WESTON—“I see this as a transformational opportunity for schools and parishes because there is so much potential,” says Elise Major, newly named chairperson of the Seton Collaborative, an important step forward in the overall diocesan effort to more fully resource schools and parishes.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano formally launched the Seton Collaborative last fall when he appointed retired Fairfield University chief operating officer Kevin Lawlor as executive director. This month he announced that Elise Major has agreed to serve as board chairperson of the collaborative, which expects to bring management expertise and best practices, beginning with financial expertise and information technology to schools and parishes in the coming months.
“I can’t think of a better person than Elise Major to lead the board,” said Bishop Caggiano, who until recently co-chaired the board with her through its formative stages. “Over the past few years I have worked closely with Elise and she has constantly inspired me with her good judgement, experience in leading educational change, and commitment to the students. And underlying all that is a deep faith and understanding of the role of Catholic education in forming, informing and transforming the lives of young people.”
While area business leaders will quickly identify with the value of a shared service or management organization, it translates into a very simple and important diocesan mission: free-up educators and priests to focus on their core ministries, while the collaboration takes care of business.
“We want teachers to be teachers and pastors to be pastors without the burden of becoming business administrators,” she says. “The Seton Collaborative will offer them effective support that will lead to greater efficiencies and use of resources,” she says.
The Weston resident and parishioner of St. Francis Parish, where she serves as the first woman trustee, Elise has been working with Bishop Caggiano and Deacon Pat Toole, diocesan vicar for administration, to launch the new diocesan entity. She has seen the concept work in other educational and organizational settings and is excited about its potential for the diocese.
Her volunteer service in leading the collaborative was born out of her early service as a “Room Mom,” which led to her work as president of middle and high school Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) in Weston. She was elected to the Weston Board of Education in 2013 and served a four-year term. That experience led to her becoming an associate of the development team for Achievement First, a network of 41 schools with 15,000 students in the region. Their mission is to provide equitable access to great schools for all children.
The mother of two grown children, Ryan (26) and Erin (24), said she and her husband, Glenn, whose family has deep Weston roots, watched their children thrive in Weston public schools, where many students go on to the top colleges in the nation, and she wanted to make sure that the young people in more challenged school districts have the same opportunity.
“I understood the full privilege our kids had going to a very well-resourced public school and I realized that in cities close-by, students faced a very different scenario,” she said, noting that the schools often lack critical resources.
A strong commitment to Catholic education led her to join the diocesan Education Commission, a group of education, business and institutional leaders empaneled by Bishop Caggiano in 2014 to plan for the future of Catholic schools. As part of that effort, she has worked to build resources for the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund and the Foundations in Education (FIE) Gala.
When the bishop determined a need to provide more operational resources to schools, he asked Elise to join Deacon Pat Toole in researching successful educational management organizations. Their research led to conversations with groups across the country in an effort to learn what practices the diocese might adapt to its own operations. As the concept developed, the bishop saw the value in making it available to parishes across the diocese that are looking for new ways to increase collaborative efforts and enhance resources.
Under the direction of Kevin Lawlor, the Seton Collaborative will meet with Catholic school principals in March for a presentation on the financial and information technology services that it hopes to make available beginning in the next school year. It has also engaged the National Executive Service Corps (NESC) to conduct interviews that will help shape services.
Major has great confidence in the venture because of Lawlor’s leadership and the quality of the board members who bring considerable business success and experience along with a commitment to Catholic schools and parishes.
“It’s really about collaboration. Our goal here is to develop a strong partnership with our schools and parishes so that we can implement best practices across the diocese,” she says.
The Seton Collaborative has been incorporated by the diocese as a separate 501C3 corporation (not for profit). Additional board members, personnel and services will be announced over the next six months.
(For more information on the Seton Collaborative, contact: Kevin.Lawlor@Setoncollaborative.org)