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Bishop Fisher Education

Bishop Fisher heading back to class for the first day of school

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Students at St. Mark School in Buffalo root for a good school year as they return to school after summer break. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

Bishop Michael W. Fisher took a whirlwind tour of Catholic schools, greeting students from St. Benedict’s, St. Mark’s and Catholic Academy of West Buffalo to welcome the little ones on their first day of class for the 2021-2022 school year. He also celebrated Mass for homeschoolers and toured Cardinal O’Hara High School in Tonawanda.

Bishop Fisher had a simple message to students:

Bishop Michael W. Fisher and Dr. Timothy Uhl, superintendent of Catholic Schools, talk to students at Catholic Academy of West Buffalo on the first day of the 2021-20222 school year. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

 “May God bless them this year. The first day of school is a new start. This is my first year as bishop here in Buffalo, so it’s exciting to get out to see all of the schools and students coming back to school. We’re trying to get back to normalacy (after) the Covid and the lockdown. I think we’ve done a good job brining our kids and our families back to school and to do the best we can to get them back into a normal routine. The best way to learn is in the classroom where they’re with other kids and their teachers.”

The day began at St. Benedict School in Eggertsville, where the bishop joined Dr. Timothy Uhl, superintendent of Catholic Schools, and Principal MaryAlice Bagwell in welcoming kids back from summer break and greeting them by name. “You got taller over summer,” Bagwell told one student.

“What makes St. Benedict’s special is the fabulous outstanding faculty that have been here in school, our great relationship with our parish and Msgr. Zapfel and the fact that we’re growing,” said Bagwell. “We came out of the pandemic and not only survived it, we thrived. Our enrollment is going up. We’re all excited to be here.”

The school is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with events planned throughout the year.

Msgr. Robert Zapfel, administrator for the school, applauds Principal Bagwell’s leadership talents as principal. “She’s a really great principal. That makes all the difference in the world. She energizes the whole school,” he said.

Coming on board as St. Ben’s administrator three years ago, Msgr. Zapfel was immediately impressed by the “real commitment that the parents have for quality Catholic education – both the formation and education of their children. They’re very dedicated. It’s easy to get volunteers. The parents are very, very involved.”

St. Mark School in North Buffalo is also celebrating 100 years this season.

 “What makes this school special, I think, is the involvement with the parents. We have some great students here and we have teachers with a great deal of experience. They’re dedicated, they’re Christlike and they do a great job every day,” said Principal Christopher Gardon.

The schools Catholicity was evident right down to the morning announcements, which started off with a Hail Mary and prayer of St. Mark, asking for his intercession to live in unity and peace with one another.

Principal Gardon offered some words of wisdom.

“Education is an interesting word. Some people think it means pouring math, science and social studies into students. To educate actually means to pull out. So, the question is what ideas can we pull out of those minds of yours this school year?” he asked of the k-8 students.

Principal MaryAlice Bagwell checks the temperatures of a student on the first day of school. Health checks and masks are still a part of Catholic schools commitment to keep their students safe. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Bishop Fisher showed his great love for education and his curiosity as he poked his head into the classrooms to see what the students were learning and saying hello.

This year marks the first year of Catholic Academy after merging with Our Lady of Black Rock School. The school has nearly doubled its student population since the merger. This allows them to bring more teachers aboard and expand curriculum.

“We’ve been able to emphasize more on the needs of the students who are ENL. That is a touchy issue with some people,” said Principal Tim McDowell.  “We plan on doing more with advancement. We’re thinking of having an algebra class. When we were at Black Rock we didn’t have enough teachers or enough staff or enough room or enough students to think about having an algebra class. We had students who could do it, but how are you going to schedule it. But with our two schools combined, those students that have an opportunity for advancement can pursue it.”

Uhl called Catholic Academy an “important school.” The 33-year-old institute serves a large portion of immigrant and refugee population. “Right here on Delaware Ave., being in the city, the students and the families we serve. It’s really important that this school succeeds,” he said.

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