SEAFORD, NY – In the leafy suburban precincts of Seaford, Long Island, a tempest has been stirred at the Maria Regina Catholic School, as parents and staff rally in defense of a dedicated young teacher who was dismissed on contentious grounds. Michael Califano, a third-grade teacher at Maria Regina and a graduate of the same school, was fired after anonymous images of him kissing his boyfriend made their way into the hands of the local bishop.
As reported by Newsday, Califano was let go for not adhering to a “Catholic lifestyle and Catholic ethics,” as per the school’s code of conduct. Califano, however, challenges this claim, pondering upon the definition of a ‘Catholic lifestyle.’ Califano states, “They [the diocese] said that I wasn’t living a Catholic lifestyle but didn’t specify what they viewed as a Catholic lifestyle… I go to church every Sunday. I’m very active in my parish because my parish is my school. So from what I’ve seen, and clearly from what other people have seen, I have been living a Catholic lifestyle. The diocese feels that they can decide differently.”
Despite a history spanning two years at the school and a clear understanding of his sexual orientation within the school and Diocese administration when initially hired, Califano was dismissed. His sexuality was never raised as an issue upon his employment confirmation, and Califano was mindful to keep his private life separate from his public life as a teacher.
Despite the final decision coming from the Diocese, the school and its pastor were in support of Califano and opposed his expulsion. His dedication to the school went beyond his role as a teacher as he volunteered for the school’s theater program and organized annual fundraisers for a scholarship named after his late father, a graduate of the same school.
In response to Califano’s dismissal, the community has been vocal and proactive. A rally at St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, saw over a hundred supporters, including Maria Regina students clad with signs saying, “God loves Mr. Califano, and so do we.” Additionally, an online petition championing his return to the classroom boasts close to 27,000 signatures as of January 10.
Families in the school community are actively opposing the decision, with some considering transferring their children out of the school, citing a dissonance between the institution’s actions and their values. Toni Lichtenberger, whose daughter was a former student of Califano, called the incident a “witch hunt,” suggesting that this move contradicts the teachings of acceptance that the Catholic education system promotes.
Echoing the sentiment of the school community, Jackie Califano, the dismissed teacher’s mother, suggests that such an incident is inconsistent with the inclusive teachings of Pope Francis.
A director of communications for the diocese sent a statement to The Daily Mail denying Califano’s claim stating, “For privacy reasons we do not comment publicly on personnel matters, but we can say that the school did not end Mr. Califano’s employment over his sexuality.”