ALBANY, N.Y. - Sr. Mary Rose McGeady, who took over Covenant House for homeless youth after its founder was accused of financial and sexual improprieties, died of respiratory failure in Albany Sept. 13. She was 84.

Arrangements for her funeral Mass in Albany and a memorial service in New York City were incomplete.

A member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sr. McGeady served as president of Covenant House from 1990 until her retirement in 2003, doubling the number of homeless young people served by the international network annually.

Covenant House was at its lowest point when she took over because of accusations against its founder, Franciscan Father Bruce Ritter, who later left the Franciscan order and died in 1999.

"Fr. Ritter had done a wonderful job of creating Covenant House, and then he was disgraced," she said in a 2004 interview with The Evangelist, Albany diocesan newspaper. "But the place was still there. (The work) he had started still needed to be done. I looked upon myself as a healer. I said, 'God, if you want this place to go on, you do it.' ”

Then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said when she was appointed, "We confidently predict that not many years from now, we will all look back at the moment of Covenant House's greatest pain and see that it was also a moment of birth of a new, stronger, even more effective instrument of goodness. I believe this will happen because of their superb new leader, Sr. Mary Rose McGeady."

Kevin Ryan, the current head of Covenant House, who was among those present at her bedside when she died, called Sr. McGeady "the Mother Teresa of street children" and "a holy tornado of determination and compassion."

"She had a huge soft spot for kids, but she was no one's fool," Ryan said. "Come hell or high water, she was determined to clean up Covenant House. From ashes, really, she pulled Covenant House forward and saved hundreds of thousands of kids."

During her tenure, Covenant House expanded its reach dramatically, with new crisis shelters, street outreach and long-term residential programs for homeless youth in Canada — it operates in Toronto and Vancouver — the United States and Nicaragua. Covenant House now reaches more than 57,000 children and youth in six countries each year.

Born June 28, 1928, in Hazelton, Pa., Sr. McGeady worked with children for more than 40 years before joining Covenant House.

Among the posts she held were executive director of the Nazareth Child Care Centre for Homeless Children in Boston, executive director of the Astor Home for Children in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and associate director of Catholic Charities for the diocese of Brooklyn.

She said in the 2004 interview that transitions were never easy for her.

"I would get word that I was transferred, and I cried my eyes out," she said. "I thought this was terrible. And yet, every time I was transferred, I would move into a new position where I learned more about what I was supposed to do and be."

Sr. McGeady said one of the "great blessings God has given me on this Earth" was watching children "survive, prosper and grow."

"There is no greater joy than to see a kid come in homeless, cold, hungry, dirty and then that same kid a few weeks later — cleaned up, smiling and hopeful," she said. "I believe that is what Covenant House is all about ... one child and one miracle at a time."

Ryan said Sr. McGeady "lived and died every day with the successes and failures of our kids ... and she saw God in the tired faces of the kids who walked through the open doors of Covenant House."

She is survived by her sister Catherine Pendleton and eight nephews.

Published in International

TORONTO - Not willing to admit defeat just yet, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA) will continue to push for changes to the Putting Students First Act.

"It is our intention to put forward some ideas and possibly have some input," said OCSTA president Marino Gazzola.

Under the legislation passed Sept. 11, Ontario's Catholic school boards are bound by the agreement the province reached with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) on July 4. That deal means a more restrictive set of rules in hiring rights and management oversight of diagnostic testing, which public boards don't face due to a deal Dalton McGuinty's Liberals had to strike with the Conservatives in order for the legislation to pass.

According to the Ministry of Education, Ontario boards will soon have more information regarding the Policy/Program Memorandum development process and further information about the hiring practice regulation.

"The ministry will begin the consultation process soon for the development of a Policy/Program Memorandum on effective use of diagnostic assessments," said Gary Wheeler, a ministry spokesperson. "In the coming days, the ministry will provide additional information to school boards on the fair and transparent hiring regulation announced in August.

"The regulation is based on the memorandum of understanding signed with OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association)."

"We'll have to see what those specifically say before we can say where we are going with this," said Gazzola.   

OCSTA is still very concerned about the two provisions within that deal that will reallocate managerial rights. The association will "put forward some amendments that we had that would help protect the voice of parents and the quality of education in Ontario,"  said Gazzola. "We thought it would be very important to the legislation (but) obviously those amendments didn't pass so we're very disappointed."

While OCSTA knows what it wants, how it plans to achieve it is still undetermined.

"Right now we are almost in a holding pattern," said Gazzola. "We'll have to sit down and then see what our next steps are going to be."

What does have to be taken care of is the local collective bargaining process for each board, at least what is left of it.

"We remain opposed to the legislation, a legislation that puts Catholic and public boards on inequitable footings and weakens the collective bargaining process for all employees," said Mario Pascucci, chair of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. "We will, however, abide by the law and will move forward, seeking to bargain on the remaining local issues."

Although Gazzola encourages the conversation continue between trustees and teachers, he did caution against moving too swiftly.

"Boards are going to have to sit down and look at what they can still work with and talk about," said Gazzola. "I don't think anyone should take any rash actions or quick decisions. They're going to have to sit down and analyse everything and see where they have to go."

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

While many of their Anglophone counterparts struggle with declining enrollment, the French Catholic District School Board of south-central Ontario opened three new schools this year to accommodate an increasing student population.

“The school board has an increase of students every single year and this year is not different,” said Réjean Sirois, director of education for the French Catholic school board which services south-central Ontario. “We’ll be over 14,500 students this year. It is an increase of four per cent.”

Since 2006 the student population has increased by about 2,500, placing a heightened demand on the board’s infrastructure.

On Sept. 4 the doors opened to the French board’s new elementary schools, École du Sacré-Coeur in Toronto and École Eléméntaire Catholique Notre-Dame-de-la-Huronie in Collingwood, Ont. Meanwhile in downtown Toronto students of École Secondaire Catholique Saint-Frère-André, who were formerly educated at West Toronto Collegiate Institute, explored their new home-away-from-home.

Formed in 1998 the board is responsible for a geographic area stretching from the Niagara Peninsula to Georgian Bay. Currently the board, one of eight French first-language Catholic boards in the province, operates 51 schools across the more than 40,000 square kilometres it services.

“There is a demand for a French first-language Catholic education and it has been like that for the past eight or nine years,” said Sirois. “There are several factors for the increase in our student population but mainly (it’s because) we’re putting schools where we didn’t have schools before. In certain regions where we didn’t have schools we’re now offering the service.”

This year’s additions do not represent the end of expansion for the board either. There are three more facilities in the works.

“As we speak we are building two new schools and pretty soon we’ll start building another school for Oakville,” said Sirois.

While Sirois admits there are several factors which have led to this continuous growth, there is one component which stands out — parental awareness.

“People are more aware now that there is a French Catholic school board where the instruction is done in a French first language,” he said. “With all the publicity and the effort from our communication department we have been able to reach more parents.”

Although the curriculum follows the same provincial standards as the English boards, all of the material, social interaction and extra-curricular activities are French-spoken only, said Sirois, detailing the difference between his board and the public system’s French immersion programs.

“We recognize the excellent work of our parents who support their children in French education,” said Sirois. “We’re lucky to have devoted staff dedicated to the difference of French Catholic education and it’s a good place to be, let me tell you, it’s a good place to be right now.”

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

Canadians and Britons are more open to physician-assisted suicide than Americans, a recent poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion has found.

Eighty per cent of Canadians and 77 per cent of the English said that doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill, fully informed and competent patients to kill themselves. But only 56 per cent of Americans agreed.

The poll found 10 per cent of Canadians and nine per cent of Britons firmly opposed to physician-assisted suicide no matter who asks for it. Nearly one third — 29 per cent — of Americans said it should never be allowed. On the flip side, three-quarters of Canadians and Britons said physician-assisted suicide should always be allowed under specific circumstances, whereas only half of Americans thought so.

The problem with polls is that few respondents understand what’s meant by physician-assisted suicide, said Rita Marker, Patient Rights Council executive director.

“Those who are answering this poll could be viewing it as removing life support,” she said in an interview from Steubenville, Ohio. The Patient Rights Council is independent, but closely aligned with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Murky notions of palliative care and its availability fuel a fear-based response to polls on physician-assisted suicide in Canada, said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

“Most Canadians support euthanasia or assisted suicide because they fear dying in pain or experiencing uncontrolled symptoms,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Fear is a normal human response and it should be respected.”

The poll reveals nothing new about British attitudes to physician-assisted suicide, said Charles Wookey, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“So far as the UK is concerned, in terms of opinion surveys this doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “What we’re seeing here to a degree is an instinctive, compassionate response from a society that prizes individual autonomy very highly.”

The Angus-Reid survey found 86 per cent of Canadians, 84 per cent of Britons and 69 per cent of Americans agree with the statement that “Legalizing doctor-assisted suicide would give people who are suffering an opportunity to ease their pain.”

People who believe laws against assisted suicide protect the vulnerable from social, economic and medical pressure to commit suicide face a major education challenge, said Wookey.

“It means there’s a very, very clear job for the Church to do, particularly in secular society,” he said.

But the Church can’t do it without allies, according to Wookey.

“What’s essential in this debate in this country is for it to be conducted in secular terms,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate fact that the religious argument or arguments based on the appeal to faith tend clearly not to persuade people who do not share the faith. They invite the response, ‘Don’t impose your faith-based views on the rest of us.’ ”

British bishops have teamed up with disability rights organizations and palliative care professionals to form an alliance called Care Not Killing — a purely secular platform to engage the public policy debate.

“When people are taken through the arguments and begin to understand first of all the quality of palliative care and what palliative care can provide, and secondly what the public policy consequences are for the most vulnerable members of society of a change in the law — what it might actually lead to — then very many people do actually change their minds,” said Wookey.

Getting people educated about the issue is essential because without a full debate economic issues will enter the equation, said Marker.

“We have to recognize the fact that all health programs are trying to save money,” she said. “By trying to save money the question is, will those health programs — if you say assisted suicide is a medical treatment — will they then do the right thing or the cheap thing?”

In Canada, availability and understanding of palliative care is key, said Schadenberg. He points to a 2010 Environics poll  that found 71 per cent of Canadians want governments to prioritize palliative care over euthanasia and assisted suicide. The 2011 Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care report Not To Be Forgotten is a start, he said.

“The real answer is to care for the needs of Canadians who are living with terminal conditions, chronic pain or disabilities,” said Schadenberg.

Angus-Reid’s online survey polled 1,003 Americans, 2,019 Britons and 1,003 Canadians between July 4 and 5. The margin of statistical error is plus or minus 2.2 per cent for Great Britain and plus or minus 3.1 per cent for Canada and the United States.

Published in Canada
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