Archbishop requiring Catholic schools to end activities on Sundays

After months of nudging Catholics to reclaim Sunday as a day to attend Mass and spend time with family, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond is mandating that Catholic schools clear their calendars that day each week.

Aymond began asking schools last year to tweak practice schedules and reschedule social events so harried families could dedicate their Sundays to worshipping and staying close to home. This year, the request took on new urgency, and by the 2014-15 school year, it will be an official policy of the archdiocese.

“It’s rooted in the fact that people have a number of obligations and commitments. Our society is fast-paced,” Aymond said. “In living such a hectic life, people neglect sometimes, not purposefully, the very basics of faith and family.”

While many Catholics are embracing the idea of slowing things down on Sundays, the policy is not without substantial headaches, especially for large Catholic high schools that have to accommodate dozens of extracurricular activities and share limited facility space.

Aymond, who declared 2013 as a “Year of Family and Faith,” said the change applies to both archdiocesan-run schools and schools operated by independent religious orders. So far, most schools are on board, he said.

Cynthia Thomas, president of St. Mary’s Dominican High School, said the all-girls school has already changed the dates of many of its Sunday events, including its welcome Mass. There are a handful of outside events the school hasn’t been able to reschedule, but Thomas said she expects to be fully compliant by next year.

“The success of our school depends on family life,” she said. “This is another opportunity to strengthen that, and in the long run I see it only benefiting everyone involved.”

Aymond said that his request is particularly focused on events held at schools that aren’t associated with Catholic parishes, which he believes should be rescheduled in order to not pull worshippers away from their home churches. It does not affect activities, like religious education, that take place in local church parishes. He also stressed that the new guidelines weren’t designed to foster inactivity, but rather to encourage more faith-oriented Sundays.

Jesuit High School Principal Peter Kernion said complying with the new rules does present scheduling challenges, especially around social events.

“We certainly agree with the intention of what he’s doing,” Kernion said. “Does it make things difficult? Yeah, of course. We’ve definitely curbed lots of things, and by next year I think we will curb the rest of our Sunday activities.”

Kernion said two events he’ll need to find a new home for are the school’s traditional mother-son and father-son breakfasts, which are typically held on Sundays.

Most problematic, however, appears to be athletics.

Several coaches said that by eliminating Sunday as a practice day, they’ll be at a disadvantage when playing Thursday games against public high schools.

“I understand where he’s coming from, but it puts us in a bind,” said Jesuit football coach Wayde Keiser. “This year we play East Jefferson on Thursday. If we can’t practice on Sunday, they are going to be one up on us.”

The new policy is also causing schools to reschedule junior varsity games, which are typically held on Sundays. Cyril Crutchfield, head football coach at St. Augustine High School, said he had to cancel JV games this year due to the rule.

At Archbishop Hannan High School in Covington, principal Father Charles Latour said he’s stopped holding athletic tournaments that run into Sunday and has also rescheduled test preparation courses. But said he welcomes the change.

“We’re always running,” he said. “At some point, it’s important to stop and recognize that God has blessed us.”