A controversy erupted this summer over religious statues being removed from the Catholic San Domenico School in San Anselmo, Calif. The decision to mothball some statues of saints (far fewer than originally believed) sparked a debate over whether Catholic identity should or must be sacrificed for the sake of inclusivity.
Shannon Fitzpatrick, a mother whose child attends San Domenico, wrote to school administration and community leaders that the removal of the statues for the sake of "an inclusive foundation" felt like the school was "letting go" and "being both afraid and ashamed" of its Catholic identity.
However, Head of School Cecily Stock completely rejected the idea that the school took such action to dilute the Catholic presence on campus. She explained to the Marin Independent Journal, which broke the story, that the removal of some statues was part of a strategy to make the school more inclusive. She added that certain Catholic traditions at the school were being discontinued on grounds that there was a lack of student interest, as 80 percent of the students in the school are not Catholic.
"If you walk on the campus and the first thing you confront is three or four statues of St. Dominic or St. Francis, it could be alienating for that other religion, and we didn't want to further that feeling," Board of Trustees head Amy Skewes-Cox was quoted as saying.
Catholicism is a faith with a very long history, spanning back thousands of years. Catholic education has been a staple in the Church since before the Counter-Reformation in the 1500s. Part of that tradition is the artwork of the saints, a heritage to remind Catholics of venerable examples of holy lives. Despite what good intentions the school administrators had, removing the statues was an act that implied embarrassment and guilt over their school's heritage and culture. It was if the school was apologizing for appearing too Catholic.
There is a difference between creating a space that is welcoming to others and diminishing one's own sense of identity. Taking part of that heritage away is a step toward demanding that the institution itself change in order to accommodate others. It's like someone choosing to visit France on vacation and then complaining the whole time about how intolerably French the place is.
Schools are supposed to be diverse and welcoming places. But a Catholic school can become that without being afraid or ashamed of its underlying religious charism or its cultural origin. Administrators would do well to offer opportunities for people of different religions to express their faiths fully and learn to coexist in true diversity. But hiding your own school's Catholicism in under a bushel basket in the name of making people feel more included doesn't accomplish that anyway.
Gabriella Munoz is a commentary desk intern with the Washington Examiner and a student at Georgetown University.
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