On March 28, 2019 when the Archimandrite Father Nektarios Papazifiropoulos, the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Demetrios in Astoria, Queens, Emanuel Dritsas, President of the Parish Council, and the Secretary of the Parish Council George Christides signed the letter with which they… rejected the $25 million donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to the St. Demetrios High School, they committed one of the greatest mistakes in the history of the Greek-American community.
But the real responsibility lies with Father Nektarios.
He ought to know that what he did deprived the Greek-American community not only of the resources, but also of the know-how and expertise needed to develop our only high school in America from what is currently a good school to a very good academic institution, which would have had long-lasting and beneficial consequences for its students and across the Community.
Did he have this right?
Our predecessors, despite their limited academic knowledge, recognized the value of education from the moment of their arrival in the United States.
They valued education in general, but also Greek education, in our communities.
That’s why they did everything they could to educate their children.
The result was that our children reached almost the top of the list of the most educated minorities in the United States.
However, they were unable to create a high quality system of Hellenic education. Among the few exceptions is the High School of St. Demetrios in Astoria.
The school was founded by visionary lay people such as Mr. Nikos Andriotis, with fire in their hearts and faith inspired by the examples of other dynamic leaders of communities throughout the history of the Hellenic Diaspora. They even went against the opinion of the then all-powerful Archbishop Iakovos.
Unforeseen circumstances created the possibility of funding this school more generously than one could have ever imagined, opening the door to its becoming one of the best educational institutions in New York, and to being a great nursery for Hellenism and our Greek Orthodox Church in America.
SNF, under the inspirational leadership of Andreas Dracopoulos, had decided to support its development with a donation of $25 million, at this stage. More could have followed!
It would have being the biggest donation in the history of the Diaspora.
However, as difficult as it is to imagine, the Parish, being guided behind-the-scenes by Archimandrite Nektarios, rejected the donation!!!
Thus, a golden opportunity for Greek education in America was lost.
The sequence of events is known to our readers:
On our issue of April 22-28 2017, The National Herald published an article with the headline: “SNF Large Donation for St. Demetrios HS, St. Michael’s Home.”
On the issue of Nov. 3- 9, 2018, we published an article with a 5-column headline on page 1:
“SNF Donates $25 Million to St. Demetrios School.” The opening paragraph read as follows:
“The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) has donated $25 million to the St. Demetrios Cathedral Day School in Astoria. This donation will secure the School’s long-term survival and allow it to advance to a state-of-the-art educational institution with a Hellenic and Orthodox identity.”
In my editorial for the English Edition that week, under this glowing headline, “Morning in Hellenic Paideia in America,” I wrote: “The Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s $25 million donation to the St. Demetrios High School in Astoria is indeed a ‘game changer’ for the School and Greek education in our community. And it could not have come at a more appropriate time.”
“Many of us who have a long-standing, particular sensitivity to the subject of Greek Education, for obvious reasons, have been lamenting until recently about the lack of support from affluent Greeks… We were beginning to lose hope, and that is when a deus ex machina swung into action. Along came Andreas Dracopoulos to engineer a new springtime in Greek education, to make possible what (until recently) seemed impossible: to contribute – please note that word – to the creation of a model Greek-American school that would be among the best schools in the demanding environment of New York City.”
Since then, SNF leadership dedicated much time and effort to the process – I also participated in some meetings in the early stages, where I was quite certain that everything was proceeding smoothly – by working with the St. Demetrios’ leaders, among whom was Archimandrite Nektarios.
In order to achieve these goals, SNF’s basic requirement was the creation of a separate institution, which would be responsible for managing the huge SNF endowment to the school.
The Board of Directors of this institution would be composed of top educators and other professionals, and of course, members of the community of St. Demetrios.
As with all its grants, SNF does not interfere with the administration or generally with the management of grants.
Of course, SNF closely monitors the progress of the projects it finances to make sure the grants are used in accordance with the terms for which they have been made.
A company specializing in educational issues had been hired by SNF, which carried out a feasibility study of the state and the potential of the school.
The company’s findings praised the current work done at school, given the financial limits within which it operates, and highlighted the great advantages enjoyed by the school compared to others in the area, mainly, its Greek identity and its Greek-Orthodox religion.
Without them there would be no reason for it to exist.
And, of course, these were the reasons SNF decided to fund the School.
These facts are mentioned – more than once – in the Mission Statement of the School.
However, Archimandrite Nektarios began to undermine the deal.
In the end, almost $500,000, advanced by SNF to the school, was spent on legal fees during the negotiations between the school and the Foundation.
The Archimandrite seized on the condition in the Mission Statement that the school is obliged to accept non-Greek students and, muddying the waters of the discussion in the Community.
I repeat: it was mentioned at least twice in the School’s Mission Statement that the purpose of the school is to promote Greek education and the Greek Orthodox faith.
In fact, the Archdiocese’s attorney, Catherine Bouffides-Walsh, to whom then-Archbishop Demetrios referred the proposed agreement to for study, advised the Community of St. Demetrios to accept it.
The reason is simple: It is forbidden in educational institutions, in any organization, in businesses, etc. in the State of New York and elsewhere to discriminate against anyone.
For example, if you have an apartment for rent New York legislation prohibits you from refusing to offer it to non-Greeks, unless of course, that reasonable conditions are not met, for example, income sufficient to afford the rent and a clean police record.
According to the same law, a school cannot refuse to accept a pupil if, of course, it meets legitimate criteria such as appropriate grades, and agreement to follow the curriculum – including Greek language, Hellenic history, etc.
They could, for example, have read the Mission Statement of the Cathedral School in Manhattan where these matters are also addressed.
But there is another matter that obviously escaped the attention of Archimandrite Nektarios: The acceptance of children of other minorities in the school of St. Demetrios, (as is done in many other Community schools – if the students meet the academic requirements and agreed with the terms of the school), would be a positive force for both the school and Hellenism.
What would we lose as Greeks if children of other minorities were taught our language, our religion, our history, our dances?
What would we lose if we created an army of Hellenic ambassadors in American society?
Is the opposition to this vision proof of defense of the Greekness of the school, as some people sincerely believe, or merely an ill-considered obstacle to the development of the school?
Sadly, demagoguery has prevailed once again.
As a result, a golden opportunity for the school of St. Demetrios, for Greek Education and for our Greek Community and Hellenes Abroad has been lost.
What a shame!