NCEA to hold centenary convention in Boston

To culminate a yearlong observance of its 100th anniversary, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) announced Jan. 20 that it has chosen to hold its annual convention in Boston. The convention, which will run April 13 through April 16, generally attracts over 15,000 Catholic educators. The theme of this year’s convention is “Heritage and Hope: Faithful Past, Faith-Filled Future.”

NCEA president Michael Guerra made the announcement at a press conference held at the Hynes Convention Center, where the convention will be held. The convention’s theme, he said, ties in perfectly with the city of Boston because “it is a city with great heritage and this is a city with great hope.”

Speaking to the second portion of the theme, Guerra said that the annual conventions “are about the future of Catholic education.” However, the future “is not unconnected to the past,” Guerra continued.

"There are things to learn from the people who went before us, from their struggles and their accomplishments," he stated.

Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston Sister Kathleen Carr, CSJ, said that the yearly conventions are vital because they recognize the achievements of Catholic education and provide a forum for the professional growth of teachers through workshops and networking. The 13th annual National Association of Parish Coordinators and Directors of Religious Education (NPCD) convention for coordinators of religious education will also be held in Boston and will run concurrently with the NCEA convention.

The NCEA conference will feature over 400 workshops focused on such topics as improving teaching methods, recruiting capable teachers and staff members and managing tuition costs. Honorary speakers at the convention include Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley, who will give the keynote address, Father J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities of Boston, and Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, professor of education at Harvard University.

"This 2004 convention will serve as a springboard to launch us forward into the next 100 years," said Sister Kathleen. "The Catholic educators of Boston are very proud to be a part of this historic moment in the life of NCEA."

Each year at the convention an individual is recognized for his service to needy and underprivileged students. Guerra announced that Peter S. Lynch, president of The Catholic Schools Foundation, Inc. (CSF), will be awarded for “making a difference in Catholic education” in Boston. CSF grants scholarships and provides services to inner-city children who could not otherwise afford a Catholic education.

Speaking at the press conference, Lynch stressed that every child, regardless of social class, should be given the opportunity of a strong education. Without an educational foundation, today’s youth cannot secure a decent job for the future, he continued.

Through CSF’s Inner City Scholarship Fund, students in cities such as Lawrence and Lowell have received partial scholarships to attend Catholic schools. According to Lynch, during the 2003-2004 school year over $5 million was granted to roughly 5,000 of the “most needy” students.

Catholic schools are important because not only do they teach the basics, but they also teach “religion, respect and responsibility,” said Lynch.

"It's a spectacular, fun job," said Lynch. "These kids love what they do. They love their schools."

Religious congregations celebrating significant anniversaries will also be honored at the conference. This year the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who dedicate themselves to educating the poor, celebrate 200 years as a congregation. They arrived in Boston in 1849. The Xaverian Brothers, who staff a number of schools in Massachusetts, will mark their 150th anniversary in America.

Archbishop O’Malley attended the press conference and congratulated Lynch for his efforts to support Catholic education. He thanked the religious congregations for their dedication to teaching.

"I am very aware of the wonderful value of Catholic schools and what it has meant to generations of Catholics," said Archbishop O'Malley, who attended Catholic schools.

He stated that the work of educating the youth has been key to the mission of the Church since its first days in the United States.

"The Church has constantly held that education is in a very special way the concern of the Church -- it is part of the way that we announce the Good News," he said. "We expect our schools today to be evangelizing, educated communities. Together with parish religious education programs, they must be an integral part of the Church's mission to proclaim the Gospel to build faith community and to celebrate through works and service to others."

"It is through our schools that we call young men and women to a communal mission, that we invite them to experience the Gospel's message of faith, hope and love," he continued.