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    Archdiocese of Baltimore breaks ground on new downtown Baltimore school

    State Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-40), right, presents a senate citation to Archbishop William E. Lori, left, at the groundbreaking of the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in West Baltimore on Oct. 23, 2019.

    The downtown Baltimore community that was promised a school decades ago will soon have that promise fulfilled by the Catholic Church.

    After years of planning and engaging the community, the Archdiocese of Baltimore broke ground Oct. 23, 2019 on a new school in downtown Baltimore, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 

    The Mother Mary Lange Catholic School will be the first Catholic elementary school built in Baltimore in more than six decades, and is the product of years of collaboration between the Archdiocese, the community, donors, and partners to turn the grassy field on West Lexington Street into a state-of-the-art Pre-K-to-grade-8 school.

    "Like Mother Lange, we at the Archdiocese strive to create equity, equity and educational opportunity so that young people can realize the fullness of their God-given talents and potential," said Archbishop William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "And so it is in her spirit that we are putting our determined efforts and our determined resources in service to the young people of our community by today breaking ground on the first Catholic elementary school in the City of Baltimore in some six decades."

    The school's name-sake, Mother Mary Lange, was an African-Caribbean immigrant who founded in 1829 the first religious order in the United States for women of African descent: The Oblate Sisters of Providence. The Oblate Sisters of Providence remain active today and founded, and still operate today, the St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.

    Archbishop William E. Lori (center) is joined by elected officials, partners and community leaders to break ground on the Mother Mary Lange Catholic School.

    Baltimore became known nationally for the unrest that erupted there following the death of Freddie Gray when the deep racial inequalities of the community were thrust into the national spotlight.

    Lori, who at the ceremony spoke of how he walked the streets of Baltimore four years ago following the worst days of unrest, said the burnt-out car became a symbol of a community that had enough of the status quo, enough of being marginalized, enough of being cast aside and being expected to settle for a certain life.

    Experts cite educational opportunity as an important tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and violence that plagues communities like those in downtown Baltimore.

    Quoting the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-7), who represented Baltimore City, both State Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-40) and City Council President Brandon M. Scott (D) highlighted the role the new school will play in fostering equity in Baltimore and removing barriers for future generations of Baltimore children: "Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see."

    Hayes and Tisha Edwards — who is Director of the Office of Children and Family Success in the City of Baltimore, and who spoke on behalf of Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" C. Young (D) — each presented Lori with a formal recognition of the event. 

    Students from Holy Angels Catholic School, Saints James and John Catholic School, and the surrounding community will attend the Mother Mary Lange school when it opens in the fall of 2021. 

    Of the 500 students expected to attend the school when it opens, an estimated 80 to 90 percent will receive tuition assistance. 

    Many of those students currently qualify for and receive BOOST Scholarship assistance through the State of Maryland. BOOST, an educational options program for low-income Maryland students enacted in 2016, is expected to play a large role in assisting students who will attend Mother Mary Lange School, in addition to the tuition assistance provided through the Archdiocese.

    Read more about the school project HERE.  




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    Assisted Suicide, Abortion, BOOST among issues expected to return in 2020 session

    Maryland's 441th General Assembly will get back to work in a few short months, and many hard-won issues from this year are expected to be back on the table in 2020. 

    Maryland's General Assembly Session starts Jan. 8, 2020 and runs through April 6, 2020 at midnight. 

    Maryland Catholic Conference worked with allies during the 2019 session to successfully defeat an attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide, oppose a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion, secure level-funding for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) scholarship program, prevent further expansion of the civil statute of limitations, criminalize human trafficking, and protect immigrants who help law enforcement.

    Yet, many of these issues appear to be far from over. 

    Physician-assisted suicide

    "Proponents of legalizing physician-assisted suicide in Maryland have begun to organize again ahead of the 2020 session, and we expect that, for the fifth time in six years, these groups will try again to push their agenda through Maryland," said Garrett J. O'Day, deputy director of the Conference. 

    Physician-assisted suicide was narrowly defeated in the 2019 session, dying on the Senate floor by way of a tie vote. The final, defeating vote came after the Judicial Proceedings Committee passed the bill out of its committee for the first time, but with extensive amendments.

    Abortion amendment

    The Conference anticipates an effort in 2020 to bring back the late House Speaker Michael Busch's proposed constitutional amendment on abortion.

    Busch, who died just days before the end of the 2019 session, worked to pass through the General Assembly a legislatively-referred amendment to Maryland's constitution that would have established abortion as a so-called "right" in the state.

    If passed, the bill would put on the next election ballot a question asking voters to ratify or reject the change.

    Busch withdrew his bill a few weeks after it was introduced, but others have vowed to bring it back. 

    "Should the abortion amendment be reintroduced in 2020, the Conference will oppose it strongly," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Conference.


    The Conference also expects challenges to the BOOST Scholarship Program.

    During the 2019 session, the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee tried to slash funding to the critical education program, which has allowed thousands of students from low-income families to attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools thanks to the state aid. 

    Lawmakers eventually restored funding in the state budget, keeping it level with the previous school year's funding, but some legislators continue to push to cut or defund the program all together. 

    "Now serving low-income families for a fourth year, demand for BOOST has outgrown its funding. This school year, we expect a waiting list of students who qualified based on income because there is just not enough money to award each one a scholarship," said O'Day. "Particularly in Maryland's largest jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties, parents seek to take advantage of the educational options BOOST provides. On their behalf, we will continue to fight to ensure that our state legislators continue to support BOOST."

    Maryland has awarded well more than 10,000 scholarships to students from low-income families since the BOOST scholarship was enacted in 2016. A second round of awards for the 2019-20 school year should take place in the near future. Annually, more than half of all BOOST scholarships go to parents whose children attend Catholic school.  


    The Conference anticipates legislative efforts focused on protecting immigrant communities, with the hope of facilitating productive and helpful relationships between these communities and local law enforcement. It is a priority of the Conference that all persons, regardless of their citizenship status, be able to participate fully in their lives without fear, including going to school and work, running errands, and attending religious services. 

    "Advocates and legislators have been working to really dig into these issues and find solutions that actually would build the trust between our immigrant communities and law enforcement officials," said Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, associate director of social and economic justice for the Conference. "Our immigrant families continue to live in fear of being torn apart. Passing the U-Visa bill last session was an important step at building that trust, but more needs to be done." 

    The U-Visa bill required law enforcement to certify, in a more timely manner, victim helpfulness for U Nonimmigrant Status visa applications. U-Visas are open to non-citizens who are victims of crimes and work with law enforcement in the detection, apprehension or prosecution of the perpetuators, but require the local authorities to certify that the applicant was helpful before the federal government can consider awarding the visa.   

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    Maryland Catholic Conference Appoints New Executive Director


    ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Jennifer Kraska has been appointed as the new executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, effective October 21. Kraska has served as executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference for the past 12 years, and brings extensive experience representing the public policy positions of the Catholic Church on a broad range of issues. She holds a law degree, as well as a Master of Arts in Catholic Studies, from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, her native state. She has served as past president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors, as well as on numerous committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    Archbishop William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, noted that the bishops of Maryland’s three (arch)dioceses were impressed with Kraska’s grasp of issues and ability to engage diverse communities.

    “We are delighted to have a person of Jenny’s caliber and expertise leading the work of the Conference and are confident she will quickly earn the respect of her new colleagues in Annapolis,” Lori said.

    Kraska’s collaborative approach distinguished her career in Denver politics, where she is known for her ability to work “across the aisle” on numerous issues. She was instrumental, along with leaders from other faith traditions, in creating a series of “Faithful Tuesdays,” which brought together legislators and faith leaders across a broad spectrum of perspectives to discuss and advocate for issues of common interest. 

    “I believe the great success of Faithful Tuesdays is in providing a witness, amidst a divisive political environment, of collaboration, and the ability to see past some very serious differences to focus on the good that can be accomplished when we speak with a united voice on issues where there is agreement,” Kraska commented in an article in Colorado Politics.

    Read Jenny's bio HERE.

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    Maryland Catholic Conference legislative priorities signed into law

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