Weekly Letter (Feb 2, 2015)

Dear Parents and Students,

Last Friday a news crew from KPIX came to Star to ask about the parish decision to no longer train girls to be altar servers. The story picked up steam over the weekend in traditional and social media. Although most of us here have been aware of this decision for a few months, seeing it reported so publically was upsetting to many of us, myself included.

 In the last ten years Star has had four pastors, each of whom had a different leadership style and different vision for our parish and school. Quite honestly, there are many aspects of Father Illo’s leadership for which I am very grateful. He makes a point of being available to the faculty and students. The kids feel a genuine sense of warmth from him as do so many of the adults here on campus. His decision to no longer train girls to be altar servers is based on his hopes that by training boys only, he will instill in them a sincere interest in considering becoming priests. There is no intention of cutting the girls off from the Church. In fact, several of the girls are reading from the altar during weekday and Sunday Masses.

 Still, some are hurt by what they feel is an exclusionary decision and wonder if this is a trend or how such decisions made on the parish level might affect the school. For many years Star of the Sea School has served not only Catholic students but students of many faiths who see value in our teachings and have been accepted as God’s children in our school. Though it has never been a stated goal, over the last ten years nearly 30 students have asked to be baptized as Catholics. They too believe that there is something of great value when we share our faith. 

 Just the other day I asked Father Illo to help me by clarifying his vision of the school’s future and what decisions might be made as we move forward. Remember that this parish and school are over a hundred years old. Many things have evolved and changed over those years. Some have been great changes, others not so great. It is important to note that people of good will can, and sometimes should, have differences of opinion. But it is just as important to note that those of us who have been blessed by God with children to raise, must do the best we can to raise them in an environment that our well formed consciences feel are best for them.

 During our meeting, Father Joseph explained to me his reasons for moving forward with an all-male altar server program. Though this is not a decision I would make, I find no intent on Father Joseph’s part to hurt or exclude anyone. He has also told me that he does see my point regarding the blessing of all children at Communion time and he has reinstated that policy. Parents with complaints or concerns are welcome to share them with Father Joseph or me. And no child should feel less welcome at Star of the Sea School because they are not Catholic. We are all God’s children. And by that I mean all of us. Pastor, principal, teachers, staff, parents, parishioners, and our children.

 Thirty-eight years ago, I thought being a teacher would be fun. It is. But not everyday. Teachers, principals, pastors and parents probably love their callings, but also realize that challenges arise in this life. My grandfather used to say if you went into the backyard looking for dog poop, you would find it. But if you went looking for roses, you would find them too. Please share your concerns, but do so respectfully. Let’s stay away from the poop and look for the roses. And remember, even the roses have thorns.



Terrence Hanley


The following is an outline of the current situation at Star regarding Altar Servers.

It was originally prepared by some members of the School Finance Committee who have also served as my advisory board for several years. I have done some editing of their document.


 Why has the school excluded girls from Altar Service?

Decisions about altar service, like other aspects of the church, are made by the pastor of the parish.  This is not a policy of the school.

 Why does the parish exclude girls from Altar Service?

Our pastor, Father Illo, has decided that altar service by girls does not effectively encourage boys to consider the priesthood.  Girls who have received first communion and currently serve in the parish may continue; but only boys will be allowed to become new Altar Servers going forward.  If you wish to know more about the pastor’s thinking on this topic please look at Fr. Illo’s message in a recent church bulletin which can be found at: http://www.starparish.com/news/official-statement-on-altar-boy-policy

 Does the school believe it is appropriate to exclude girls from Altar Service?

Decisions about altar service, like other aspects of the church, are made by the pastor of the parish, not the school.  We encourage girls to participate in the Daughters of Mary and to explore Altar Service in other nearby parishes if they wish to be Altar Servers.

 Have parents left the school over this policy?

No families have left the school because of this. However, many of our parents disagree with the new boys-only policy, and some clearly feel strongly.  We believe a constructive dialogue with the Parish is a healthy approach to addressing everyone’s concerns.  We expect the topic to be discussed by our Parent Club in future meetings.

 Is there another group at Star of the Sea to which girls can belong/participate instead of being altar servers?

At Star of the Sea many girls read the scriptures at Mass, help prepare the altar before and after Mass, and participate in a girls-only group called the Daughters of Mary.  The Daughters of Mary is open only to girls and serves a similar function of encouraging girls to become active in the church’s works and to consider vocations in the church. 

 If girls want to be Altar Servers is there an alternative parish where they can serve?

Several of our families attend Mass at St Agnes, St Ignatius, St Dominic and St John of God parishes. You are also welcome to speak to the pastor where you regularly attend Mass.

 What is the relationship of the school to the parish and its practices?

Our school is organized under and run by the Archdiocese of San Francisco through the Parish of Star of the Sea Church.  Formally the school is under the administration of the Pastor and the Superintendent of Schools.  We strive to have a close and mutually supportive relationship with the parish. The day-to-day running of the school is generally left to the principal and faculty with approval of the pastor.

 What would you say to families who are considering Star of the Sea School but disagree with the parish’s decision to limit Alar Service to boys only?

I would encourage you to look closely at the strong and vibrant Catholic school community we have built at Star.  We have a wonderful school with strong academics and extracurricular activities.  We are diverse both ethnically and in terms of faith.  We will continue to embrace families who share our values regardless of their formal religious affiliation.   The school is about much more than a decision regarding Altar servers.

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