Schools Justice Ministries

Schools Justice Network Newsletters

Archive of Past Issues here.

Introduction to Schools Justice Network

Our schools network is near the heart of all our social justice endeavours in the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North American Province.

Many schools have developed significant initiatives in the social justice area. All schools are committed to the promotion of social justice education as an essential element of their educational mission.  News of school engagements and programs can be found in the Newsletter which is archived just above this entry. Click on the link “Archive of Past Issues Here,” to see all the items.

In our newsletters and on this site we hope to share information on relevant initiatives and projects. We shall also profile emerging directions and approaches to the promotion of social justice in the schools. The New Orleans conference of  April 28-May 1st , 2009 launched an initial sharing of ideas and the exploration of possibilities.  The Bethany Center conference in Lutz, Florida in  March 2011 increased our confidence that the work was going forward. We will be adding links to the websites for the schools to allow everyone to keep in more regular contact with events across the network.  Some links are listed in the right hand column here.   If you have a website and don’t see your school listed, please post a comment to let us know.

Millennium Development Goals:  Suggestions for Teachers

The link is here:

Thanks to :

Joan F. Burke, SND-N
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC at the UN
Associated with the UN Dept. of Public Information
211 East 43rd Street, Suite 504
New York City NY 10017
Phone: 1 (201) 213-2390; Fax 1 (201) 451-0952 (Attn : Sr Joan Burke)

Schools Justice Network Conference- Bethany Retreat Center, Florida, March 2011

Justice Coordinators from 14 Edmund Rice Christian Brother schools in the Americas meet at Bethany Center outside of Tampa, FL, for a conference, March 8 – 11, 2011. This was the second meeting of the Schools Justice Network (SJN), inaugurated in New Orleans in 2009. The conference was planned by a steering committee composed of Mr. Tom Gambardella (Bishop Hendricken HS), Mr. Bernie Kully (St. Thomas More Collegiate) Brother Kevin Cawley, CFC (JPIC) and Sister Ona Bessette, CND (OES). Other members of the SJN Executive Committee were instrumental in preparing prayers and presentations: Mr. Tom Schutte (O’Dea HS) and Mr. Daniel Devincenzi and Ms. Glennis Oliver (Colegio Cardenal Newman, Buenos Aires). Brother Moy Hitchen, CFC, from Edmund Rice International also contributed to the program.
Warm and clear weather in Florida greeted the 20 participants and the comfortable accommodations at Bethany Center nourished the spirit of the group. Returnees from the NOLA conference greeted one another and shared stories of activities planned and justice projects initiated. New participants joined readily into the mix as all shared similar hopes and desires to become agents of change and advocacy for the marginalized and poor. Participants shared their hopes for the gathering in words such as, “I hope to find useful information, share ideas with other schools/teachers, get clarity on justice topics and specify practical action steps to build upon.”

The topics of the conference flowed from the Congregational and Provincial Chapter directions: Care of the Earth and Immigration. Kevin Cawley, CFC, revisited the essential aspects of eco-justice with the participants. His presentation challenged the schools to look at ways to incorporate these principles into the life of the schools. Daniel Devincenzi and Glennis Oliver from Colegio Cardenal Newman in Buenos Aires, Argentina shared with the conference members the project for creating a sustainable school that they have begun. Their process for reviewing the ecological footprint of the school is a model for other schools to consider.
John Zokovitch, Communications Director from Pax Christi USA, presented a session on Advocacy: The Power of Witness, Strategizing for Change. John had worked with the students at the ACTION Leadership Workshop last September. In this session, he helped the Justice Coordinators to identify their own experiences of service and advocacy. Making links with the experience of students is essential in order to engage them in offering service and working towards advocacy for the poor. The beginning point of moving from offering service to becoming advocates is to ask the question, “Why? – Why are people hungry, mistreated, denied their rights …?” Confronted with these questions, hearts are more open to transformation and change. Personal transformations lead individuals to move with a compassionate heart to exert influence to bring about change. Individuals working together look for communal and structural transformations that advocate for the voiceless and powerless.

In preparation for an immersion experience with migrant farm workers in the Tampa area, the conference participants viewed the film Dying to Live: The Migrant’s Journey ( After the film, Brother Ben McDonough, CFC, spoke about

his experiences working in Bonita Springs with migrant families. His stories and reflections helped to bring the reality of migrant workers closer to home. Students from Bishop Hendricken HS (Warwick, Rohde Island), Tampa Catholic HS (Tampa, Florida), and Trinity Catholic HS (Ocala, Florida) traveled to Bonita Springs last summer to offer service in a summer camp program for children of the migrant families.

The sunny Florida skies gave way to thunderstorms and rain on March 10th as the conference participants boarded a bus to travel to St. Clement Parish in Plant City, FL. Janice Putvin, the Director of Migrant Ministries at the parish, and Lourdes Villanueva, Coordinator of the Redland Christian Migrant Association Headstart Centers (, organized a program that brought conference participant in groups of five to various centers in Plant City servicing the migrant camps.

The Justice Coordinators arrived in Plant City during the heart of the Strawberry Festival. While hundreds of visitors entered the fair grounds to be entertained and feast on strawberries, conference members visited the educational centers where young children of the farmer worker families were provided early childhood education. The Heartstart Centers operate from October through April or May to provide services for migrant families while they are in the area. Instruction is initially all in Spanish, but as children reach about age four, bilingual instruction begins. Classes and programs are also available for parents to help them raise and educate their children. Many workers at the centers have also been raised in migrant worker families that had emigrated to the area from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

From the joyous sounds of young children at play, the next stop for the groups were the camps where the migrant families live in small houses or trailers, often shared with one other family. Conference participants experienced a feeling of welcome and the desire to share refreshments and a few stories. The most memorable part of the day was the time spent in the strawberry fields laboring side-by-side with the workers.
Since the day began with rain, picking was delayed until almost eleven o’clock in the morning. Lost hours of work meant loss wages. On that day, a flat of strawberries weighing about eight pounds earned the worker $1.50. Pickers ran from the rows of berries to the collecting stations with two or three full flats on their shoulders eagerly handing in their goods and waiting to get their blue ticket punched for each flat picked. Rapidly they returned with empty flats and plastic containers to collect more berries. Many wore layers of clothes to protect against the sun and wind; nothing could protect their hands from picking produce that had been sprayed with pesticides. While field managers explained how to pick and fill the strawberry containers and encouraged SJN leaders to try their hand at picking, the reality all around this light moment was ferociously serious. Workers barely had a moment to smile or say hello – their livelihood and that of their families depended on picking sufficient amounts of berries each day.
Returning to the parish educational center, conference participants had time to share initial reflections and stories before they feasted on a lunch of chicken, rice, beans, and tortillas prepared by a parishioner. Janice Putvin gave an overview of the services that the Migrant Ministry Office in the parish endeavors to provide the families in the camps.
Rogelio Villanueva, Director of the Hillsborough County Public School Office of Migrant Education, spoke about the available services for the education of primary and secondary school children. Often they come into the schools part way into the academic year and may leave before completing the course of studies. Disruption and discontinuity are the most common elements of migrant children’s education. If education is a vehicle of stepping out of the cycle of poverty – will these children have an opportunity for a different future?

Returning to the retreat center, conference participants had time to reflect on the immersion experience. Sharing about the experience revealed the profound impact the visits had on the participants. The human face of the migrant reality was revealed in the sharing – the look of determination of workers filling strawberry flats – the covered face of a young woman protecting her from the strong sun – the laughing eyes of an eager child learning a new word – the expression of hope in the words of a young migrant family for a future for their children. Questions emerged from the reflection: How do we tell the story of the migrant family to others? How could the schools respond and become voices for the voiceless? How are government policies and budget decisions affecting the survival of migrant workers?

At the end conference, the School Justice Network representatives identified goals and direction for the group for the next two years. The Executive Committee, composed of Tom Gambardella (Chair, Bishop Hendricken HS), Daniel Devincenzi (Colegio Cardenal Newan), Bernie Kully (St. Thomas More Collegate), Jay Louis- Prescott (Br. Rice HS – Bloomfield Hills), Douglas Romanik (ACND) and Glennis Oliver (Colegio Cardenal Newman), will guide the Network to continue to deepen the efforts for justice in the schools and grow as advocates for the poor and marginalized.
Sister Ona Bessette, CND, is the director of the Office of Educational Services for the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America and works from her office in New Rochelle, NY.

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