Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, as a way of life

Diocesan Council: Supporting Education Missions

Dear Friends,

Recently, Council passed a resolution regarding a mission partnership opportunity with the Nazareth Elementary School located in the city of Rochester.  Diocesan Council is very proud to promote and support Congregational Development and Mission efforts across the Diocese while balancing our financial responsibilities to maintain a balanced budget and ensuring the long-term security of our Diocese.   Council takes its responsibilities seriously.  This letter serves to clarify the Council’s process and answer some questions regarding the Nazareth initiative. 

Questions regarding Nazareth Elementary have been raised throughout the discernment process with Nazareth.  They are important questions, which is why Council agreed to establish the Nazareth Elementary School Discernment CommitteeThe committee was chartered to explore whether it would be possible to develop a viable relationship with Nazareth Elementary.  Last spring, the committee shared its final results with Council.  

The committee’s findings are outlined in a white paper found on the Diocesan website under the “Ministry” menu.  We encourage all individuals to read the report in its entirety.  A very brief portion of the paper is included here to answer some important questions.

It has been easy– and wonderful– breaking down cultural barriers.

Initially, the commission chose to address the potential barriers and stereotypes associated with a Catholic and Episcopal partnership. In a thorough and open fashion the two groups considered, discussed and discerned further any obstacles to success, including questions that surrounded the dual faiths operating out of one school through a common board. The SSJ are a unique brand of God’s tolerance, compassion and understanding. We have all come away humbled by their expressions of love. 

Nazareth Elementary is run and owned by the nuns.

The SSJ congregation is not a Catholic Diocese mission. They own the school and its programs 100%. They are already working toward creating a separate 501c3. There is the possibility of a new venture as an independent, jointly owned organization. 

All of us are welcome.

All Episcopal priests, including gay/lesbian clergy and females, are welcomed and embraced in providing Eucharist and Morning Prayer in the chapel and working interactively with students as programs may warrant. 

In addition, volunteers on site from the Episcopal community are welcome, and the SSJ are open to multi-faith involvement in the future. There is openness to the teaching and example of religious tolerance and social justice; including other religious traditions in their religious education.

Our voice will be heard.

Curriculum review will be held to approve religious content and integration throughout the school day, to respond to Episcopal concerns within the existing framework.

Everybody is in it for the kids

Among both the Sisters and the Discernment Commission, our goal is very simple: to improve the life and faith formation of families attached to the students and in the community.  Note: The Lake Ave. community is home to a majority of the refugees resettled into Rochester in the last decade.

What has been the path of Diocesan Council’s Discernment on Nazareth?

Over the past two years, Diocesan Council has heard from the Discernment Committee several times as they reported on the progress made in their monthly meetings with the leadership of the Sisters of St Joseph and Nazareth Elementary School.   Diocesan Staff have met with their counterparts at the school and provided their feedback to Council.  In addition, Sr. Margaret Mancuso, the Principal of Nazareth Elementary has met with Council on two occasions. Council members have toured the school and some members have actively volunteered during the school day.  Representatives from the Discernment Committee have reported at Rochester/Monroe District meetings and surveyed parishes in those districts to gauge their interest and commit to the partnership.  Many congregations responded positively and several parishes already actively engaged with the school.

Shouldn’t we be focusing on supporting Public Education?

Diocesan Council continues to put forth significant effort to support missions across the Diocese.  These include many educational missions focused on public schools, as well as community education, and youth outreach programs.  These missions are amazing and worthwhile programs that the Diocese is proud to support.  It is not the intent of Council to put our missions in competition with one another but rather, to help foster healthy mission and ministry across the Diocese in many different forms.  This will continue to include support for missions in our public schools.  

While there is a cost to attend Nazareth Elementary, the school does provide extensive scholarship funding for needy students wherever possible.  The school is not intended to be elite nor exclusionary.  All are welcome to attend. Members of our Episcopal parishes are welcome to visit and volunteer to experience it for themselves.

Why are we Partnering with Catholic Diocese?

The Diocese has long partnered with the Catholic Diocese of Rochester to support missions in the past.  One example is Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing, a joint mission that currently operates out of the upper level of our Diocesan House.

The discernment with the Sisters of St Joseph regarding Nazareth has resulted in a positive energy around inclusivity.  As stated in the white paper, the Sisters welcome all children and all Episcopal priests in celebrating Eucharistic prayer and they are open to exploring a multi-faith format and the school.  Inclusivity was a core concern during the discernment process.

Who’s Leading this Effort?

After the Bishop launched the initial exploration of starting an Episcopal school in Rochester, and a market study of the design was deemed too expensive to pursue, Diocesan Council commissioned the Discernment Committee to explore the possibility of a collaboration at Nazareth.  The Discernment Committee completed their study this spring and reported back to Council for the final time.  After two years of reports, visits and conversation, Council voted to support the Nazareth initiative last spring.  It’s now back in the hands of the Bishop for more formal action.

What monetary support has been committed by the Diocese?

The Diocese funded scholarships in 2013 and 2014 and an award is pending for 2015.  No other additional funds have been requested or designated in the budget at this time.  

In 2013, Council voted to move $10,000 toward scholarships for very needy students at Nazareth.  In 2014, Council voted to provide up to $20,000 for scholarships to support any student referred by our Episcopal Parishes.  Note that students do not have to be Episcopal children to receive FY 14 scholarships.  A mission grant application has also been submitted for 2015 as part of the Diocesan Wide annual mission grant application process.  A $10,000 mission grant has been awarded to Nazareth for the proposed 2015 budget for Convention.  This mission grant is one of many such grants awarded across the Diocese and proposed in the FY15 budget.  

What were some of the justifications for Council’s decision to support Nazareth Elementary?

The Discernment Committee and the Bishop asked Council to support this mission for several key reasons.   

  • It will enable more children to receive an excellent academic education in a faith-based environment that embodies the inclusive love of Christ in the City of Rochester. Nazareth Elementary is inclusive of all children regardless of religious affiliation and they provide as much scholarship as possible to needy children who could not otherwise attend.
  • The Bishop has articulated that he sees partnerships with “others” as crucial for the future of the Diocese. This mission has the ability to become a meaningful and substantial partnership. 
  • Religious organizations have historically been leaders in providing educational services to the disadvantaged in society.  We are continuing in that tradition and our focus is to make Nazareth affordable to those who need and want it. 
  • Working with the Sisters of St Joseph shows promise for strong collaboration. The school is welcoming to all Episcopal priests, including gay/lesbian clergy and females.  They’re also open to exploring a multi-faith school format.
  • If the Bishop and Diocese should pursue a more formalized agreement with Nazareth in the future, it may serve to help strengthen fundraising for other Diocesan missions by serving as a catalyst for development efforts by the Diocese.   

Diocesan Council continues to work in support of congregations and missions across the Diocese.  Through these missions, we can share God’s love and spread the word with others.  We understand that it sometimes difficult to imagine overcoming barriers with those who we might once have considered to be too different or rigid to work with in the past.  But, after the lengthy discernment, Council has determined that supporting Nazareth and working with the Sisters of St Joseph offers to put us at the forefront of something that is truly unique with partners who are open to compromise for the benefit of children.

If you have questions or concerns regarding this action please feel free to reach out to your Council representative or if you have specific questions regarding Nazareth, please feel free to reach out to the Rev. Mary Ann Brody, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Rochester.

Sincerely,

Gwen Van Laeken
Vice Chair, Diocesan Council