AUBURN — Last month, Tyburn Academy of Mary Immaculate officially was designated as a Catholic school.
This designation was granted ad experimentum— on a one-year conditional basis laid out in a memorandum of agreement running through June 30, 2016, and subject to renewal, according to the July 1 decree from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano.
The school has been operating in the Catholic tradition for two decades, but it was not chartered or founded by a bishop or religious order, as was the case with other Catholic schools in the diocese, explained Anthony Cook III, superintendent of Catholic schools. In addition to parochial and diocesan-run schools, the diocese also is home to the following independently run Catholic schools: McQuaid Jesuit High School, founded by the Society of Jesus; Aquinas Institute, founded by the diocese and entrusted to the Congregation of St. Basil; Bishop Kearney High School, founded by the Irish Christian Brothers; Our Lady of Mercy and Notre Dame high schools, both established by the Sisters of Mercy; and Nazareth Elementary School, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Some of these schools are now operated by lay boards of directors.
Tyburn, by contrast, was formed by a small group of parents under the guidance of a now-deceased diocesan priest — and longtime Catholic Courier columnist — Father Albert Shamon, said Ann Fallon, president of the school’s board of directors. The name honors more than 100 English and Irish martyrs who died at Tyburn crossroads outside of Hyde Park, London, between 1535 and 1681, according to the school website, tyburnacademy.com. The website notes that the goal of the school’s founders was to meet a desire for Catholic education in Auburn created by the 1970 closing of Mount Carmel High School, which had been established by the Carmelite Fathers in 1955.
Tyburn was founded in 1992 and opened a year later with three students, Fallon said, noting that more than 100 students are expected to attend this fall under the instruction of a 25-member staff. The school is funded by annual tuition of $5,250 per student (sibling discounts and financial aid are available) plus proceeds from fundraising and the assistance of benefactors, she noted.
"We’ve grown at a comfortable pace," Fallon said.
Early in the school’s formation, Father Shamon had applied to the diocese for permission to be called a Catholic school, Fallon said, but was informed that the diocese did not have the capacity to open a school at that time. However, Father Shamon was encouraged to continue operating the school independently, she added.
"We were in a unique situation," Fallon said. "Over the course of many years, the trend was closing schools. Now, (schools) are starting up again."
So, when Bishop Matano took the helm of the Rochester Diocese in 2014, the school’s board approached him for recognition as a Catholic school, Cook and Fallon explained.
An exchange of correspondence was followed by several meetings to review questions on both sides and expectations for a memorandum of agreement to be established, Cook said.
"It wasn’t just us saying, ‘We expect you to agree with us,’" he added. "We talked it through with them."
Control of Tyburn remains in the hands of the school’s administrators, Cook noted, although the diocese will work with the school, particularly in the areas of Catholic identity and curriculum.
"We want to build this relationship now that we’ve founded it with them," he said.
The memorandum of agreement between Tyburn and the diocese covers several key areas and requires the school to:
* Work in cooperation with the bishop.
* Have a charter approved by New York state, a requirement Tyburn already has met.
* Follow a curriculum that prepares students for grade-level expectations set forth by the state and ensure students are meeting those standards.
* Follow the state education department’s "nonpublic school standards," such as an academic year of 180 days a year, offering physical education and allowing on-site visits from representatives of the state Board of Regents.
Fallon said the school has been following the state standards, which also allow it flexibility in terms of its Catholic focus while providing students with individualized attention within a high-quality, college preparatory education.
Through the new diocesan agreement, Tyburn staff and volunteers also will be required to complete training for the protection of children, Cook said. That process will include background checks of all employees and volunteers to ensure the safety of the school community.
Additionally, Cook said, the diocese has set catechetical and liturgical guidelines for the school, including maintaining a close relationship with local pastors and parishes, ensuring that the celebration of sacraments be conducted in a place deemed suitable by the bishop, and meeting curriculum standards for all religious instruction.
"We’ve always had relationships with local parishes," Fallon noted. "And our religious curriculum has been solidly Catholic. … The bishop (now) has to approve our religious education. That was part of the process we went through. The diocese examined our curriculum and made sure all the materials we were using were approved."
School officials hope the diocesan designation will help Tyburn continue growing, Fallon said.
"This is an endorsement from our bishop and our diocese," she said. "That endorsement trickles down to confidence from local parishes, local parishioners and the local community, and helps us in terms of long-term sustainability for growth."