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Deacon Steve Greco is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Orange. He is founder of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry, and host of Empowered by the Spirit. On this podcast episode, our very special guest is Dr. Erin Barisano, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Orange. Together they discuss the life-altering impact that Catholic schools can have on children and families.

For more, please visit






Originally broadcast on 10/23/22


It’s time for another episode of Cathedral Square featuring host Fr. Christopher Smith.

On this week’s show, we welcome Dr. Erin Barisano back to the studio. Erin is the Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Orange.

Our topic of discussion today will center on the state of Catholic education in Orange County. We’ll also discuss the importance of integrating our Catholic faith into our daily lives.

Tune in for a fascinating conversation!




Originally broadcast on 12/4/21


Welcome to another episode of Orange County Catholic Radio, featuring host Rick Howick.

On this week’s show, Rick welcomes Dr. Erin Barisano back to the program. Dr. Barisano is the Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Orange.

Our topic of discussion today will center on the state of Catholic education in Orange County. How are things looking as we embark on the 2021-2022 school year?

Listen in, and be encouraged!




Originally broadcast on 9/11/21


Host Rick Howick interviews guests on a variety of topics.

On this week’s show, Rick welcomes Dr. Erin Barisano back to the program. Dr. Barisano is the Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Orange.

Our topic of discussion today will center on the state of Catholic education in Orange County. How are things looking as we embark on this new year of 2021?

Listen in, and be encouraged!





Originally broadcast on 1/16/21



The children who attend St. John the Baptist Catholic School happily anticipated All Saints Day by dressing up as their favorite saints on Friday, Oct 30.  

Early in the morning the boys and girls arrived in full regalia, but also ready to study. Then they went to their classes where they were visited by costume adjudicators (a team comprised of SJB Pastor Fr. Augustine, School Rector Fr. Damien, and School Principal Mrs. Paula Viles). Best “saint” in each classroom was a combination of best costume + knowledge about the saint being depicted.  

 Following lunch they put on the 2020 (socially distanced) version of a long-standing SJB school tradition – the awesome Parade of the Saints, accompanied by, what else, “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In!” 



Some of the silver linings that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic can be found in the new technology-based tools that schools and educators are using to enhance the way they deliver curriculum to their students.  

A new offering this school year from the Diocese of Orange is St. Polycarp Online Catholic Academy, an education model that provides fully accredited daily online live instruction to students whose families feel more comfortable completing the school year from home. 

“We knew that some of our families were not going to be comfortable going back to school at all, and we wanted to make sure we had a place for them and that Catholic school was available and affordable for them,” says Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools Director of Educational Programs, Dr. Brad Snyder. 

The goal was to re-imagine the St. Polycarp school site, which had recent struggles with enrollment, and provide a new way to support the rapidly changing needs of the community through Catholic education. 

Launched on Sept. 8, St. Polycarp is led by Principal Mary Flock and the nine teachers on staff as they teach 180 students across grades K-8th from throughout Orange County and into Riverside and Temecula. 

A typical school day at St. Polycarp begins with prayer and then a half day of online instruction by the teachers from the Stanton campus classrooms in English, language arts, math, religion, social studies and science via Zoom and Canvas, an education platform. After a lunch break, the students reconvene online for teachers’ office hours and a variety of electives such as music, art and cooking.  

Flock and her team have also worked hard to create a community among the families of St. Polycarp through weekly virtual Mass and rosary ceremonies, online book fairs and annual events such as Red Ribbon Week. Student leaders from the school’s junior high participate in student council and organize service projects. 

“It’s not just about the academic piece,” says Flock. “We’re really trying very hard to keep the socialization and build community. It’s been a great experience.” 

Snyder says the diocese will continue to evaluate the demand for the St. Polycarp format, but in the short term, both he and Flock see students who are thriving and have adapted well to socializing and building an online community.  

“This is a really good opportunity to meet the students where they’re at and teach them good digital citizenship,” says Flock. “That lesson is coming across for our students.” 

Some of the Orange County Catholic elementary school sites have offered an option for their students to remain online for the duration of the school year while attending class synchronously with their in-person classmates. 

At St. Bonaventure Catholic School, Swivl Robot technology, purchased through a donation, allows for the school’s 75 students who are remote this year to be connected to their peers through integrated classrooms that combine a microphone tracking system with Zoom and Smart Boards.  

For third grade teacher Heather Swienton, projecting her Zoom screen onto her Smart Board means that her two students learning from home can hear, see and interact with their classmates during daily instruction. 

“Of course there is a learning curve, as with anything,” says Swienton. “But they are adapting really well. They’re just so excited.” 

Along with Google Classroom, Swienton also utilizes apps such as Flipgrid, ChatterPix, Kahoot and Quizlet to provide new ways for her students to create, present and learn. 

St. Bonaventure’s junior high science teacher, Sarah McGuire, has closer to a 1-to-1 ratio of online and in-person students and is utilizing the Swivl Robot technology to facilitate online simulations for labs. The technology that both McGuire and Swienton have added to their “teaching toolboxes” has turned a challenging year into one of growth as educators and as a school family. 

“Having [the students] all together has been a huge blessing,” says McGuire. “The best thing that has come from having the Swivl in the classroom is creating that sense of community.” 


In a time when terms such as Zoom and online instruction dominate the education conversation, a newer subject has been emerging in recent weeks that spotlights another aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic that is having a noticeable impact on children and adolescents, even more so than the virus itself – the issue of social and emotional wellness.  

A story that appeared in TIME magazine’s August 3, 2020 issue referenced a study published in JAMA Pediatrics on a sample group of 2,330 school children in the Hubei province of China, where the pandemic originated. After one month of lock down, 22.6% of the children reported depression symptoms, while 18.9% said they experienced anxiety. 

When schools in the United States transitioned to distance learning last March, a significant part of most children’s normal routine was upended. And as the weeks of physical separation from teachers, friends and classmates turned into months, many kids felt the mental effects. 

“We were all sad about it,” says St. Norbert Catholic School 8th grader Catie Allen. “It was difficult at first, and the teachers were trying to adjust, just as we were.” 

St. Bonaventure Catholic School 8th grader Clara Wickwire says she was surprised at how quickly this significant change came about. 

“I was kind of sad that our year was all of a sudden interrupted,” says Wickwire. “We were completely isolated. We couldn’t see our friends or our teachers. We thought it would only be for two weeks, and turns out it was the rest of the year.” 

As the end of the school year blended into the summer months, many Orange County Catholic school families saw that while distance learning was mostly successful, their children were eager to safely return to campus. 

“It was the ‘touch and the feel’ of the classroom that they yearned for,” says St. Bonaventure parent, Molly Lalonde, who is mom to 8th grader Morgan, 6th grader Brooke and 2nd grader Tanner. “It made me realize how much recess and lunch time…and that social interaction was really important.” 

With the approval of a California Department of Health waiver to hold in-person instruction, TK – 6th graders at Orange County Catholic school sites returned to campus beginning September 8. Two weeks later, as Orange County COVID-19 numbers continued to stabilize, most 7th and 8th graders returned as well.  

Despite the addition of temperature checks, masks and social distancing, the students are thrilled to be back. Wickwire clearly remembers seeing the smiles in the eyes of her friends during her first day on campus in six months. 

“We’re really happy to be in person,” says Wickwire. “It makes such a difference. Part of our ‘normal’ [is] back.” 

Allen echoed similar sentiments. 

“When we heard we were coming back, we were pretty excited,” says Allen. “I feel school is [no longer] as lonely…or secluded.” 

Both 8th graders noticed an improvement in their focus and grades, and parents noticed a positive change in their children as well. Catie Allen’s mom, Jewell, works in a hospital setting, and while she was cautious about the return to St. Norbert’s campus, she has seen the mental health impact it has had on her daughter. 

“I noticed that she was so much happier to be back in person,” says Jewell Allen. “As a mom, you can see a difference in the little things.” 

Lalonde says her three kids are grateful to be back at St. Bonaventure and will no longer take for granted routines such as wearing backpacks or school supply shopping. 

“Their whole world opened up in the way they see school and appreciate school,” says Lalonde. “They feel they have a purpose.” 


On Sept. 8, Catholic elementary schools within the Diocese of Orange opened their campus doors for the 2020-2021 school year. Having secured waiver approval from the Orange County Health Care Agency, the schools were allowed to open for in-person instruction for grades TK-6th.  

Additionally, on Sept. 22 those same elementary campuses welcomed back their 7th and 8th graders, and their high school counterparts opened their doors as well for smaller cohorts of students. 

In a year that has been anything but typical, teachers, administrators and staff have been challenged to become more flexible and adaptable than ever before, oftentimes learning new technologies and expanding their roles to ensure a safe and productive learning environment. 

After the completion of the first week of school, Orange County Catholic school elementary teachers and principals were given the opportunity to share some thoughts on their return to campus and offer some insight as to lessons learned so far. 

The hope of the survey was to take the collective wisdom of those who are experiencing these unprecedented challenges and provide guidance and support across the diocese. 

“When we all come together with thoughts, ideas and reflections, that can enhance our whole system of schools,” says Mike Schabert, associate superintendent of Catholic Schools Marketing and Enrollment. “Our schools recognize that we are stronger together.” 

Answers to questions such as, “One thing I know now that I wish I had known before…” and, “After the first week, I am excited about…” ranged from technology issues and anxiety to resiliency and grace. 

St. Irenaeus Parish School Principal Monica Hayden’s responses included her discovery of new meanings for the word “responsibility,” as managing the difficulties of education amid Covid has expanded her role. 

“I knew that I would feel responsible, but I think that I’m learning how much responsibility I have,” says Hayden, “but also that there are others there to help me with that responsibility.” 

Hayden is encouraged by the joy she sees on the students’ faces in their return to in-person instruction, especially the school’s 7th and 8th graders, who are the heart of the St. Irenaeus campus. 

“The kids are so happy to be here,” says Hayden. “I think sometimes we over-think things, but the bottom line is they’re healthy, they’re safe, they’re protected as best we can and they’re learning.” 

St. Irenaeus is currently operating with approximately two-thirds of their student body on campus and one-third of students who have chosen to remain in distance learning for now. As such, teachers are working hard to provide the same robust learning environment for all children, whether learning at school or from home. 

Kindergarten teacher Elisa Liljeberg is facing several new logistics such as amplifying her voice through a mask, finding new ways to introduce songs and providing each child their own personal space in the classroom. Researching those who teach from virtual learning platforms full time alongside joining parent Facebook groups are just a few of the ways Liljeberg is adjusting her teaching style to meet the children’s needs. 

“We want to give them the essence of kindergarten,” says Liljeberg. “We just have to do it differently, and we have to adapt.” 

But above all, the 17-year teaching veteran reflected in her survey answers that maintaining a growth mindset and a positive internal voice are key. 

“The adversity we have already faced has made us feel like a team so quickly, faster than any other year,” says Liljeberg. “Without this struggle, we would not know how truly strong we are and how blessed we are to have each other.” 


Perhaps now more than ever, academic success – as well as lasting faith formation – for students in the Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools depends on family members’ dedication in addition to the children’s hard work, say diocesan school leaders. 

“It takes the child, the parents, and the schools working together to support students in this journey,” says Mike Schabert, associate superintendent for marketing and enrollment. “I call it the three-legged stool. The families who want to take full advantage of the gifts our system and our schools offer know that it begins with faith formation efforts at home.” 

Parents who want to be proactive will encourage their children by engaging in the faith themselves, he notes, by reading spiritual books, listening to Catholic podcasts, becoming involved in parish life. “When that doesn’t happen, it is much more challenging for our students to take full advantage of the programs we offer.” 

The beauty of the Catholic schools is that even the largest are small communities where parents can communicate easily one-on-one with teachers, school counselors, and principals, notes Dr. Erin Barisano, superintendent of schools. 

“From a practical standpoint there is a greater probability of student success in having that direct access and line of accountability,” Dr. Barisano says. 

“Our schools do a wonderful job in providing opportunities for parents to grow in their faith themselves,” Schabert adds, through special Masses, school assignments, and other parish opportunities.  

The coronavirus pandemic has created a number of logistical challenges, including extra time and effort to sanitize facilities and for hand-washing, Dr. Barisano says. “It’s definitely been a challenge, but the ability of our schools to be innovative and smart enough to be flexible, make the necessary changes, and to be adaptable has been impressive.” 

Without public-school bureaucracies, she notes, the Catholic schools were able to successfully pivot as they met the demands of both virtual and in-person curricula. “Even if we experience bumps in the road, we navigate them effectively and swiftly, keeping the well being of our teachers, principals, and children in mind.” 

With families experiencing job loss, economic uncertainties, and health issues, it’s vital that parents and children recognize that the Catholic schools are their partners, Schabert observes. 

“We are not working against, but for you,” he notes. “Everyone is here because we care about our faith, our future, and our children. We are workers in the vineyard doing everything in our power for the children.” 

Regarding issues created by COVID-19, Dr. Barisano says everyone must be patient. “We can offer grace and understanding to each other because that benefits all of us,” she says. “Sometimes emotions are fueled by our fear of the unknown. But this is a journey – we must embrace the spirit of journeying together.” 

In spite of the pandemic, students, parents, and teachers are happy to be back in class face-to-face. 

“The universal response from teachers and principals was their surprise at how overjoyed the kids were to come back, especially on day one,” Schabert says.  

“They were just filled with joy,” he adds. “They walked in with their masks on and just took things as matter of course.” 

Parents interested in pursuing Catholic education for their children can email Schabert at [email protected] or call him at


CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA) – Several leading U.S. Catholic cardinals and bishops urged congressional leaders to provide emergency private school tuition aid to low-middle income families, in a letter on Thursday.

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, signed the letter to House and Senate leaders, along with USCCB education chair Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland.

They argued that many Catholic schools which serve low-income families are at risk of closing due to economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

“The economic devastation that has hit so many of America’s families has made it impossible for many struggling families to continue paying tuition,” they wrote, adding that school closures in urban areas “are disproportionately harmful to low-income and black children” who attend.

Other U.S. metropolitans with large Catholic school districts signed on to the letter, including Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

They addressed the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Congressional and White House leaders are currently in the middle of negotiations on another coronavirus relief package. Associated Press reported on Wednesday that parties were still debating provisions for food stamps, and renters and jobless assistance.

On Thursday, the bishops said that education aid in the relief package should be “robust,” and should grant “equal consideration” to private school children.

Economic shock from the pandemic has already resulted in the closure of 140 Catholic schools around the country, the bishops said, and with many schools unable to reopen for in-person learning in the fall, there could be a resulting drop in tuition revenue and the closure of more schools.

The Boston archdiocese superintendent told NPR recently that nine of its Catholic schools would be closing, and that 24 more schools were on a “watch list.” The New York archdiocese announced in July that 20 schools would close and three would merge, due to the pandemic.

The bishops asked that non-public schools receive 10% of the emergency education aid given to public schools, noting that emergency tuition scholarships would be “the most effective way to help struggling families stay attached to their schools.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced in July that schools would be reopening in the fall, but then a state public health order required all schools in certain high-risk districts to remain closed for in-person learning. Archdiocesan schools in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties are set to begin the school year with virtual learning.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), there are currently more than 1.7 million students enrolled at 6,183 Catholic schools this year; more that 21% of the students are racial minorities, NCEA says, and 19% are non-Catholic.

“By equally supporting children in the non-public school community, you will maintain the integrity of those strong communities, while helping sustain the positive legacy of Catholic schools and their benefit to the common good for generations to come,” the bishops’ letter said.