Removal of a number of statues and other smaller Catholic icons from the campus of San Domenico School in San Anselmo has raised concerns among some parents.
In an email to the school’s board of directors, Dominican Sisters of San Rafael and the head of school, Shannon Fitzpatrick objected to the removal of the statues and other steps the school has taken in an effort to make the school more inclusive.
“Articulating an inclusive foundation appears to mean letting go of San Domenico’s 167-year tradition as a Dominican Catholic school and being both afraid and ashamed to celebrate one’s heritage and beliefs,” wrote Fitzpatrick, whose 8-year-old son attends the school.
She added, “In our time here, the word ‘Catholic’ has been removed from the mission statement, sacraments were removed from the curriculum, the lower school curriculum was changed to world religions, the logo and colors were changed to be ‘less Catholic,’ and the uniform was changed to be less Catholic.”
Responding to follow-up questions Monday, Fitzpatrick wrote, “There are other families having the same concerns I do. Many parents feel if the school is heading in a different direction then the San Domenico community should have been notified before the signing of the enrollment for the following year.”
Cheryl Newell, who had four children graduate from San Domenico, said, “I am extremely disappointed in the school and the direction they’ve been going. This isn’t a new thing that they’ve been intentionally eroding their Catholic heritage. They’re trying to be something for everyone and they’re making no one happy,”
Kim Pipki, whose daughter left San Domenico two years ago after graduating from ninth grade, said some of the statues were also important to families who aren’t Catholic.
“The one main statue that has everyone fired up is the baby Jesus and Mary one,” Pipki said. “It was at the center of the primary school courtyard.”
Pipki said the school had a ceremony during which children would place a crown on the statue of Mary.
“It was less about God and more about passing on some traditions,” Pipki said. “People were shocked that the statues were pitched in the basement.”
Amy Skewes-Cox, who heads San Domenico School’s board of trustees, said the relocation and removal of some of the school’s 180 religious icons was “completely in compliance” with San Domenico’s new strategic plan, approved unanimously by the board of trustees and the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael last year.
Of the 660 students who attend the K-12 school, 121 are boarding students and 98 of these are international students from British Columbia, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mexico, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. The students attending San Domenico come from a variety of religious backgrounds besides Christianity: Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
Skewes-Cox said, “If you walk on the campus and the first thing you confront is three or four statues of St. Dominic or St. Francis, it could be alienating for that other religion, and we didn’t want to further that feeling.”
Only if you are an Islamic supremacist. Who else would go to a Catholic school and be offended by Catholic statues?
Stock said the parents of some prospective students who visited the campus expressed concern about this.
Rather than indoctrinate students in Catholic theology, San Domenico provides students with instruction in world religions and philosophy.
“It’s really about empowering each student and giving them the information so they can discover their own purpose, their own truth,” Stock said. “We believe the best way to understand your own faith is to learn about the faiths of others.”
And the icing on the cake, the Catholic school’s director of philosophy, ethics and world religions is…Muslim!
Mirza Khan, the school’s director of philosophy, ethics and world religions, said, “The Dominican teaching philosophy is not to teach there is only one truth. It is to foster conversation, to intentionally invite in participants that have different perspectives in a very open-ended process of philosophical and spiritual inquiry. That has been a long-standing part of the Dominican tradition.”
Khan, whose father and grandfather were Sufi teachers in India, received a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion at Bard College. Before becoming a teacher at San Domenico about 10 years ago, he worked as a research assistant to a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Khan said during his time in Jerusalem he got to see first-hand how devastating it can be when religions are in conflict.