By Dr. Aris Michopoulos, Hellenic College
Our Omogeneia is well-known for its drive to achieve and excel in education. The famous research of Bernard Rosen in 1959 showed that the Greek Americans “had the highest achievement motivation” compared to white Protestant Americans and the US census data of 1960 and 1970 showed that the second generation Greek Americans possessed “the highest educational levels of all and were exceeded only by Jews in average income”(Moskos, 1990, p. 111). It was almost a miracle that in 50 years the children of poor and uneducated Greek immigrants rose to the highest rank of educational attainment among all American children. The decade of 1910 and 1920 saw the building of the first Day Schools with the first one being the Greek- American Institute in Bronx, NY in 1912. However the great “building wave of day schools” happened in the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of the second Greek immigration wave that came due to the change of the Immigration Law in 1965. By the end of 2000, the school building peaked with approximately 30 Day Schools, mostly in the New York and Chicago areas.
During the last 15 years, we have witnessed a reversal of fortune with the coming of the Charter Schools. This new type of schools, along with the change in local demographics led three of our schools in Brooklyn and Queens to close down as Greek Church Schools. Part of the reason for closing down was the difficulty of financing their operation by the Community. A change into a Charter School would provide the Community with additional income and maintain the teaching of the language and culture during the afternoon. This scenario, however, did not consider the change of the character of the school, where many religions, many languages and various socio-cultural backgrounds would constitute the new school. The Community and some Boards had not foreseen that, but the parents of the Greek children who took notice of that were not happy and removed their children from the school and sometimes left the Church as well.
The economic problems plaguing our Community are not new. They have been with us for a long, long time. We first notice that with the first attempt to create a Theological School for our priests in the 1920s. The School of St. Athanasios, a work of Meletios Metaxakis and Archbishop Alexander, operated first at the YMCA in Brooklyn in 1921 and was transferred in February of 1922 in Astoria, Long Island, in a modest building bought by the Archdiocese. Among its benefactors was Prime Minister Venizelos who in a visit there in October 1921 donated the sum of $1,000. However, the School was unable to survive its financial and other needs and closed in June 1923 (Papaioannou, 409). The second attempt for the creation of a Seminary was in 1937 under Archbishop Athenagoras. The School was established in a large rented building in Pomfret, CT. This attempt had a better luck, but it experienced two fires within a short period of time that caused a lot of damage and made Athenagoras decide its transfer to a new location in Brookline, MA. This is the current location of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology (HCHC). HCHC has operated in this location for over seventy years. First, it operated as an unaccredited Seminary for the preparation of our priests in America, but in 1954 it was accredited to offer BA degrees in Theology. In 1968 it was accredited as a four-year college with BA and MA Degrees in Theology and several BA degrees in humanities.
HCHC has produced thousands of graduates in various fields during these eighty years. In the field of Theology, its imprint is even stronger since over 80% of our Archdiocese’s Metropolitans are graduates of the School and many other of its graduates are priests or Bishops in Greece, Europe and other parts of the world –Africa, Korea, and Latin America. Despite this impressive list of achievements, HCHC has experienced several financial crises in its rather short span of existence. The most serious was in 1984 when Archbishop Iakovos had to cut many of its BA programs to reduce its operating cost. That was a serious and painful decision and took a long time for the School to recover and reinstitute most of the abolished programs. The School continued to operate quite well over the next two decades, having maintained its full accreditation for that period. However, the School experienced a financial strain after buying the adjacent Barletta Property in 2007 for $7 million. Its Board of Trustees had pledged to raise the entire sum and not burden the School budget. However, it declared the inability to raise this amount and after it raised the first $2 million, it turned the rest into School debt. That put a cloud over the finances of the school. That cloud became heavier when the Archdiocese had its own serious problems recently and spilled over to HCHC by not paying on time its annual contribution to the College, increasing thus its operating deficit.
In recent months many articles have been written about the financial problems and difficulties facing the Archdiocese. Finally, its Board was able to come up with a reasonable and realistic solution to stop the creation of additional red ink and bring stability into the system. However, its financial obligations to HCHC had not been resolved by that time and some of its Board Members voiced their concerns about that and other problems facing HCHC.
During this period of heightened concern and negative publicity by some Greek American newspapers and other media, people were gravely concerned about the future and viability of HCHC. And when everybody was “gloom and doom” the solution to the problem came from an unexpected source. It came from a non-Greek or rather a Greek in spirit and culture, according to Isocrates. This special-Greek i.e. John dos Santos father of two HCHC students did something simple and smart at the same time. He decided to walk all the way from New York City to Brookline to support the School. He organized and advertised his walkathon to family and friends and the Greek American Community and with the help of the Holy Spirit and Holy Cross he reached the School on the eve of its Annual Celebration (Sept. 14). His Walkathon raised close to $50,000 and a faculty member of HCHC was so thrilled with the idea that contributed $3,000 for this great gesture and “didagma” to us the Greeks.
What is, then, the “didagma” of Dos Santos? The old English and Greek saying: “When there is a will, there is a way!” He had the will and found the way. And he showed the way to the rest of us. The great “didagma” for me was: WHY DON’T WE REPLICATE THE DOS SANTOS PILGRIMAGE IN ALL OUR STATES? Quite simply: if every State organizes a walkathon to a specific historic/religious site every September 14 to support HCHC and raises $50,000 to this effect, then, this healthy walk could provide $2.5 million to the operating budget of HCHC, which is more than the Archdiocesan contribution every year. The School, on the other hand, could provide a tuition Scholarship to a student coming from the Community of every State that raised the highest dollar amount!
All the Metropolitans, who most of them are graduates of the School, could organize and support such a noble effort. They could send encyclicals to all their communities and organize a nice reception at the end of the walk and give prizes to those who raised the highest amounts.
This kind of efforts could bring together our Communities, could give more purpose to the efforts of philanthropists and would develop an atmosphere of goodwill, something well-tied to the goal and purpose of our School and its graduates. The future HCHC graduates, on the other hand, will be aware of the efforts of thousands across the nation who put on their shoes to walk and support their cause and now came their turn to support their Greek American Community.
This simple but successful recipe could be applied to our Community Schools as well. Each Community could organize a walkathon close to the celebration of its patron Saint and invite neighboring Communities to support its undertaking. Again, you raise a significant amount of funds quickly, you bring the Community together and practice solidarity and philanthropy in a real and practical way. Most of all: you contribute to the solution of a serious problem to our education without any sacrifice and where everyone, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, young and old, can contribute, getting at the same time some vitamin D from the sun and a good appetite (Kali Orexi) after the end of their great exercise! Onward!