Why choose a Catholic education for your children? That was the primary question answered by Deborah Farquhar Jones, president of Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron; Todd Sweda, president of Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron; Karl Ertle, president of Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls; and Tom Carone, president of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron when they addressed the First Friday Club of Greater Akron on Sept. 7.
Although the schools seek students from the same region, they collaborate and seek advice from each other when facing common challenges like enrollment, affordability and the affects today’s fast-paced world has on their students. Their remarks also reflected how each of them sees their position as more than just a job or a career. They displayed a true compassion for their students and a loyalty for their schools.
Jones discussed the importance of Our Lady of the Elms being a school founded by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. It is the only all-girls school in the area for grades K-12. Jones said she often hears – from both current and former students — that they feel like they are at home. They feel that the school is “like a family with a study table,” she said.
The Elms mission is to teach the girls to be kind, be confident and be resilient, Jones added. She said they often refer to a quote from St. Catherine of Sienna who said, “Be who God meant for you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Sweda discussed how the core values of the Holy Cross Brothers — integrity, discipline, family, inclusiveness and options for the poor — are instilled in the Archbishop Hoban students. He also spoke about how it is the job of the school to prepare students for higher education and their future.
Sixty-five percent of the students in school now will work in jobs that currently do not exist, he said, so it is a challenge for schools to prepare them. They teach effective communication skills, problem-solving techniques, critical thinking and how to work collaboratively in teams. And most importantly, Sweda said, by giving the students a moral compass to make decisions. He said at Hoban, they often look to a quote from their founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, who said, “The mind will not be cultivated at the price of the heart.”
Ertle noted Walsh Jesuit High School’s motto of “Finding God in all things,” and spoke of the strong Jesuit roots and teachings Walsh Jesuit practices. He discussed the Jesuit history and that although they were not originally founded to operate schools, the Jesuits responded to numerous requests for places of learning and found that educating young men enabled them to make a more generous response in the service of God and fellow man. As a result, the Jesuits came to value education as an effective way to advance the kingdom of God and became the first religious order in the Catholic Church to engage in education as a major ministry.
Walsh Jesuit High School was named after the Walsh Family who lived in Cuyahoga Falls their entire lives and had a strong Catholic faith. That faith and their patience came to fruition 16 years after they proposed founding the school. Walsh Jesuit opened in 1965 with an incoming class of 153. Today it has nearly 1,100 students.
Carone began with an apology to those still struggling with the merger of St. Vincent and St. Mary high schools. He noted that he still hears from graduates of St. Mary’s and their nostalgic look back as some continue to struggle with the change. After decades of being two separate high schools, they merged in 1972. The first class from the newly formed St. Vincent-St. Mary High School graduated in 1973.
While the number of students remains at nearly 700, one thing has changed. As of last year, SVSM is officially a Marianist school, something that had been a goal of Carone since he returned as an administrator in 2009. He said this was important to him because of the Marianists’ commitment to forming others in faith, primarily through education. He said that SVSM, with its rich diversity, embodies the Marianist community by treating people the same and making sure there is a place for everyone at the table.
“I’m not just the school’s president, I am a friend for life,” Carone said. And he makes good on that mantra by sharing his cell phone number with all graduating seniors.
As they offered concluding remarks, all the school presidents said they agree on two fundamental issues. They all offer a great education both academically and more importantly, spiritually, but the key is for students to find the one that is the best fit for them.