Diocesan Office for Parish Life offering Faith Alive! Platform to parishes

HAWLEY – For the last decade, Mary Kennedy has been heavily involved in coordinating the faith formation program at Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Peace parish in Hawley. Due to COVID-19, planning this year’s religious education classes has been unlike anything she has ever experienced.

“It was definitely a daunting task,” Kennedy said. With approximately 150 kids in her parish program, Kennedy is just beginning the registration process at this time and hopes to begin classes in October. While the process is beginning a little later than normal, the big question she has faced all along has been – how do you do it safely? “We are looking to do a hybrid model,” she explained, saying elementary students will most likely participate in synchronous lessons virtually while middle school students will hopefully be able to attend faith formation classes safely in person.

“I love the idea of bringing faith formation into the home, especially in those formation years of elementary school. It is so important,” she added. To assist religious education directors across the Diocese of Scranton, the Diocesan Office for Parish Life is partnering with Faith Alive! powered by Edmodo, a web-based learning management system, and encouraging parishes to consider using it in any way they choose.

“Parishes have so many different variables in them: their location, the number of students, the room they have to hold classes and their ability to sanitize and disinfect after classes have ended, so we knew we had to have options for them to explore,” Jacki Douglas, Diocesan Director of Word and Lifelong Faith Formation, said. Since March, Douglas has been exploring different platforms for religious education and meeting with various publishers. While recognizing that some parishes might be looking to return to in-person faith formation classes while following all guidelines from the Diocese, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health, she knows many others would need a virtual option. Since many parishes across the Diocese use a wide variety of materials, Douglas felt the Faith Alive! platform would provide the most flexibility for parishes looking to institute any type of virtual learning.

“Our goal was to find a platform that is user-friendly and interactive for children and their families, a landing page for all of their religious education needs. Parishes are able to use Faith Alive! for religious education, RCIA, adult formation, and a wide variety of other options. That means the pastors, DREs, catechists and RCIA coordinators can all utilize this platform,” Douglas explained. While no parish will be required to utilize the Faith Alive! resource, all parishes have been invited to consider it and learn about the many possible uses it could bring.

“They can do live sessions, they can record a session and send it out, they can do anything that works in their parish. They can do a hybrid program, bringing students in one week and working remotely the next week,” Douglas explained. Besides its flexibility, Douglas says the Faith Alive! platform also allows for increased collaboration between parishes in the Diocese. “Faith Alive! can really open up a lot of opportunities and faith sharing at a time when we need it more than ever. Everything that is on the diocesan platform learning site enables the directors of religious education access to what they need for weekly classes. All the information can be shared amongst the parishes,” she added.

“As diocesan administrators we have the ability to load in curriculum or activities for parishes to access including YouTube videos, a prayer service, Mass recordings and at-home family formation activities.” Throughout the course of the pandemic, Douglas has been coordinating weekly meetings of religious education directors across the Diocese to discuss opportunities and strategize for the fall.

“In our weekly meetings with the DREs, it was often said that it gave them great peace to know they were not alone in trying to figure out how to conduct classes remotely,” she added. At Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Peace Parish, Mary Kennedy says her pastor, Rev. Richard Beck, has taken an active role and is in full support of taking part in the Faith Alive! platform. She believes using it will help fulfill their mission of having each student create and then deepen a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “It would have been so hard for each individual parish to try and come up with that on their own. I have some technical experience, but not a great deal, so their support is what is really making this experience happen,” she said


SCRANTON – In just a matter of weeks, students will return to Catholic schools for in-person instruction across the Diocese of Scranton.

As students resume classes five days a week, the experience will be different at both the elementary and high school level with numerous safety and health protocols being put into place.

“We have put together a comprehensive plan that, above all else, prioritizes the best interest, safety and health of all students, faculty, staff and school families,” Jason Morrison, Chief Executive Officer and Diocesan Secretary of Education, said. “We are excited to welcome our students back to the classroom to provide the academically excellent and faith-filled experience that our families have come to expect.”

The last time students were in class was March 13. As cases of COVID-19 began to spike in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all schools closed as a precaution. Catholic schools in the diocese quickly transitioned to distance learning the following school day.

The back-to-school plan is being spearheaded by a Diocesan Health and Safety committee, which is comprised of diocesan and local school  administration and clergy along with medical professionals with expertise in pediatrics, healthcare administration and quality assurance.

Each school has also created its own committee to help implement and guide the reopening process in its respective building.

“Catholic schools are inherently a partnership between the parent and the school. This is never more important than at this time and an even greater

partnership is now needed,” Catholic Schools Superintendent Kristen Donohue said. “Each day will actually begin with parents monitoring their child’s health.

With parental cooperation, we will be able to keep the schools open and safe.”

Some of the key components of the Diocese of Scranton’s reopening plan include the use of cohorts, physical distancing, masks and enhanced cleaning procedures.

Cohorts, or small groups of students in the same grade, have been recommended  by many health organizations as an environmental measure to prevent the spread of disease. Students will remain together for the entire day, including attending lunch, recess and classes as a cohort.

“If we can keep that smaller group of students together, our individual students are not exposed to as many other children on a given day. If someone gets sick we know what students were near that student or teacher or individual,” Dr. April L. Troy, Board Certified Pediatrician and Pediatric Regional Education Coordinator for Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, said. Dr. Troy is a member of the Diocesan Health and Safety Committee and is also a parent with children in the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System.

By order of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, all students, faculty and staff will be required to wear face masks when in school. Masks will be able to be removed for eating and drinking and additional mask breaks will occur at specified times outside, when appropriate physical distancing can occur.

Physical distancing will also be a fundamental practice as students return to school. It will apply not only to the classroom, but also other spaces within the school building, including but not limited to hallways, cafeterias and gyms.

“Every school in the Diocese is already working on moving desks apart and having children face the same way, because we know the risk of transmission is less in those set-ups. Each principal and their administrative support team have been wonderful in coming up with new and innovative ways to use the space inside the schools,” Dr. Katherine Lincoln, Wound Care Specialist and Chair of the Clinical Quality Care Committee at Guthrie Hospital, said. Dr. Lincoln is also a parent and member of the Diocesan Health and Safety Committee.

Even though all schools are expected to reopen for in-person instruction, some families have expressed a desire for a virtual option for instruction. As a result, the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System is also offering a Diocesan Virtual Academy for the 2020-2021 school year. It will provide families the opportunity to begin their instruction completely online or transition into the DVA, if desired, during the year.

The Diocesan Virtual Academy will include both live and recorded instruction that will follow a set schedule similar to an in-person school day. Parents interested in the DVA were asked to express their interest in that option by last week.

Just like in-person instruction, the Diocesan Virtual Academy will be intentional about the inclusion of a Catholic identity across all grade levels and subject matters.

Virtual academy teachers will provide instruction for Virtual Academy students.

“Whether parents have chosen the inperson or virtual option, we will be able to partner with them to ensure their child achieves his or her God-given potential because we know each family and child so well,” Morrison said.

“Our smaller environment and assessment tools allow us to deliver a differentiated approach to each child’s education,” Donohue added. “Our dedicated faculty and administrators know each child personally and will be able to help him or her navigate the challenging nature of this time.”

More information on the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System’s safety plan for resuming in-person instruction as well as the Diocesan Virtual Academy can be found at www.dioceseofscranton.org.

The diocese’s Catholic schools serve students in four high schools and 15 elementary schools.



HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC), on behalf of all the Catholic Bishops in Pennsylvania, today responded to the recent increase in hateful anti-Semitic acts in the commonwealth. These crimes have included the painting of swastikas on synagogues.

“These acts are offensive and hurtful to all of us,” PCC Executive Director Eric Failing said on behalf of the bishops. “Hate is never right, but it is especially heartbreaking when you see innocent people targeted because of their religious beliefs.  We remain resolute in standing beside our Jewish brothers and sisters as we condemn the attacks and the hateful sentiment that fuels them.”

The Anti-Defamation League says incidents against Jewish institutions more than tripled in Pennsylvania last year. The latest one took place at a synagogue in Harrisburg, just a few miles away from PCC headquarters. The swastika is one of the most painful hate symbols for Jews, harkening back to the Nazis and the genocide of World War II.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is based in Harrisburg and is the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops.


The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city. (CNS photo/Kyodo via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — For peace to flourish, weapons of war must be set aside, especially nuclear weapons that can obliterate entire cities and countries, Pope Francis said on the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

“May the prophetic voices” of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “continue to serve as a warning to us and for coming generations,” he said in a written message sent Aug. 6 to Hidehiko Yuzaki, governor of the Hiroshima prefecture, who led a peace memorial ceremony.

The pope’s message and others were published on the Hiroshima For Global Peace website: hiroshimaforpeace.com.

In 1945, during World War II, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima Aug. 6 and on Nagasaki Aug. 9 in an effort to get Japan to surrender. The cities were decimated and, by year’s end, at least 200,000 people had died from the blasts or the aftereffects.

Those who survived, called hibakusha, were honored at the Aug. 6 ceremony, and the pope greeted them as well as the organizers and others taking part in the ceremony.

“I was privileged to be able to come in person to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during my apostolic visit in November last year, which allowed me to reflect at the peace memorial in Hiroshima and at Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki on the destruction of human life and property wrought in these two cities during those terrible days of war three-quarters of a century ago,” the pope wrote.

“I continue to hold in my heart the longing of the peoples of our time, especially of young people, who thirst for peace and make sacrifices for peace. I carry, too, the cry of the poor, who are always among the first victims of violence and conflict,” he said.

“It has never been clearer that, for peace to flourish, all people need to lay down the weapons of war, and especially the most powerful and destructive of weapons: nuclear arms that can cripple and destroy whole cities, whole countries,” the pope said.

Reiterating what he said in Hiroshima in 2019, Pope Francis wrote that the use of atomic energy for war and the possession of nuclear weapons are both “immoral.”

The pope ended his message with “abundant divine blessings” for all those commemorating on this “solemn anniversary.”



Shown, from left: Aaron Humes, general manager, Cargill Protein, Hazleton; Neil Oberto, director, Catholic Social Services of The Diocese of Scranton serving the greater Hazleton area; Kristen Stufft Adams, operations superintendent, Cargill Protein; Ted Smith, maintenance manager, Cargill Protein; Danielle Matarella, office manager, Catholic Social Services/Hazleton.

HAZLETON (August 4, 2020) – Cargill Protein recently awarded a $60,000 grant to Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton to support the Saint Joseph Food Pantry and Divine Providence shelter in Hazleton and provide essential resources to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant money was made available to help CSS’s Hazleton office respond to several urgent needs as requests for assistance continue to grow. The funding came from Cargill’s corporate offices in Minnesota, and the leadership team at the Hazleton facility chose to make the donation to Catholic Social Services, a front-lines social-services responder to hunger and other human needs. In addition to its food pantry and homeless shelter in Hazleton, Catholic Social Services also operates a Family Center, through which it regularly serves meals to those in need.

The Hazleton office of Catholic Social Services has seen a significant increase in requests for food and other assistance during the pandemic and has shifted its service models to respond quickly and accordingly.

During the month of May 2020, the Saint Joseph Food Pantry served 751 families. In June 2020, that number increased to 789 families. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry typically served an average of 400-425 families per month.

The Divine Providence Shelter has also taken numerous safety precautions to ensure the health and safety of all clients. During the months of May and June 2020, a total of 430 nights of shelter were provided to people in need in the Hazleton community.
Cargill is working with nonprofit and NGO partners around the globe to help address food security, health and safety needs and industry challenges due to the spread of COVID-19 and has committed $35 million to COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts.

“We are inspired by the medical professionals, first responders, workers and farmers in our communities who are making sure our essential needs are met,” said Aaron Humes, general manager of Cargill Protein’s Hazleton plant. “Thanks to our partner organizations, such as Catholic Social Services, for ensuring no one goes hungry during these unprecedented times.”

For more information about the programs provided by the Hazleton office of Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, call (570) 455-1521.