Northwestern Catholicism enters its 60th year under the leadership of Fr. Dolan – We-Ha
After serving in an interim role, Fr. Michael Dolan was appointed president and principal of Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford in January 2021.
By Ronni Newton
Bro. Michael Dolan began his first full school year as president and principal of the school at Northwest Catholic, leading the school to its 60th anniversary in hopes of strengthening the identity of the school and preparing students. students to a successful future while keeping them safe amid the persistent COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with We-Ha.com last week, Dolan spoke about his unique journey and the legacy he hopes to create for the current community as well as 8,000 alumni.
Dolan, 55, was born in Waterbury and raised in Meriden, where he graduated from Maloney High School, and went on to study foreign affairs and history at Assumption College. He worked as a laboratory technician before taking his first teaching position at St. John the Evangelist in Watertown.
He entered St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA, in 1991, obtaining a Masters of Divinity in 1995, and since then has accumulated a wide range of diverse experiences.
For 10 years he served (in parallel) as chaplain at Trinity College and the University of Hartford, leading wedding preparation in the chapel and gaining experience in leading interfaith dialogue.
He has led parishes, been director of campus ministries for the Archdiocese of Hartford, was chaplain to East Catholic High School as well as to the Connecticut State Police and the Hundred Club of Connecticut, and was board member of East Catholic High School, Notre Dame High School and The Connecticut Coalition for Interfaith Understanding.
Dolan received his teaching certificate from Central Connecticut State University, and he appreciated the need to study special education and different ways of learning.
Last May he added to his own academic achievements, receiving a PhD from Hartford Seminary which he began pursuing in 2016.
Prior to Dolan’s appointment, the last priest to lead the Catholics of the Northwest was the Reverend Henry C. Frascadore, who was appointed president in 1985.
Dolan was serving as director of interfaith affairs for the Archdiocese of Hartford when he was appointed acting director of the North West Catholic School following a comprehensive national search. He had worked with former principals and archdiocesan staff liked the idea of ââhaving a priest in the role, he said. âIt’s not a job, it’s a vocation.
Dolan said he focused on the Catholic mission, but his experience also gave him a deep understanding of other major religions.
âLearning works,â Dolan said. âYou expose the kids to great things, and then you. unpack it.
Dolan said he wants to make sure the West Hartford campus is welcoming, if not intimate. âI want to hear laughter in the hallwaysâ¦ I want them to learn, but I don’t want it to be too rigid.
âIt’s hard to exist in the TikTok world,â he said. But from his interactions with the current students, he said they were “very studious, very polite, very nice”. The students train each other to promote a “culture of deep respect,” Dolan said.
Unsurprisingly, one of its biggest concerns is COVID-19, but after last year the protocols are in place. While some students were virtual throughout the 2020-2021 school year, this year all will be in person.
Test results at Northwest Catholic were above the state average even during the pandemic year, he said, but there is some catching up to be done. âThe lack of in-person teaching affected some skills needed to progress,â he said, and a learning center was established in the library to help students.
There were 114 graduates in the class of 2020, and enrollment is up this year, for the second year in a row. The total number of students is currently 460, representing around 56 cities.
âInternational students are back,â Dolan said, and there are a lot of transfer students from other schools.
A face-to-face meeting took place in someone’s backyard before the start of the school year, which allowed Dolan to get to know the students and families.
Masks are mandatory indoors, and Dolan said he bought a large tent for this year so students can get to know each other without a mask. Students can also remove their masks in both courtyards and at the athletic fields.
âI want the children to be face to face,â he said. âDon’t look at yourself as bank robbers. “
One tradition he brought back to school is the weekly summons. âEvery Monday we highlight something,â Dolan said, which could include academic or athletic achievements.
Dolan said he looks forward to attending sporting events and all sports will be back this fall. More than 90% of Catholic students in the Northwest participate in at least one of the 26 sports offered by the school. He would like to add more teams, but there aren’t a lot of gyms and other spaces currently available. Expanding sports facilities is a goal, he said.
He brought the captains of all the teams together and encouraged them – as well as all the students – to really get to know each other, to share their stories, to teach each other by talking about their origins and their unique heritages.
Northwest Catholic prides itself on having small classes, the largest having just over 20 students. Students can take courses online if they are interested in a subject that is not offered, and these courses are then delivered in a supervised study room.
The school is currently adding inscribed pavers – which can be purchased by students, alumni, family and friends with a personalized commemorative message – as work continues to repair the entrance to the Irene Dower Memorial Entrance Bourret. Information on buying a brick can be found here.
As Northwest Catholic prepares to celebrate its 60th birthday, Dolan is also looking to further engage the school’s approximately 8,000 alumni and leverage the school’s endowment.
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