October 04. 2013 11:39PM

Options to boost Catholic schools considered

New Hampshire Union Leader

The Most. Rev. Peter Libasci, the Roman Catholic bishop for the Diocese of Manchester, left, shares a light moment with Sister Mary Jo Walsh, principal of St. Patrick School in Portsmouth, and the Rev. John Fortin, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, during a meeting of Catholic educators at the Grappone Center in Concord on Friday. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Only 11 percent of school-age Catholic children attend Catholic schools in New Hampshire and more Catholic schools are needed, the superintendent of the state’s Catholic schools said Friday.

“It’s not a question that there aren’t students,” the Rev. John Fortin told 500 Catholic educators at the Grappone Conference Center. “It’s a question of accessibility and affordability. Those are the problems we have, getting these folks to help us get these kids into our schools and in some places in the state, getting some schools started.”

He said Laconia is the farthest north he travels to visit a Catholic school.

Fortin oversees more than 4,000 students at 23 primary and secondary schools run by the Diocese of Manchester. The bishop also recognizes five other private Catholic schools with more than 2,000 students combined.

There are people in New Hampshire who are willing to pay a little extra for quality Catholic school education.

Fortin said Census figures showed nearly 27,000 millionaires live in New Hampshire.

“Just give me 1 percent of them,” Fortin said.

“Maybe, some of them are in here,” he said, drawing laughs. “Please raise your hand.”

On a more serious note, he said, “I think there is money. I think we just have to find a way to get it to support our schools.”

Fortin spent the bulk of his talk discussing how teachers can help make their students more well-rounded and more in touch with their faith.

“We’re not just interested in test scores,” Fortin said.

“Our job is for our kids to see the face of Jesus in their lives and that includes seeing it in us,” Fortin said. “To help them develop a personal relationship with the Lord and therefore to give communal witness to the Gospel.”

Many people think that religion and politics shouldn’t mix.

“If we don’t talk about politics, my goodness, where does our religion go in terms of its communal witness?” he asked.

Catholics also need to appreciate life.

“God has blessed us in so many ways that we need to celebrate, we need to rejoice, and we end to convey that to our students, that there is joy in life ...,” he said.

Sister Mary Jo Walsh, principal of St. Patrick School in Portsmouth, said Fortin “gives great talks. He’s going to be wonderful for us.”

Andrew Gaydos, a music teacher at St. John Regional School in Concord, called Fortin’s presentation a “wonderful talk, very inspiring, very heart-felt.”