NEW YORK – In his first formal address to the faithful as leader of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, Archbishop Christopher Coyne announced a lofty goal of not only bringing Catholic schools back to the state’s capital city, but making them tuition free.

“It is a glaring omission that for quite some time the promise and opportunity of a Catholic education has not been available for the young people in the city of Hartford,” Coyne said at his introductory presser on May 1. “I believe we have a responsibility to change that.”

“My dream is to bring Catholic schools back into Hartford in our poorest neighborhoods in both the early grades and high school level and have them be tuition free,” Coyne said. “Is this dream attainable, especially as tuition free? I don’t know, but I want to try.”

Coyne added that he plans to engage and work with every stakeholder, whether public or private, faith-based or not, who is willing to help make the dream a reality.

The City of Hartford hasn’t had a Catholic school since the 2015-2016 school year, at the end of which the last remaining school, St. Augustine School closed its doors to merge with another school in West Hartford due to dwindling enrollment and expensive repairs.

Coyne prefaced his comments by saying that the archdiocese’s Catholic schools – of which there are 36 serving more than 9,000 students – are “one of the boasts of our local church.” He also saluted all the teachers and administrators, students, parents, and pastors associated with schools who make them “a source of pride and a choice worth making.”

Coyne was appointed the sixth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford on May 1. He was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Hartford last June, after spending about nine years as bishop of the Diocese of Burlington. In Hartford, Coyne replaces now-Archbishop Emeritus Leonard Blair, who led the archdiocese for about a decade.

The Archdiocese of Hartford comprises 2,288 square miles in Connecticut and has a total population of 1,949,519 of which 543,341 are Catholic. In his presser, however, Coyne acknowledged that the archdiocese has lost a third of its parishioners since the COVID-19 pandemic, and that parish closings remain a possibility.

Beyond Coyne’s desire to open schools in Hartford, much of his presser focused on his vision for the future of the archdiocese – a vision that centered on the need for greater co-responsibility between clergy and laity at both the diocesan and parish level.

In fact, after the standard “thank you” to those that came before him and to members of the church hierarchy for the opportunity, one of Coyne’s first announcements was that in the coming weeks he will appoint a new lay chief operating officer who will have significant responsibilities in the archdiocese, including some historically held by a priest or bishop.

“Both at the diocesan and parish levels the administration of the archdiocese has to rely more and more on the imagination, goodness, integrity, and talents of our men and women in the pews,” Coyne said. “I desire to work with my fellow Christians.”

Coyne went on not not just to emphasize the importance of co-responsibility in the archdiocese, but specifically highlighted the importance of the women of the archdiocese, and the importance of the archdiocese following the synodal model of listening put forth by Pope Francis.

Coyne paid tribute to the female religious of the archdiocese, as well as all of the mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, cousins, neighbors and beyond who “show us that Jesus lives and moves among us today,” also highlighting how much their work means to the life of the church.

“And in that spirit I promise that you will have a full place and voice in the ministry and life of the archdiocese, and that’s not because the archbishop says so, but because Christ in his Church already teaches that of all of us,” Coyne said of women in the archdiocese. “Lay and ordained, men and women alike, have an equal share in the mission of our baptismal call.”

Coyne also had a message for those who have left the Church, acknowledging the justifications many had for leaving, and inviting them to one day return. He said that the Church has given “no shortage of causes” to lead people away from the faith, including parish closings, the abuse scandal “and associated betrayals by leaders who should have known and done better, and pastoral approaches that have at times done more to judge people than to serve them.”

“I want you to know that I understand your frustration, your anger, and your sadness,” Coyne said. “You deserved better. You deserve better. And I’m committed to restoring the trust our people and our community should have in our Church.”

“Please know that if at any time you would like to join our family of faith again our door is always open and I promise to do whatever I can to hear you, to reach out to you, and to be a shepherd and a brother who’s worthy of your confidence,” Coyne added.

Since Coyne was appointed coadjutor of the archdiocese last June he said he has met individually with almost all of the active priests of the archdiocese, and a number of retired priests. He said he has visited and celebrated Mass at a number of parishes in the archdiocese, as well as 27 of 36 archdiocesan schools. He said he has gone to a number of banquets, sat down at numerous tables and shared numerous glasses of wine with parishioners.

All of this, Coyne said, will continue.

“I pledge myself to the people of the Archdiocese of Hartford that I will continue to do this,” Coyne said. “I’m not a lonely shepherd who walks ahead of the flock, but one who walks in the midst of the flock.”

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