In a letter to Holy Rosary Academy earlier this month, the Archdiocese said that unless Holy Rosary Academy agrees to nine new points of business and legal procedures, it will be decertified as a Catholic school.
A town hall meeting on Thursday will be followed by a second town hall meeting Friday, Oct. 22 at 5 pm to answer parents’ questions and discuss the implications of the situation for the school.
Holy Rosary Academy, a K-12 school in Anchorage, was founded in 1987. It is an independent catholic school that operates as a “lay apostolate.” On Monday, the archbishop plans to remove its Catholic designation.
According to the Holy Rosary Academy Board of Trustees and headmaster Dr. Mark Newcomb, in April of 2021, Father Patrick Travers, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, sent a letter to the Holy Rosary Academy Board, signed by Archbishop Andrew Bellisario. The letter specified that the school would have to agree in writing to nine new points of “business and legal procedures” in order to maintain the recognition the academy has previously enjoyed.
“The letter also stated that our compliance with these points would be proof of our being sufficiently Catholic to be so designated within our archdiocese. None of these matters involved visiting the campus or meeting with any faculty, staff, alumni, benefactors, students, or families to assess how deep our Catholic identity runs at HRA,” the board wrote to parents.
“However, one of the required stipulations would have granted complete control over the curriculum of Holy Rosary Academy to the Archdiocese. Other points would necessitate strict conformity with all health and safety protocols promulgated by the Archdiocese, require approval of presentations and speakers on our campus, and involve creation of a hold-harmless indemnification between HRA and the Archdiocese,” the board explained.
The school acknowledged that the Archbishop is the undisputed head of the Church in the archdiocese, and has the authority to determine which institutions are officially considered Catholic.
“Since, in the past, HRA has been considered not only Catholic, but exemplary in the education and formation that we offer our students, we are mystified that the current Archbishop and Father Travers appear totally unwilling to recognize HRA’s existence as an independent and Catholic school. We do not understand why they would suddenly require complete compliance in academic, legal, and business matters that would necessitate altering the identity, mission, curriculum, and charter of the school. Holy Rosary Academy is doing everything it always has while not asking anything more than it ever did in the way of recognition. This sudden change on the part of the Archdiocese is therefore as disappointing as it is puzzling,” the group wrote.
The board says it requested a meeting with Bellisario in August to discuss how Holy Rosary Academy could maintain its status as an independent and Catholic school while also demonstrating its Catholic orthodoxy to the Chancery.
“We sought to collaborate with the Archbishop in honoring the spirit of the requirements sent to us under his signature. Alarmingly, one of the assertions of the Archbishop in that conversation was that all but day-to-day operations at Holy Rosary Academy would be under archdiocesan control–including personnel, curriculum, and business matters. Nevertheless, out of a desire to demonstrate obedience in all areas of legitimate archdiocesan authority and out of courtesy to the office, we made another attempt to stand with the Archbishop on our historic common ground. Following the meeting, we indicated in writing our concessions to many of the Chancery’s specifications and highlighted areas for further cooperation in an additional effort to bring mutual harmony,” the board wrote.
It was to no avail. In a letter of Oct. 4, 2021, the Archdiocese said the school must acquiesce in full or will no longer be officially designated a “Catholic school.”
This would mean, for example, that the school would be prohibited from having the sacraments celebrated on campus for any non-emergency circumstance, along with the removal of the reserved Real Presence of Jesus from the tabernacle in the chapel. Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle is, as a practical matter, consecrated host that is seen as bread and wine, and the Catholic understanding is that it contains body and soul of Jesus the Christ. When the students go into the chapel every day, they are in the presence of Christ in a real way. This would be removed by the Archdiocese.
“This is a bewildering and disheartening situation for all of us. As you are well aware, the Catholic identity of Holy Rosary Academy has been assessed and endorsed by the Cardinal Newman Society since 2004; by our accrediting body, the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools, for over 15 years; and the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. After long and prayerful consideration, the Board of Trustees is now seeking further understanding and clarification from the Archbishop,” the board wrote.
If the school is no longer recognized by the Catholic Church, the accreditation, curriculum, or the regular academic operations of the school will, however, be unchanged.
“Our mission, identity, and commitment to serving Catholic families and forming Catholic students will remain unchanged. We did not seek this conflict and are unsure why the current Archbishop would contemplate not extending the same privileges HRA has enjoyed under three previous Ordinaries while permitting us to continue to have control over our own hiring, curricular, legal, and business affairs,” the school wrote.
“Rest assured that the Board and leadership team of the school will work to preserve HRA’s distinct mission and identity every way that we can, including appeals under Canon Law, if necessary. We will have more information to share with the community as the situation unfolds, but wanted to ensure that all of you knew the essentials of this most unfortunate turn of events. We invite you to join us for regular Friday rosary devotions where we will be asking Our Lady to preserve the sacramental presence of Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the campus of Holy Rosary Academy and to give us the continued grace of having Mass celebrated here,” the school wrote.
The timeline of the impending separation, according to the school:
1. March 24, 2021, meeting with Father Patrick Travers, Vicar General of the Archdiocese, who demands to have control of HRA’s self-governance, pursuant to his understanding of canon law. Board Members’ concerns over self- governance were dismissed by Father Travers, on his assertion that Board Members are not canonists like himself.
2. April 20, 2021, Archbishop Bellisario sends a letter to HRA, demanding control over HRA’s self-governance and accusing HRA of incomplete Safe Environment audit demands.
3. April – June 2021, HRA consults with canonists, all of whom affirm that a local ordinary’s jurisdiction does not extend to health, hygiene, staffing, and curriculum in a lay-run, self-governing association.
4. June 30, 2021: HRA sends Archbishop Bellisario a letter, with opinions from canonists and requesting a meeting with his Excellency.
5. After several actions by the HRA Board and staff that moved us towards the Archbishop’s position, on July 1st, we were granted the temporary right to continue the public use of the term ‘Catholic’ in our presentations with the proviso that we agree to the remainder of the terms.
6. July 16, 2021: Archbishop Bellisario demands compliance with Safe Environment directives before “scheduling a meeting concerning” self- governance issues; HRA readily does so.
7. August 6, 2021, HRA schedules a meeting with the Archbishop for August 16, 2021. HRA tells Kim Bakic, Executive Assistant to the Archbishop, that it will have a canonist present.
8. August 15, 2021, HRA’s canonist flies to Anchorage.
9. August 16, 2021, Father Travers emails HRA six hours before the meeting, refusing to allow our canonist to be present, but making it clear that he, Father Travers, will be present. HRA responds, stating that 1) the canonist is here; 2) the request for a canonist was timely (10 days prior); 3) Father Travers is a canonist; 4) all the issues of Archbishop Bellisario’s authority stem from Father Travers’ interpretation of canon law. Father Travers emails three hours before the meeting, stating now that he will not be present at it. HRA Board meets with Archbishop Bellisario for 90 minutes, and our canonist is forced to wait outside. Archbishop Bellisario makes it clear that he believes he can and should control health, hygiene, curriculum, and hiring at Holy Rosary Academy.
10. September 20, 2021, HRA sends letter to Archbishop Bellisario, thanking him for meeting and offering him a memorandum of understanding that clearly defines, per canon law, the scope of Archbishop Bellisario’s authority, and HRA’s willingness—historically and in the future—to cooperate within the scope of the applicable canons.
11. October 4, 2021, Archbishop Bellisario sends a letter, demanding compliance with his April 20, 2021 letter or he will revoke the name “Catholic,” remove the Holy Eucharist, and forbid the celebration of the Sacraments on campus for any non-emergency circumstance if we had not returned the signed letter by Oct. 25th.
National Association of Private Catholic Independent Schools is the accrediting body for Holy Rosary Academy.