March 18, 2016

Pastor will receive national education honor

By John Shaughnessy

Father John McCaslinWhen Father John McCaslin receives a national award in San Diego on March 29, it would seem reasonable that the honor would be the highlight of the month for him, if not the year.

Yet, an even more special moment will happen just three days earlier for the pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis.

On that day—Holy Saturday—Father McCaslin will baptize more than 20 children who attend St. Anthony School.

“It’s exciting to bring so many children into the Church this Easter,” he says.

Actually, there’s a definite connection between the baptism of those children and the award that the priest will receive from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)—the “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award.” The award honors “the outstanding work of Catholic school educators in communities across the country.”

Father McCaslin is being honored for his extensive role in the reopening of St. Anthony Catholic School as a Mother Theodore Catholic Academy (MTCA), after serving the previous five years as a public charter school.

Because of the transition, the Catholic faith once again became the foundation of the school. And because of that fundamental difference, Father McCaslin has been able to openly talk with school parents about the Catholic faith, including asking the question, “Have your children been baptized?”

“The beautiful thing about the transition is the ability to make faith a part of the school day—to pray, to celebrate Mass together as a school, for me to be in the classroom, and for our teachers to be witnesses of our faith,” he says. “In a Catholic school, when Catholicism is ever-present in every part of the day it’s wonderful.”

So is the fact that the transition to becoming a Catholic school has occurred during the 125th anniversary of the founding of the parish, Father McCaslin says.

“What a wonderful way to celebrate our 125th anniversary—by reclaiming our school once again,” he says. “There’s been great support from the parish community.”

That support is a reflection of Father McCaslin’s “enthusiasm and passion for quality Catholic education,” says Gina Fleming, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic schools who spearheaded the pastor’s nomination for the national education award.

Father McCaslin’s leadership and passion for Catholic education created a surprising reaction when the parish held an information event last spring about the upcoming transition to becoming a Catholic school, Fleming notes.

“Father John spent weeks prior to the event inviting parishioners to participate, and shared his own excitement about the transition,” the superintendent says. “He and principal Cindy Greer were hopeful that 10 or 12 families might come. By the time the program began, more than 40 families came, and they texted family and friends, resulting in a dozen more participants.”

The efforts led to more than 220 students attending St. Anthony School this year, representing a population that is 93 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Caucasian and 2 percent African-American.

Ninety-nine percent of the students at St. Anthony also qualify for free/reduced lunches—a sign of the economic challenges faced by many school families.

Father McCaslin’s efforts to help the students and their families is “visionary,” says school principal Cindy Greer.

“It is a challenge to serve those in poverty, but Father John is able to always see the positives,” Greer notes. “His ‘out of the box’ thinking, positive mindset and focus on supporting families toward a better understanding of the Catholic faith make him worthy of this award.”

School parents also see the difference Father McCaslin has made.

“He is an excellent person,” says Yadira Villatoro, a mother of two children at the school. “He is very friendly. But the most important thing about Father John is that he is very open to new ideas, he embraced our culture and, even better, he speaks our own language. He is always there when me and my family need him. And he is always helping the community.”

As for the national honor, Father McCaslin believes it represents a “community” approach to Catholic education in the archdiocese far more than his individual efforts.

“Honestly, I was surprised by it,” he says. “I may be getting the recognition, but I represent so many people who made it possible—Cindy Greer, Archbishop [Joseph W.] Tobin, the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies.

“It’s really a demonstration of a community working together to help Catholic education grow and thrive.” †

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