Trinity Hall, the first all-girls high school in the region, is set to open in Middletown this fall. Its glossy brochures describe it as a school "in the Catholic tradition."
To be called a "Catholic school" is actually a phrase that is subject to requirements under Canon Law, said Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton. And while the senior member of the clergy in the position of authority and oversight of Catholics in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean offers no "ill will" to the Trinity Hall founders, he says he is unable to give his consent and permission for the usage of the phrase.
In the message emailed to members of the diocese and posted to the DOT website and circulating in parish bulletins this week, the bishop offers the explanation for his decision. (See below.)
Sean Clifford, Chair of Trinity Hall’s Board of Trustees, said in a written statement, “Trinity Hall is proud to be an independent all-girls high school and looks forward to educating and empowering young women in the Catholic tradition. Our mission statement is very clear and can be found at www.trinityhallnj.org We thank the Bishop for the recognition and wish him and all of the Diocesan schools the very best.”
A STATEMENT OF BISHOP DAVID M. O’CONNELL, C.M. OF THE DIOCESE OF TRENTON REGARDING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF TRINITY HALL, AN ALL-GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL IN MONMOUTH COUNTY
I was approached early in my tenure as Diocesan Bishop to give permission to build an "all-girls Catholic High School" in Monmouth County. This was not the first time such a request was made of the Diocese although it was the first time I was asked.
After multiple conversations with those parties interested and very broad consultation among the principals, pastors and others concerned with Catholic education in the Diocese, I invited the interested parties to conduct a feasibility study which I then shared and discussed with those I had previously consulted. That the school be "Catholic" was not high on the list of priorities of those who responded in the survey and did not seem to be a compelling factor in its establishment. That such a school would harm enrollment in currently existing Catholic schools was a concern of mine.
The Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires the consent of the "competent ecclesiastical authority (that is, the Diocesan Bishop)" for a school to bear the title "Catholic school." I did not give such consent or permission and so informed those interested in establishing the school. I was told by numerous individuals within the Diocese that those seeking to establish this new school were going to do so regardless of my consent or permission. And so they have.
The school’s founders are using the expression "in the Catholic tradition" to describe Trinity Hall. That is not the same thing as being a "Catholic school" and I simply want to make clear that this new institution is not affiliated with the Diocese of Trenton or our Office of Catholic Education.
I have been directly involved in works of Catholic education all my life as a priest. That individuals have the freedom to establish a school of whatever kind is not something that I question. People have that right and I bear them no ill will. That they call it "Catholic," however, is subject to my consent according to Church Law and I have not given it. Catholics in the Diocese have the right to know that and I have the responsibility to tell them.