juice and soon they’ll be in the hands of a newly arrived migrant child.

“The people coming in could be our neighbors, they could be our friends and it’s really important to welcome them with open arms,” said seventh grader Lily Chase.

The students are members of St. Saviour Catholic Academy’s Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice club. Bags filled with nonperishable food are their latest service initiative. They asked students and their families to donate the items to pack and give to CHiPS, a soup kitchen and food pantry in Park Slope.

“We want to show that we want to give back to the community but we don’t want it to be just us four students but the whole school putting in effort to make these people’s lives easier,” said seventh grader Monate Diaz.

More than 42,000 migrants have settled in New York City since August. The amount of people CHiPS feeds every day has doubled – it can’t keep up with the need. The students are putting themselves the migrants’ shoes.

“Catholicism is giving to those less fortunate and spreading God’s message and I think a lot of us don’t understand that sort of thing, those people have struggled with long journeys and it feels good to give back,” said seventh grader Clare Reynolds.

And now their service is getting the attention of city leadership. On Friday, chief of staff of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Miguel Santana came to speak with the students about the migrant crisis. They had burning questions about why migrants come, where they will live and how they can help.

“Especially at a young age to be so civically engaged, I’m floored, they have certain principles and values that they’re bringing to the table from what they’re learning at home and at school and it’s carrying over into the volunteer work they’re doing,” said Santana.

Principal, Susan Walsh says the initiative is their Catholic education at work.

“They come up with these initiatives themselves and they are really living out their Catholic faith, it’s good for them to make the connection as kids that there are people out there who don’t have as much as we do and they’re working to build a better community,” she said.

The 500 bags packed and decorated by students will be delivered to CHiPS on Tuesday.

Catholic News Headlines for Friday 2/3/23

The Holy Father arrived in South Sunday today after leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As Catholic Schools Week comes to an end, we’ll look at all of the amazing things happening in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Students at Michigan Technological University are currently building a chapel out of snow.

Fordham’s Bronx Artifacts Collection Builds on Jewish-Catholic Partnership

By Jessica Easthope

During the first half of the 20th century Judaism was the dominant religion in the Bronx. A yearbook filled with mostly Jewish last names is one of more than 100 pieces in Fordham University’s Bronx Judaica collection and part of a culture that’s fading.

“The idea was to show how Jews lived, not just the formal institution but where they went to a restaurant, what florist they used for a wedding, what meat they bought from a Kosher company,” said Magda Teter, a history and Jewish Studies professor at Fordham.

Teter’s been building the collection for three years and using it in her classes.

“I love for students to touch history, you can do all you want on PDFs, you can do all you want on PowerPoints but there’s nothing like touching the real thing,” she said.

Though the Jewish studies program is fairly new to Fordham, Jewish history isn’t. As the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in New York state, it was among the first to accept Jews.

Fordham’s president Tania Tetlow says the collection is an interfaith effort that reflects Fordham’s commitment to inclusivity during a new wave of antisemitism in the country.

“To understand the history of the Jewish people is to stop the demonization and stereotyping that has caused so much brutal evil in the world and our history,” she said.

Today, Jews represent a small percentage of undergraduate students at Fordham but Jewish studies students Maya Bentovim and Hannorah Ragusa say the program has broadened their perspectives in ways they never imagined.

“I’d grown up Jewish but was never really in touch with my Judaism until I got to Catholic school and to share that learning experience with both students from similar and totally different backgrounds has been incredible,” said Maya.

“I think it’s really important to see the intersection because it’s something I’ve never been exposed to but to have this open perspective to new things it provides one of the best opportunities you can get,” Hannorah said.

Members of the public can view the collection and interact with history at an open house or by appointment. The exhibit will be open through March.

This Brooklyn Priest Wrote a Cookbook and This is How You Can Get It

“Breaking Bread with Monsignor Jamie: From Feeding the Stomach to Feeding the Soul,” is a new cookbook from a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Author Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, vicar for development in the Diocese of Brooklyn, joins Currents News to tell us all about it.

St. Catherine of Genoa ~ St. Therese of Lisieux Celebrates Multicultural Day

By Jessica Easthope

They jumped at the chance to celebrate each other, the whole school was on their feet, embracing and adopting each culture as their own, at St. Catherine of Genoa St. Therese of Lisieux, this is Catholic Schools Week.

“Jesus cared for everyone and we are all one so showing what each child represented or expressing who they are came together as a community so that we can really appreciate one another,” said principal, Darlene Morris.

Students in Diocese of Brooklyn schools speak 44 different languages. Principal Morris says the school has a mostly Caribbean student population. On Thursday, they took trips around the region giving each island its own moment to shine.

“When people celebrate my culture, I feel very appreciated and like not left out,” said fourth grader, Joy Francoeur.

“Even though we all have different ways of growing up we can still come together and work together as a family,” said eighth grader Leonardo Jones.

“We have all these different ethnicities and opportunities to excel and just be the best version of you that you can possibly be,” said eighth grader, Kimora Ward.

The eighth grade students gave presentations about the meaning behind their flags and proved you can’t appreciate another culture without tasting it first.

Tanya Kennedy, the school’s financial manager coordinated the culture day. She’s an alumna of the school and says it’s just as welcoming today as it was all those years ago.

“Relating the Catholic faith with our culture it’s what I experienced as a child going here and they can have that same feeling to continue onto the next generation,” said Kennedy.

Students in the most diverse diocese in the country are one in Christ.

Couple’s Careers Lead Them to a Catholic Education for Their Son

By Jessica Easthope and Paula Katinas

FLATBUSH — It’s Monday morning, and the Etheridge household is buzzing with activity. Six-year-old Noah Etheridge gets a helping hand from his dad, Dustin, adjusting his backpack before they walk to St. Saviour Catholic Academy in Park Slope, where Noah is a first grader. 

When Dustin and Noah arrive at school 20 minutes later, dad bids his son goodbye on the sidewalk and watches as Noah enters the building where he will spend the next several hours. 

That walk is part of a bigger journey for the Etheridges — one that has taken them 627 miles from North Carolina to New York. 

Dustin and Kristy moved to Brooklyn in 2018 and have since established strong roots, so much so that they’re on a first-name basis with their local bodega owner, who knows their sandwich orders by heart. 

Dustin was a stranger to New York, and Kristy was only an occasional tourist when they took a leap of faith and made a move that would drastically change their lives. 

Kristy, who grew up outside Philadelphia, had visited New York a number of times. Dustin was born and raised in North Carolina and, throughout his journalism career, had traveled to a number of major cities, like London, Paris, and Barcelona — but never New York. 

So they took a two-day trip to the Big Apple in the fall of 2016. The scene when they stepped outside of Penn Station is one they remember vividly. 

“We walked out onto 34th Street … and it was Black Friday, and it was snowing,” Dustin recalled. “It was like a postcard image that people have of New York City decorated for the holidays.” 

The couple soon returned home to Charlotte. However, Dustin knew that it wouldn’t be the last time he’d see New York. 

Dustin and Kristy met when they were working at a television station in North Carolina. Kristy was a reporter, and Dustin was often assigned to work with her as her videographer. They became engaged in March 2010 and were married six months later. 

Kristy had always thought of New York as a nice place to visit but questioned whether the city was conducive to family life. 

“For the better part of a year, we had talked about it and kicked it around. Kristy had a lot of apprehensions,” Dustin said. 

Then, Dustin landed a job with a video production company in Brooklyn, and that got the ball rolling pretty quickly. 

Kristy and Dustin said they felt that God was opening doors for them. They, along with Noah, who was 2, made the big move in 2018. They packed up a U-Haul and headed north — not knowing anyone in Brooklyn. 

The Etheridges are Christian and soon found their faith community at the Bridge Church NYC, a nondenominational congregation in Downtown Brooklyn. 

“Our lives are built around faith,” said Kristy. 

But the video production job that had paved the way for their move to New York fizzled out after a couple of months. 

Dustin soon landed a position at DeSales Media Group, the communications and technology ministry and parent company of The Tablet. 

“The call from DeSales felt like a divine appointment,” said Kristy, who joined DeSales Media Group as a freelancer a year later. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020, the couple decided to homeschool Noah for preschool and kindergarten. 

While that was going well, when their second child, Olivia, was born in 2021, homeschooling became too much of a challenge. So Dustin and Kristy began looking at various schools for Noah, but they struggled to find a good fit. 

“What we didn’t want was to have church or faith be a Sunday-only thing,” Kristy said. “We really wanted it to be part of our family’s whole life.” 

Their place of employment played a hand in their decision. Dustin serves as the manager of digital content and creative services for the news department at DeSales Media, and Kristy is the proofreader for The Tablet. 

“We know everything that’s going on with the schools and with the diocese,” Dustin explained. “And we watched how the Catholic schools were quietly successful through the pandemic and how the standardized testing scores were doing.” 

Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn, which had adopted a remote learning model during the height of the pandemic, reopened fully to in-person classes in September 2020 with safety precautions such as social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing in place. 

By contrast, New York City public schools did not fully reopen that September but were instead subject to a hodgepodge of partial reopenings and scattered schedules depending on COVID-19 transmission rates. After only eight weeks, public schools fully closed on Nov. 19 and went back to a remote learning model. Elementary schools reopened for in-person classes on Dec. 10, and high schools didn’t reopen until the following March. 

Some parents, perhaps upset with all of the uncertainty, began voting with their feet. Public school enrollment in New York dropped 3.8% in the 2021-2022 school year. 

According to the Office of the Superintendent for the Diocese of Brooklyn, more than a third of schools in the diocese have enrollment numbers exceeding pre-pandemic figures. And those schools are growing at a rate of 20%. 

The solution to Dustin and Kristy’s dilemma came in an “aha” moment. 

“Kristy said, ‘I have a crazy idea,’ and I said, ‘I think I have the same idea,’ ” Dustin recalled. “Before I could say anything, she blurted out: ‘What about Catholic school?’ ” 

After further research and a tour of St. Saviour Catholic Academy, Kristy and Dustin said they were easily sold and opted to enroll Noah in first grade; he started in September of 2022. 

It’s a decision many parents who are not Catholic make for their children. According to the Office of the Superintendent, approximately 30% of the students in the Diocese of Brooklyn schools and academies are not Catholic. 

When deciding where to send their son, the Etheridges chose Catholic school for various reasons — their desire for a faith-based education that adhered to their Christian values, rigorous academics, and smaller class sizes. 

“We loved the small class sizes,” Kristy said, “and it just felt really warm and inviting and nurturing.” 

Most importantly, however, the Etheridges wanted a faith-based education for their son. 

“To go beyond the academics, to teaching about faith, is important to us,” Kristy said. 

Safety was also a factor that weighed on their minds. 

Just over 1,500 weapons were seized in New York City public schools in the first three months of the 2022-2023 academic year — double the number seized last year during the same time period, according to NYPD statistics. Most of the weapons are knives, but not all. Five guns have been discovered so far this school year. 

However, in the Diocese of Brooklyn, according to Superintendent of Schools Deacon Kevin McCormack, the number of weapons brought to schools is virtually nonexistent. Schools and academies within the diocese have a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence. 

“I have no qualms about his safety [at St. Saviour]. I feel really comfortable sending him there,” Dustin said. 

The couple also loved the family atmosphere. “I think it’s been even better than we hoped it would be,” Kristy said. “Their motto is ‘Small School With a Big Heart.’ ” 

Principal Susan Walsh said she takes pride in the fact that St. Saviour’s reputation has reached far beyond the Catholic community. 

“We have a lot of non-Catholic children here. We have a very, very diverse student body,” she explained. “We tell the children that the most important thing is to be kind to one another and to be accepting of one another and to listen and collaborate with people that might not have the same ideas as you.” 

Walsh also strives to create a small-town atmosphere so that students and parents feel at home. “We know every child in the building, and that’s really important to us. It’s important that we meet the needs of each child,” she explained. 

Kristy and Dustin are making valuable connections too. “That’s really been exciting for us to have a new community and for Noah to have so many friends his age and for us to meet other parents,” Kristy said. 

“I’ve made 18 friends!” Noah exclaimed. There are 19 kids in his class. 

When asked what he is learning, he quickly responded: “math, spelling, religion, and social studies.” Noah has also learned geography and said, without prompting, “The Amazon River is the second longest river in the world.” 

The Etheridges are also impressed with the school’s arts education program. Noah is taking part in a theater class called Stages on the Sound, where professional actors come in and work with the students. 

“It’s the fundamentals of acting; learning where stage left and stage right are,” Dustin explained. Noah played the Big Bad Wolf when the class performed scenes from “The Three Little Pigs.” 

“The holistic approach that they take, from literature to science to history to the arts — and the fact that it’s all presented through the lens of faith — that’s why we chose this school,” Dustin said. 

“A lot of places have mottos, and we didn’t really pay too much attention to that initially,” Kristy said. “But ever since we started going there, they have really proven that they are a small school with a really big heart.” 

 

Catholic News Headlines for Thursday 2/2/23

 

We’ll introduce you to one family who chose a faith-based education after watching Currents News and reading The Tablet.

Pope Francis met with young people and catechists in Congo today.

Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello of “Breaking Bread” will be here to tell us about his new book.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is Offering “Effective Compassion Training”

Ever think about volunteering with the church and helping people in need?

There’s a training program that can help you get ready.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is offering “Effective Compassion Training” free of charge.

Paul Cerni, Operations Manager and Pastoral Initiatives Associate for the Co-Cathedral of St Joseph and St Teresa of Avila parishes, joins Currents News to tell us more about the event.

Congo War Victims Recount Horrors to Pope, Thank Church for Recovery

By Elise Ann Allen

KINSHASA, CONGO (Crux) — Victims of the bloody conflict scarring eastern Congo met Pope Francis Wednesday, sharing their horror stories and crediting the Catholic Church for making their recovery possible.

Pope Francis is on a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. He is currently in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, which, for over three decades, has been marred by a violent war mostly concentrated in the country’s east that’s left millions of people dead and displaced.

As the Congolese army battles around 120 rebel groups, the most prominent of which is known as “M23,” violent attacks, sexual assaults, and rape or mutilation have become almost commonplace for many villages.

On his second day in Congo, Pope Francis met with a group of victims of the war, sharing their stories of tragedy, horror, and recovery.

In her story, Bijoux Mukumbi Kamala, from Goma, recounted how in 2020, when she was just 17, a “Calvary of suffering” began one day when she and some other women went to get water from a nearby river and came across a rebel group.

The rebels, she said, took the women into the forest, with each rebel choosing the woman they wanted. Kamala said she was taken by the commander of the group, who raped her repeatedly.

“It was excruciating,” she said. “It was useless to scream because no one could hear me or come to my rescue.”

She spent 19 months in captivity before finally escaping with two other women. By the time Kamala escaped, she was pregnant with twin girls, who were with her at their meeting with Pope Francis.

Amid the increased killing sprees, displacement, sexual violence, and uncertainty, with countless people experiencing stories similar to hers, Kamala said the Church “remains the only refuge that heals our wounds and consoles our hearts.”

She said she could heal with the help of local parish services and those offered by the international charity Caritas and told the pope that his presence “reassures us that the whole Church takes care of us.”

Similarly, Ladislas Kambale Kombi, from Butembo-Beni, who is 17, said he was a farmer by trade, and that several years ago, his older brother was killed under circumstances that are “still unknown,” and that his father was slaughtered in front of him by rebels in military attire who entered his home.

He recounted that the rebels who attacked his home then took his mother and raped her, and that they had not seen her since and still don’t know “what they did to her.”

“We were orphans, me and my two little sisters,” he said, adding that  the horror of what happened continues to haunt him, and he still struggles to sleep at night.

“It’s difficult to understand such wickedness, this almost animal-like brutality,” he said, noting the psychological and spiritual help offered by the Catholic Church to him and other children who experienced similar trauma has allowed him to forgive the “torturers” who killed his family.

Recounting how he himself was held captive for nine months, Kombi prayed that God would “touch the hearts of the torturers so that they free the other children” who are still in captivity.

Father Guy-Robert Mandro Deholo, whose left hand was mutilated by rebels some time ago and is missing several fingers, read aloud the story of a woman named Desire Dhetsina, who prepared her testimony some time ago in anticipation of the pope’s trip, but who disappeared some months ago and has not been heard from since.

As he spoke, two women present, who also had one of their hands and wrists cut off, raised their arms into the air. Pope Francis later greeted the women and held their scarred limbs in his hands.

From the eastern town of Bunia, Dhetsina, in her written testimony, said she survived an attack on a camp of displaced people that happened exactly one year ago, the night of Feb. 1, 2022, and left a total of 63 people, including 24 women and 17 children, dead.

She pointed out that the internally displaced linger in camps with no hope of returning home because of the death, destruction, looting, and threat of sexual violence.

“We need peace and nothing other than peace … we want to return to our homes, educate our children, live together with our old neighbors, far from the sound of war,” she said, and prayed that God would “give us moments of peace and tranquility where everyone has good feelings for one another.”

Another woman named Emelda M’karhungulu from the eastern town of Bugobe, in her testimony, said her village was attacked in 2005, with rebels taking as many hostages as they could, forcing others to flee, and looting the homes of locals.

M’karhungulu, who was just 16 at the time, said the group killed many of the men, whereas the women were taken, and she herself was kept as a “sexual slave” for three months.

In addition to the trauma of her assaults, M’karhungulu said the prisoners were also forced to eat corn pasta and meat prepared from the bodies of men their captors had killed.

“This was our daily food,” she said, saying the prisoners were made to live naked so that they would be too ashamed to escape. However, she finally fled one day when she went to the river to gather water, and when she returned home, was taken to the hospital by her parents for necessary care.

M’karhungulu said the Catholic Church was essential to her recovery and thanked them, saying that because of  the church’s proximity, “I could assume and accept my situation,” and today lives “as an accomplished woman who accepts her past.”

She also lamented the natural disasters that have compounded the violence plaguing the country, including intense flooding last year, and thanked Pope Francis for his visit.

“You are leaving us a legacy, a gift of love through closeness, through your closeness,” she said, saying the people of Congo “want a different future.”

“We want to leave this dark past behind and be able to build a beautiful future. We ask for justice and peace,” she said, and urged fellow victims to “forgive our executioners for all they have done and ask the Lord for the grace of a peaceful, human, and fraternal coexistence.”

 

Bishop Brennan Learns a Faithful Lesson at St. Sebastian Catholic Academy

By Jessica Easthope

Bishop Robert Brennan was the biggest kid in kindergarten. As he flipped pages and captured the attention of the class he was learning something too, a lesson about St. Sebastian Catholic Academy and how its students share their Catholic identity.

“This year for me it’s a little bit like being at home but even this year I find myself experiencing new things,” said Bishop Brennan.

“We really like to improve on Catholic education, if you walk around classrooms there are projects with community faith spread all over the wall, we’re really nice and kind, we take care of each other we’re like one big family,” said eighth grade ambassador, Camden Picarello.

Bishop Brennan took a tour, Wednesday, for Catholic Schools Week. He was brought from class-to-class by the eighth grade ambassadors. The students wanted everything to be perfect.

“I was a little nervous at first because he’s the head of the diocese but it was great,” said Camden.

“I was nervous a little bit because I was reading and didn’t want to make a mistake,” said sixth grader Gracie Galindo.

Gracie says there’s nothing she loves more than her school.

“We have a really strong Catholic faith especially in the background, the Catholic community is awesome, I just love it, I’ve been here since pre-k,” she said.

At an assembly, their knowledge was put to the test, presenting to Bishop Brennan essays about his motto and trivia facts about his life.
Principal Michelle Picarello says there’s one thing the school’s curriculum never strays from.

“Our Catholic identity is important to us and everything that we do and everything that we’re about has Jesus Christ at the center,” she said.

And Bishop Brennan picked up on the pride students have in their faith now and how it will affect their futures.

“That sense of Catholic life, our students are very comfortable living Catholic life, they’re comfortable at mass, they know to pray, they speak with the vocabulary of our faith, even with secular subjects they have a way of integrating it to their whole life,” said Bishop Brennan.

It’s something you can’t find in a book.