Diocesan school leader takes part in conference call with President Trump

President Donald Trump talks to reporters after signing the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act at the White House in Washington April 24, 2020. The Paycheck Protection Program was among topics covered during a conference call that included President Trump and Catholic school leaders around the United States on April 25. (CNS/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Of all the things Dr. Sharon Weiss expected to be doing last Saturday, sitting in on a conference call with President Donald Trump wasn’t one of them.

And yet she was invited to join Catholic school superintendents and leaders from around the United States to hear words of praise and reassurance from the president, who told them, “I’m fighting for you and you must keep up the fight, too.”

Dr. Sharon Weiss

Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, said the conversation will help her to do just that.

“You know, you get so worn down through all of this because you think of all the change,” she told The Catholic Post. “But I actually feel hopeful. I feel hopeful that (through) all of this blood, sweat and tears that we are going to be able to continue, as Christ promised, the mission of Catholic education. It may have a different look, but we’re going to be able to have Catholic education.”

The conference call was arranged with the help of the Secretariat of Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and included Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, as well as Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., of Boston. Also taking part were Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, and Ben Carson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Weiss said the goal was to discuss how the schools are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, what policies are needed, and what has been done so far. President Trump talked for about 15 minutes and then took questions from the school superintendents from the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and Denver, and from a principal from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The call lasted about an hour, she said.


Among the policies President Trump discussed with them were the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) and the Paycheck Protection Program, which has benefited more than 90 percent of the schools of the Diocese of Peoria, according to Weiss.

I feel hopeful that (through) all of this blood, sweat and tears that we are going to be able to continue, as Christ promised, the mission of Catholic education. It may have a different look, but we’re going to be able to have Catholic education.” — Dr. Sharon Weiss

The U.S. Small Business Administration stipulates that the funds received through the Paycheck Protection Program are a loan that can be forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

Weiss said President Trump told them, “We’re fighting for you. We know you need these funds.”

During the question-and-answer period, there were many common concerns, she said. Enrollment was one of them.

“We don’t know what the financial stability of families will be,” she said. “The churches are closed, which he acknowledged. The parishes that support the schools — how are they going to be able to do that next year?”

It is about more than financial viability, however. Weiss said it is the mission of Catholic schools to serve the poor and that is becoming more difficult.


Although Weiss was in line to ask a question, that didn’t happen. If she had been able to speak, she said she would have thanked President Trump for his support and noted “the heroic sacrifice of the teachers” involved in remote learning.

“They’ve worked so hard and basically redesigned an entire system of instruction with very little time,” she said.

At one point, Archbishop Gomez asked if he could pray for the president, who said he would like that. The group fell silent while the archbishop offered that prayer.

In the end, President Trump told the educators that while there are many fine public schools in the United States, Catholic schools are also known for their education and mission as faith-based schools. He told them not to give up hope because there is more coming in terms of policies and support.

“It’s nice to be appreciated. We do have religious freedom — what a tremendous privilege,” Weiss said. “To know that we have someone in there fighting for us, let alone the president of the United States, it’s very humbling.”

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