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Fifth Consecutive Pope Francis Challenge, Just in Time for Thanksgiving

At Pope Francis’ first World Youth Day, he challenged all the young people to go home and do something inspiring.

The students of Bishop Guilfoyle High School listened.

In the heart of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the students have completed their fifth consecutive Pope Francis Challenge, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Tessa Crider is a senior at Bishop Guilfoyle and calls the challenge a humbling experience and “the biggest thing we do here at B-G.”

And big it is. The ‘challenge’ is posed to the school’s approximately 300 students, who are encouraged to collect 50 items to donate to those who need them most. Students collect food, personal hygiene items and other household supplies.

Patrick Donoguhe, who is also a Bishop Guilfoyle senior, simply calls the experience “fulfilling”.

The collected items were loaded by students onto trucks and the boxes were then delivered to six local charitable organizations across all faiths.

Bob Sutton teaches Theology at Bishop Guilfolye and works with the students on the challenge. “There’s no book that could teach them this.”

2017 Pope Francis Challenge by the numbers:

–          Over 18,000 items were collected

–          1,100 full-sized boxes of cereal set a new school record

–          One seventh-grade student collected 250 items

–          One twelfth-grade student collected 400 items


House Committee Approves Measure Condemning Child Pornography

The Health Committee within the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved a resolution which condemns the free availability of pornography based on the public health hazard that it presents by harming children and families across the Commonwealth.

“It’s a public awareness resolution,” said Chairman Matt Baker (R-Tioga).

With the resolution, Pennsylvania joins nineteen other states that have passed or introduced a similar measure.

“Most people understand pornography is bad, and child pornography is particularly bad,” continued Baker.

The resolution cites that due to advances in technology, young children are now exposed to pornography at alarming rates, with as many as 27% of older millennials reporting that they first encountered explicit pornography before even reaching puberty.

“As someone with two small daughters, I think that it’s something we owe a certain amount of time and effort to look at,” said Rep. Eli Evankovich (R-Westmoreland\Allegheny).

House Resolution 519 also encourages a three-pronged approach to confronting this issue with education, prevention and research and policy change at the community and social levels.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) stated that her intent is to “make sure that families are aware of this issue, that it is a concern and it can become, if it not already is, a public health crisis.”

Patriotic Club: Doing small things that make a big impact

“We are a group of students who care about our government, our veterans, and our country as a whole. And we’re doing small things that make a really big impact.” – Nate Roppelt, Sophomore, Holy Redeemer High School


A few summers ago, 12th-grader Ben Smith was working at a Scranton-area Veterans’ Administration (VA) Hospital. While there, he noticed veterans were receiving donations of personal care items, however, he didn’t think they were getting enough.

Smith belongs to the Holy Redeemer High School Patriotic Club. He brought the issue to the attention of the club, and as he describes it, it took off from there.

“They need our help,” says Smith.

The club, currently in its third year, seeks to honor and serve past and current members of the U.S. military.

Throughout the school year, students collect items such as shampoo, shaving cream, socks, toothpaste and toothbrushes. They have received an overwhelming response in toiletry collections so they have expanded the donation list to include board games, puzzles and other items that could be a source of entertainment for the veterans in the hospital.

“I think it makes them feel happy that they are not forgotten, and I think this club helps them to know that,” says Mary Grace Eckert, who is in her second year with the club. 

Students collect the items throughout the school year and traditionally deliver them to a local VA hospital in May.

Teacher Joseph Szewczyk advises the club and recalls a time he was dropping off the supplies with the students, who were in another section of the hospital at the time: “One of the veterans came up to me, and he saw everything that was going on and all he said to me was two simple words: ‘thank you’.”


In their own words. . .

“The word is equality.” – Patrick Zarola, Junior, Holy Redeemer High School

“As Catholics, we have a moral obligation to help people.” – Thomas Hjakowski, Junior, Holy Redeemer High School

“No matter if you’re Catholic, Jewish, or anything else, it’s good to help people out because they’re all part of our nation.” – Roppelt


“Right to Try” and Pediatric Cancer Bills Signed into Law

Two pieces of health care-related legislation were recently signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf.

Act 33 of 2017, dubbed the “Right to Try” law, will provide terminally ill patients the opportunity to try experimental treatments, such as investigational drugs, biological products and medical devices. It will allow access to treatments that have not been fully approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The legislation received overwhelming support by Pennsylvania lawmakers, illustrated by unanimous passage in both the House and Senate chambers.

Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) introduced the legislation and upon its enactment stated,” Faced with certain death, terminally ill patients do not have the luxury of time and have likely exhausted all other available options.”

Read more about Rep. Godshall’s effort behind the making of this law.

Additionally, Act 39 of 2017 was also recently signed into law. It will establish a check-off box on state income tax returns, allowing Pennsylvanians to voluntarily make monetary contributions to pediatric cancer research.

The funding would then be allocated to institutions in Pennsylvania that are working on cutting edge research to develop better treatments and drugs in the fight against cancer in children.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D-Berks), calls this a “needed-step forward”.

Know Before You Vote – Election Day 2017

Election Day is here again. On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Pennsylvanians will elect candidates to many local municipal positions and will cast their ballots for these judicial candidates: Justice of the PA Supreme Court, Judge of the Superior Court, Judge of the Commonwealth Court, and Judges of Common Pleas Courts.

Electing qualified, capable local officials and value minded judges is just as important as electing the right governor or lawmakers.

Local officials are responsible for corrections and law enforcement, resources to educate our children, public health and safety, human services for people in need, and more. We interact with local government programs every day.

The role of the courts is to preserve the rule of law and guarantee the rights and liberties of citizens.  Judges make decisions that affect everyone, including who has a right to life, what is marriage, when should religion be protected, who can adopt children, and many other important questions.

The challenge with municipal and judicial elections is finding information about the candidates on which to base your voting decision.  Although a federal court clarified that candidates can talk about issues, out of fear that their comments might prejudice future court cases, candidates for judicial office often do not share their personal positions on controversial issues.  However, many special interest organizations do evaluate candidates based on their record or other public evidence of their philosophy.  These groups often endorse one candidate over another.

We can understand a lot about candidates by reviewing their lists of endorsements.  Catholics might be interested in a candidate’s stand on human life, marriage, social justice or other issues.  An endorsement from a pro-life group (for example Life PAC) or a pro-abortion group (like Planned Parenthood) gives us a clue about whether a candidate is pro-life or pro-abortion.  The support of public education associations or taxpayer watchdog groups could, although not absolutely, shed light on how a candidate might feel about school choice.  Endorsements from other like-minded political leaders who do speak out about issues can also provide insight into the philosophy of the candidate.  It is said a person is known “by the company that he or she keeps.”

Every voter should take time to research the candidates.  Many non-partisan organizations such as the Pennsylvania Bar Association or your local newspaper publish voter guides, often including endorsements.  The Pennsylvania Family Institute publishes a voter guide that touches on many issues that are also important to Catholics.  But the most effective way to research is to contact the candidates themselves.  Most local and judicial candidates have their own websites or social media sites which proudly list the endorsements they received.  See who’s on the ballot in your county at

Who we elect to city hall or the bench sets the stage for how rights, liberties and justice will be upheld in public policy.  We have a responsibility to elect local leaders and judges who will be fair and responsible, and will uphold the values that make Pennsylvania great.


NOTE: The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference neither supports nor opposes any candidate for public office.





Thousands of Pa. Catholic School Students Unite

“Small change. Just holding the door open for someone, making peoples’ day. There are a lot of sad people in the world and just one person can make their day a lot brighter.” – Maura Budd, Sophomore , Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls

 Over 5,000 students from all 17 high schools within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently gathered at Temple University to celebrate the 2nd annual METANOIA rally.

METANOIA stems from the words ‘to change’.

Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of Saint Raymond of Penafort parish in Mt. Airy, served as emcee of the rally and described the event as a “taste of what the Church really is.”

At the rally, students were given the opportunity to learn about the multi-dimensional outreach of the Catholic church by meeting with chaplains of prison, hospital, college and homeless ministries.

Maura Budd, a sophomore at Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls, was surprised by what she learned, saying, “We think our lives are difficult and hard and to see that other people are struggling even more than we are, I think it’s pretty eye opening.”

A Mercy Cross, built by students of Mercy Career & Technical High School, united archdiocesan students as it was adorned with 6,000 colored ribbons symbolizing their intentions. They were asked to pray for victims of human trafficking, Syrian refugees, and children starving in Africa and the Catholic Relief Services workers who serve them.

“I think that’s part of the metanoia, to get out of your own bubble, to get out of your own little world and to know that many of their peers across the world are not as blessed as they are,” said Father Walsh.

Camrin Rodriguez, who attends Mercy Career & Technical High School, says, for him, the message is simple: “Everybody can change in their own way.”






Education Funding Bill Needs to be Signed into Law

As part of Pennsylvania 2017-18 state budget, lawmakers approved a $10 million increase for the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. That is great news; however, Governor Wolf has yet to sign the bill into law. In fact, he has threatened to veto the legislation that would provide for the increase.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has sent a letter to the governor urging him to sign the education funding bill into law, noting that this bill would allow for more scholarships for students to attend the school that is best for them.

You too can send a letter to Governor Wolf urging him to sign the education funding bill into law today!





Expanding Educational Opportunity

The ESA bill is currently under the consideration of the Senate Education Committee.

At its core, school choice is about improving education and supporting families in educating their children. The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee is currently considering legislation to expand educational opportunities for students across the state.

Specifically, Senate Bill 2 would create state-funded, flexible, spending accounts for individual students. Parents could use the funds to pay for Department of Education-approved educational expenses such as non-public school tuition, higher education tuition, textbooks and curriculum, testing and industry certifications. Unused funds would roll over from one year to the next, and unspent ESA dollars could even be used to pay for college.

This is a plan to empower children with educational opportunity, especially those who currently attend the lowest-performing public schools in the Commonwealth.

“These are the children that have no other option,” said the bill’s author, Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin).

Ensuring students receive the education that is right for them is vital to Pennsylvania’s future, which helps us all in every corner of the state. A good education helps children grow up to be good citizens. Growing as many good citizens as we can will help ensure a better and brighter future for all of us. Citizens who care about Pennsylvania’s future should support school choice.

Voice your support for the education savings account plan!





Homeless Family Gains a New Beginning through Catholic Social Services

David and Nancy Pennay of Jessup, Pa., with their children, from left, Kaitlyn, Nathan and Kayla.

One evening, David Pennay took a bad step and fell down the stairs at home. The next day, he felt a stab of excruciating pain, his legs went numb and he fell to the floor.

Doctors told him a blood clot from the fall put pressure on his spinal cord and damaged vertebrae. “I don’t know if I’ll ever walk again,” said David, who also has epilepsy.

Prior to his accident, David worked as a meat cutter in a processing plant. His wife Nancy was working on an associates’ degree. After the accident, she had to give up her education. David’s epileptic disorder means he can’t be left alone with the children.

Unable to work, unable to pay the rent, David was evicted along with his wife and their children – son, Nathan, then age 4, and twin girls, Kayla and Kaitlyn, age 2. A friend found a place for them in a condemned bar.

“We were living in the pool room,” said David. “We had to cook on little burners. My wife washed dishes in the rest room sink…The bar was dark and dingy.”

That was February of 2015. This past spring, the plight of the Pennay family came to the attention of Lori Bowen, case manager of Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, Carbondale Office. Lori immediately opened a Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) Intensive Case Management file to help meet this family’s many needs, the foremost being housing. The family would soon be evicted from the bar where they took refuge.

Said Ms. Bowen, “We got very blessed with the timing. A handicapped accessible apartment was available in Jessup and this family was accepted.

“When I first met them, the family felt hopelessness. They didn’t feel anyone could help them,” Lori explained.

“Lori, our case manager, really fought tooth and nail to find a place for us that was handicap accessible – these things are almost impossible to get,” David added. “We wouldn’t have a home without Catholic Social Services or Lori Bowen. My children wouldn’t have it, I wouldn’t have it, my wife wouldn’t have it.”


Published in the September 28, 2017 edition of The Catholic Light, the newspaper of the Diocese of Scranton.