The opportunities are just beginning at St. Bernard
Disclaimer to begin: Many of the concerns stemming from the Diocese of Norwich’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case were about the future of St. Bernard and whether the school would survive.
Understandable, sure. Also uncouth. St. Bernard’s future was a postscript amid the uglier — and larger — truth: the hundreds of sexual abuse victims who suffered unspeakable crimes over many years of willful neglect.
That acknowledged, there was a justifiable exhale last week from all loyalists of St. Bernard, upon learning that the Mohegan Tribe submitted a winning bid for the 113-acre property. The tribe will lease the property to St. Bernard for up to 20 years, abating concerns about the school’s long term existence.
Lest those exhales become too pronounced (or the dramatis personae take too many bows), school supporters must realize the work is just beginning. St. Bernard has a significant opportunity at a renaissance, redefining its landscape, including athletic facilities, academic opportunities, technology, scholarship availability and fiscal strategies.
A few thoughts:
This is a wonderful time for the school to hire an experienced money person/fundraiser for the purpose of creating an endowment earmarked for campus improvements — and more importantly for added scholarship opportunities to increase St. Bernard’s viability to more families.
This does not say that St. Bernard’s existing ways are too exclusive or restrictive. This is a modest proposal suggesting that St. Bernard is an educational opportunity that has never been more significant and ought to be opened to as many families as possible without crushing the school’s coiffeurs.
Why is St. Bernard more significant than ever? Simple: In public education, teachers are growing more handcuffed, unable to discipline students properly, thus creating endless frustration for them and more chaotic classroom environments. Many administrators, in fear of litigation (or perhaps caring more about keeping their metaphorical plates clear), do not support their teachers, but instead cave to self-indulgent parents. It happens all the time.
I’m not trying to make St. Bernard sound like Shangri-La. Disciplinary issues certainly exist. But it is the rare local educational outpost where administrators can tell a sniveling parent, “I hope the doorknob doesn’t leave a lasting impression on you and your kid.” That can’t happen in public education, desperately needed though it may be. Put it this way: At St. Bernard, the inmates have less chance at running the asylum.
I’ve always said that if a family of martians, in need of a high school for their teenage martians, came down and toured the campuses of St. Bernard and New London High, the martians would choose New London 10 out of 10 times. New London’s new multi-magnet campus has every bell, whistle and educational opportunity out there and aesthetically dwarfs St. Bernard. (And so does diocesan brother Xavier.)
The aforementioned endowment/capital campaign would allow St. Bernard more bells and whistles, more technology and academic programs and more competitive salaries. It would also allow for a new track, turf and lights at Delaporta Field, once the region’s jewel, but now has become like Lola in “Copacabana.”
Remember Lola? “A showgirl … with feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there … who would meringue and do the cha cha … but that was 30 years ago when they used to have a show.” St. Bernard’s athletic facilities, in spite of the new gym, rank among the worst in the ECC. In the days of Dave Pesapane and Rich Pagliuca, they were among the best in the region.
Finally: I get the feeling that many of us, Catholic or not, are afraid to openly address the behaviors that allowed the atrocities that existed in the diocese for many years. I suspect it’s out of reverence for clergy with which many of us were raised.
I’m past that. Anyone who wraps themselves in religious garb to excuse themselves from the rules and mores the rest of us mortals have to obey is practicing the worst form of betrayal.
Hence, the diocese’s relationship with St. Bernard going forward should be for nothing more than spiritual guidance. Other than that, it should have no influence whatsoever.
There is a real chance here, folks. A real chance to make St. Bernard something bigger and better than ever. Now is the time for newer, bolder ideas. Anybody else got any?
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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