CLAIM

In 2017, the San Domenico school in San Anselmo, California removed some Catholic statues from its campus in an effort to be more inclusive.

MOSTLY TRUE

RATING

MOSTLY TRUE

ORIGIN

On 25 August 2017, WND reported that the San Domenico independent Catholic school in San Anselmo, California had removed dozens of statues of Catholic and Christian figures, including Christ, from the school’s campus:

Parents of students at a Catholic school in the San Francisco Bay area are protesting the board’s decision to remove and relocate more than 160 statues of Jesus, Mary and historic church figures from the campus in an effort to make the school more “inclusive.”

The story extensively cites an earlier article published by a local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal, which quotes some parents and community members as being concerned about the removal of the statues, as well as school officials and board members defending it. 

On 26 August 2017, conservative site BizPac Review followed up with its own report, writing:

Holy mother of Jesus, what is going on in America? An independent Catholic school in the San Francisco Bay Area — where else? — has removed a statue of Mary and Baby Jesus from its campus in an attempt to be more “inclusive.”

A number of statues and Catholic icons have been removed from the campus of San Domenico School in San Anselmo, the Marin Independent Journal reported. A move that is part of a “new strategic plan” to appeal to more potential students.

It’s true that San Domenico has been removing Catholic statues from its campus, and that this has been part of an ongoing effort to be more inclusive and appeal to non-Catholic prospective students. However, while reports do mention the fact that San Domenico is an independent Catholic school, they don’t clearly explain what this means for the school’s ethos and strategic planning, and why the decision to remove the statues is a good deal less surprising when San Domenico’s status as an independent Catholic school (as opposed to a Diocesan Catholic school) is taken into consideration. 

A spokesperson for San Domenico told us that the school had removed six out of sixteen statues from campus, leaving ten. WND’s claim that the school had removed “more than 160 statues” is therefore false by a wide margin. School authorities also recently moved a statue of Saint Dominic — the school’s patron saint — to a more prominent place on campus and added a plaque to honor him. 

The San Domenico school was founded in 1850 as an independent Catholic school by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. In 1965, it became an independent nonprofit organization. It is not a Diocesan school, which means it has never been under the control of the Catholic church hierarchy.

Diocesan Catholic schools are owned and run by local Catholic archdioceses (regional divisions of the church throughout the United States and the rest of the world). They therefore form part of the church hierarchy which ultimately extends upwards to the Vatican. 

San Domenico school (like other independent Catholic schools) exists outside this realm, and therefore has independence in balancing its Dominican Catholic heritage and ethos with its emphasis on cultural and religious inclusivity and diversity. One manifestation of this difference is that students at diocesan schools are generally taught Catholic dogma, while students at schools like San Domenico are not; instead, they receive instruction in “religious studies”.

In the lower school, this curriculum is known as “religious studies and character development”. Students are taught to develop a “moral framework for making ethical decisions which guide personal choices and interpersonal relationships.” In the middle school, this means pupils study the Bible, Quran, Buddhism and do comparative research on major world religions. In the upper school, students are offered classes in global studies, philosophy, the history of Christianity, and Zen Buddhism, among others. 

The school is run by a Board of Trustees. In 2016, just three of the board’s 26 members were from the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. A spokesperson for the school told us that approximately 80 percent of the school’s parents and students do not identify as Catholic.

In June 2016, the Board of Trustees approved a new strategic plan for the school. The second of its five main goals was: “Strengthen San Domenico’s identity as an Independent School and clearly articulate our inclusive spiritual foundation.”

There is historical context for this effort, according to the strategic plan (page 8):

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, who have been trailblazers in facilitating education, providing healthcare, seeking social justice, and addressing serious environmental issues, founded San Domenico as an Independent School committed to inclusivity, inquiry and character-driven education.

…In addition to being an Independent School, San Domenico is a Dominican School, which means that we express our religious identity through the charism of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. Their motto of Veritas, the search for truth, their focus on social justice and environmental stewardship, and their educational philosophy grounded in both inclusivity and a spirit of inquiry, provides the foundation for our unique approach to spiritual education and the study of world religions. 

Finally, it should be noted that the decision to remove some Catholic statues from public visibility on San Domenico’s campus does not appear to have come from any external pressure or the implacable forces of “political correctness”. It’s a step that school authorities themselves have chosen as part of San Domenico’s evolution, and it is fully in keeping with the school’s stated philosophy of inclusivity and diversity.