Program for girls praised

The Journal News/April 22, 2001
By Gary Stern

New York -- There are no obvious signs at the Rosedale Achievement Center in the South Bronx that the program for underprivileged girls is run by Opus Dei.

All you see are girls, some in Catholic school plaid skirts and others from public schools, sitting at tables with Fordham University students who volunteer as tutors. They study math and reading and, from time to time, talk about questions of character.

"We use Judeo-Christian tradition for character building," said Irene Dorgan, an Opus Dei member and director of the program. "But we're not here to push Opus Dei. The tutors don't have to know Opus Dei to be good tutors. Most of them have never heard of it. We just want what's best for the girls."

Rosedale is a private program started by Opus Dei, but now operated by a coalition of business leaders in the South Bronx. Opus Dei continues to staff and run the program.

Opus Dei runs similar programs in many inner cities, often involving community and business leaders. The programs represent some of Opus Dei's main mission work, even though Opus Dei's involvement is often not apparent.

The programs' approach - combining academics, character education and the personal involvement of staff - is widely praised for making a difference in children's lives.

In Illinois, an Opus Dei member named Jim Palos who ran a prominent Opus Dei educational center was recently put in charge of a new state program called "Project Impact." This government initiative aims to improve the poor academic performance of the state's Hispanic students.

Palos said Opus Dei educational programs work "because they are built on Catholic social teachings and the teachings of the founder." But he said that in his new job for the state, overt religious themes will have to be removed because of the separation of church and state.

"There is a real connection between strength of character and academic achievement," said Palos, who grew up studying in an Opus Dei tutoring program and later became a celibate member of Opus Dei. "But in my new setting, things will have to have a different flavor. We'll still do character education, but in a different way."

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