Sign Up for Our Newsletter!

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact


Welcome to another episode of Cathedral Square featuring host Fr. Christopher Smith.

On this episode, we welcome Julianna Tapia (the Principal of CC Academy) and Patti Abeyta (Preschool Director of CC Academy).

Today’s conversation covers all the goings-on at Christ Cathedral Academy, including important issues regarding COVID-19 and school closures throughout the diocese.

Amidst it all, we have some good news to share!




Originally broadcast on 10/31/20


The catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that parents are the primary educators of their children – and that includes teaching kids about their faith. 

In the midst of the many issues posed by the novel coronavirus crisis, it’s critical that parents not only lead by their examples – of forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and service – but also teach their kids what it means to be good Catholics. 

Fortunately, even though churches remain shuttered in the face of COVID-19, a wealth of online resources make it relatively simple to share the beauty of our faith at home. 

“The parish, schools, our family, friends, and neighbors all contribute to the formation of our children and are valuable partners and supporters,” says Linda Ji, diocesan director of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages. “But ultimately, parents are the primary agents of faith formation.  

“This is something I think gets lost in family life these days,” Ji adds, “especially as family life has become so challenging. We wish to empower and equip parents to be what they already are and to give them confidence to teach and guide their children rightly.” 

This is a message, she says, that she must repeatedly hear herself as a parent, and appreciates when God affirms in prayer.  

While some local parishes are offering faith formation classes via Zoom or Google, others are providing hard copy materials and lesson plans to parents, explains Katie Dawson, Diocese of Orange Director of Parish Evangelization and Faith Formation. 

Still, Dawson notes, there remains uncertainty about faith formation classes, including preparation for sacraments such as first Holy Communion, reconciliation, and confirmation. To offer parents both flexibility and creativity, the Diocese of Orange offers a number of resources via a new website,  

In addition, Dawson adds, many online resources support parents in their efforts to share their faith, including the Orange Catholic Parents Facebook page, a prayer app called, and a website,, among many others. 

“Our priority in this moment is not to approach faith formation as another class, but to use our resources at a moment of human challenge and suffering,” Dawson says. “This is why we need God in our lives to sustain us.” 

Dawson and Ji emphasize that teaching kids the formal prayers of the Church is not as important as praying as family every day, talking about faith to one’s children and spouse, attending virtual Mass together, and inviting God into our daily lives. 

“It’s never too late to offer our lives to God,” Dawson says. “It can be very simple, as simple as saying, ‘Let’s take a minute and ask God to show Himself to us.’ That’s a prayer. ‘Lord, be with us.’ We’re not expecting angels and apparitions. Faith is something that builds.” 

Our present isolated circumstances offer families a unique opportunity, Ji notes. “In the business of life, we rely on the Church community to teach our children, but praying together and talking about our faith should be things we are doing anyway.” 

Even sharing our continuing struggles with uncertainty, depression and anxiety can provide children with valuable lessons about how our faith provides comfort, Ji says. “Health is a part of what God wants for us – our well-being and wholeness. 

“God loves us and wants us to be healthy.” 


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools has launched a comprehensive online learning system for 18,000 students across Southern California through an innovative partnership with Loyola Marymount University School of Education’s iDEAL (Innovation in Digital Education and Leadership) Institute.  

The Diocese of Orange’s partnership with LMU was implemented within three days, delivering tools, resources, best practices and professional development opportunities all aimed at ensuring teachers have the support they need to provide a quality off-campus education during these unprecedented times. 

“Our comprehensive online learning program and innovative partnership with LMU has empowered our talented educators to deliver a world-class Catholic education to all our students, regardless of the distance that now separates them,” said Dr. Erin Barisano, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Orange, who announced that school buildings would be closed and student-related activities cancelled on March 16. “With support from the Diocese—including the unique collaboration with the LMU iDEAL Institute for focused professional development—our Catholic Schools launched its online program just three days from the school closure announcement.” 

In recent years, the Diocese of Orange has invested deeply in its schools, supplying students and educators with modern digital learning tools. Improvements include: large-scale connectivity upgrades, blended-learning programs and modern IT infrastructure enhancements. These improvements have helped increase student success while enabling the school system to respond quickly to the needs of a dedicated distance-learning program in critical times such as these. 

Dr. Barisano continued, “The intent is not to replace the experience students would have in the classroom, but to support them with continued learning while away from campus. Our goal is to provide students with academic excellence, individualized learning, faith development, and a strong sense of community during this time of uncertainty.” 

To ensure students and educators don’t fall behind, the distance learning program includes: 

  • Multiple remote learning platforms
  • 1:1 technology for students 
  • Complimentary iPads or Chromebooks to facilitate online learning (as needed)
  • Daily video messages from grade-level teachers
  • Flexible learning time to facilitate working parents
  • Virtual elementary and middle school tutoring from local Catholic high school students


With a team of professional learning developers and a variety of solutions, trainings and services, LMU iDEAL Institute enabled Orange County’s parochial educators to make the rapid switch to dedicated online education. Parent survey feedback after a few weeks of the new model have been resoundingly positive and parents are happy with the program. 

St. Bonaventure Catholic School parent Melissa Hunnicutt is grateful for the distance-learning initiative and how the use of technology is being applied to enhance learning experiences for her children. 

“My kids saw no break in their education,” said Hunnicutt. “They are seeing structure, familiarity, and high-standards. They’re completing so much work on new digital platforms and I’m so grateful for that.” 

Nearly all school districts in California have been closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and will remain closed for the rest of the academic term, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. Nationwide, over half the states in the country have also closed their public schools or ordered them to close in the coming days. 

“Schools across the Southland are racing to provide an effective remote learning education platform for their students due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Shannon Tabaldo, founding director of the iDEAL Institute and director of digital curriculum integration and development for LMU School of Education. “Being able to implement modern pedagogical practices, co-creative solutions, and professional tools to help Diocese of Orange educators meet the academic needs of their students and families has been very rewarding. Thanks to their preparedness, we were able to mobilize very quickly. I’m incredibly proud of that.” 

Per the Diocese of Orange Department of Catholic Schools, campuses are expected to remain closed through the remainder of the academic year in order to ensure the safety of students, teachers, and the community. Superintendent Barisano will work with public health officials to reassess the need for school closures and provide further guidance in the weeks ahead. All diocesan schools will continue to follow the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Orange County Department of Education, and the Orange County Health Care Agency.


In recent weeks, Orange County Catholic schools have embarked on a new method of delivering curriculum through distance learning. And while teachers, students and parents are all adapting to these changes in the midst of processing a global pandemic, acts of service have remained a steadfast way for school families to maintain connection, share their faith and support local communities. 

Alycia Beresford, principal at Mission Basilica School in San Juan Capistrano, has put forth challenges each week for her students as a way to keep spirits up and promote engagement. Some of the focus areas of these challenges have included prayer and placing crosses in windows for passersby to see. 

During Holy Week, Beresford presented an almsgiving challenge, a way for students and families to use the days leading up to Easter as a time to make the needs of others their own. 

“I tasked the students this week to do acts of charity or do things within their realm at home, and then share what they did with their classmates and the school,” says Beresford. 

Throughout the week, examples of service completed by the students ranged from caring for younger siblings to thanking those in the community who are working hard to keep people safe. 

After hearing about a need for supplies at Little Sisters of the Poor in San Pedro, Mission Basilica’s eighth grade class dropped off the requested supplies along with letters of hope for the residents at the senior facility. Other students left bottled water for delivery workers, wrote thank-you notes to healthcare workers and wished a Mission Basilica teacher happy birthday with a drive-by sign celebration. 

“I think that it takes the students’ minds off of what’s going on in their worlds and allows them to focus on doing positive things that bring hope and happiness to others,” says Beresford. “Especially during Holy Week, it’s important that we remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for our sins.” 

At Saint Norbert School in Orange, the school moved their Children’s Rosary Group monthly prayer meeting online, and through Google Hangouts, more than 50 people gathered at the beginning of April for the student-led praying of the Rosary, as well as the Pope’s prayer intentions for those affected by COVID-19. 

“By coming together to pray, our school family has been able to do something positive and meaningful to make a difference in a situation that feels so out of control,” says Saint Norbert Principal Joe Ciccoianni. 

Serving those in the community has been the focus at Our Lady of Fatima Academy in San Clemente, as TK through eighth-grade students participated in a letter-writing and picture-drawing campaign for those in their area who need support. 

“We were trying to do something that would bring our community together and we could give back,” says Our Lady of Fatima Academy Principal Elizabeth Gosnell. 

The 160-member student body produced more than 400 cards and letters and dropped them off in collections boxes at the school. After letting the cards sit in “quarantine” for a few days, Gosnell and her staff brought the handmade notes of encouragement to seniors, grocery store clerks, post office workers, firefighters, lifeguards and sheriff personnel. Additionally, letters were delivered to healthcare workers at Mission Hospital and Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas. 

“It’s something that we need to keep giving,” says Gosnell. “We have our faith to rely on, and it’s one way to share our faith with the community, that we have the message of hope, because God gives us that hope.”


There may be no better catalyst for growth in life than during times of adversity and change. As our nation works to navigate through the unchartered territory of COVID-19, the Diocese of Orange Catholic schools has met the challenge head on by moving quickly and intentionally to transition all 41 school sites to quality online distance learning. 

On Friday, March 13, after closely monitoring information from the CDC and OC Health Agency, the Department of Catholic Schools, led by Diocese of Orange Superintendent of Schools Dr. Erin Barisano, made the decision to close all elementary and high school campuses effective March 16. 

Immediately that afternoon, an emergency meeting was called with all principals as they began to disseminate the information to their school families and initiate a plan to launch distance learning beginning on March 18 (high schools) and March 19 (elementary schools). 

With only a few days to react, teachers and administrative staff jumped into action to prepare for the transition. In partnership with Loyola Marymount University, online professional development sessions were provided to all teachers on March 17 that addressed distance learning pedagogy and best practices. Teachers and administrators began using the platform Basecamp to share information within schools and across grade levels. 

While the transition from in-person learning to sustained distance learning is still in the early stages, the Department of Catholic Schools has received positive initial feedback and is confident that the level of instruction happening remotely is on par with what students receive in the classroom.  

“We here at the Diocesan level knew that this was going to be a challenge…but our principals and teachers have really exceeded our expectations,” says Diocese of Orange Assistant Superintendent Dr. Denise Valadez. “It’s making them think in new and innovative ways.” 

At the high school level, the nature of coursework development, in addition to online systems already in place, have made the move to distance learning a simpler transition. 

For the elementary schools, many students were already working in a 1:1 technology environment. Platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, Seesaw and Flipgrid are being utilized by teachers as they adapt their lesson plans for remote delivery. For the students, being able to interact with their teachers and classmates has provided some normalcy during what can be a scary time. 

“From the feedback I’ve [received]…when the kids saw the teacher (online) and could see their face, and the teacher could see the kids, it was just such a transformational moment,” says Director of Educational Programs Dr. Brad Snyder. 

St. John the Baptist Catholic School and Mater Dei High School parent Jen Cortez-Walters initially had her doubts that a robust learning environment in her home setting would be possible. She and her husband Jesse live with their blended family of two freshmen daughters, sixth and seventh grade sons and her parents. She also watches her two nieces who are in preschool and TK.  

After observing all of the kids actively and productively engaging in distance learning instruction provided by the schools, Cortez-Walters admitted she cried tears of relief and called the experience nothing short of miraculous. 

“[The schools] are not holding back, and they’re still holding them accountable,” says Cortez-Walters. “The word that came to my mind is that my children were thriving.” 

Beyond academics, schools are incorporating ways for students and families to connect through virtual spirit rallies, photo sharing, live stream mass services and daily prayers in an effort to strengthen community. 

“It exemplifies love for one another,” says St. Bonaventure Catholic School Principal, Kim White. “This is an opportunity to elevate academics, faith formation and our family prayer life. When we come out on the other side, you will see a Diocesan community [that will] be better educators for this experience.” 

The transition has not been without its challenges, as teachers and administrators are working around the clock to address issues such as technology safety, preschool programming and learning support. Since Catholic education is based on a partnership with parents, the schools will be continuing to ask for feedback through surveys and will listen to parents as they refine the distance learning delivery to meet their families’ needs. 

While the COVID-19 situation and timeline remain fluid, Barisano is keeping in contact with families through a weekly video message containing updates and encouragement, and she is grateful for a Catholic school community that is willing to journey together through these uncertain times. 

“I’m filled with so much pride in the way that our principals and teachers have stepped up to take initiative and respond to the needs of their school communities in a way that is very intentional, very thoughtful and mission-focused,” says Barisano. “It’s such an honor to serve alongside them.” 



Dear Diocese of Orange families, 

The public’s health and safety are paramount to the Diocese of Orange and all of our community and educational partners. While there have been no confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses within any of our schools, we want to ensure that we are acting with prudence and diligence for the best interest of our students, teachers, and families. 

After careful consideration and in light of the fluid nature of this pandemic, the Diocese of Orange elementary schools will close their school buildings and cancel classes and student-related activities from March 16 until further notice. This closure includes any planned school events such as fundraisers, community events as well as field trips. This closure means that school buildings will not be open to children, parents, or community members during this time. Course content will be delivered utilizing the Diocesan distance learning protocol which has been distributed to all schools. 

I understand this is an evolving health concern, and guidance is changing daily. This complex decision involved close collaboration and coordination with the Orange County Health Agency and Bishop Kevin Vann. I also ask that you please inform your school principal if your child receives a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. 

I understand this may cause a hardship for many families. We made this decision out of maximum consideration for the health and safety of our children and school community members. 

As we proceed, we are aware that there continues to be many concerns around COVID-19 and want to ensure families that we are working closely with OC Health Agency for updates and guidance. For the latest information on COVID-19, families are encouraged to visit the OC Health Agency web page dedicated to COVID-19 ( and the CDC homepage. 

As a community of faith, let us hold one another in prayer during this challenging time.  Please pray especially for the sick, health care providers, public health officials, and all community leaders during the weeks to come. 

For updates regarding this closure, please visit our OC Catholic Schools website at

In mission, 


Erin C.O. Barisano, Ed.D. 

Superintendent of Catholic Schools 

Diocese of Orange