The family is a domestic church, and the families of the Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Catholic School of Tyler are striving to model the same behavior. 

“I love our village. The foundation is Christ, and we’re a family united in faith,” said Bishop Gorman teacher Cathy Carney, 56. “We assist parents to help their kids grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ — being able to cry with them, to laugh with them and to give them hope. Forgiveness comes in order to help them understand how much Jesus loves and forgives. I wish the entire community could understand the beauty of the faculty (at Gorman),” she said.

Many families have sacrificed for the success of Tyler’s Catholic high school, and one of those is the Carney family.  

Cathy Carney teaches math at Bishop Gorman High School. She has been married 31 years to Donald Carney, who graduated from Gorman himself. She is also the sister-in-law of middle school theology teacher Judy Carney, 59, and the mother of Gorman chemistry and physics teacher Angela Carney, 26. Both Judy and Angela graduated from Bishop Gorman High School.

From left to right: Judy, Angela and Cathy Carney.

Ultimately when you say, “Carney” and “Gorman,” you have to know the story of John Carney. He is the patriarch of the Carney family, who coached basketball and softball for St. Gregory Elementary and for Bishop Gorman Catholic High School for over 50 years. St. Gregory dedicated their new gymnasium to Mr. Carney in 1996, and the Gorman High School and Middle School dedicated their softball field to Mr. Carney in 2013.  

All 11 of his children graduated from Gorman High School as well as 22 of his 27 grandchildren. There are 38 great grandchildren, with one more on the way. And of that number, three are going to Gorman and two are enrolled in St. Gregory’s, according to his wife, Barbara Carney, who was married to John for 61 years until his death in 2016. Why so many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at Gorman High School and St. Gregory? “We’re Catholic! We encourage it,” Mrs. Carney said.

The family is doing as the Church commands: “Catholic parents have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.” (Code of Canon Law, 793)

It’s hard to measure the influence of John Carney on this Catholic community. His daughter-in-law, Judy Carney, attended Gorman when she was in high school. John ran a janitorial business, and she witnessed his exceptional care for the gym floor. “I just remember respecting the gym floor because he took care of that gym,” she said. 

John Carney was Angela’s grandfather. “He was quiet and firm. His faith was a subtle part of his life, it was always there. Thankfully, my Dad passed it (the faith) on to me,” she said. Angela Carney teaches junior chemistry and freshman physics in the high school.  These subjects are not easy for young people entering high school. “I want them to understand the importance of striving. It is okay for the class to be challenging,” she said.

Angela actually has a reputation in the school of being “firm.” “The discipline I learned from my Grandpa is definitely something I want to pass on as a  teacher,” she said. She creates an atmosphere of joy and determination in her class.    

Pope Pius XI in 1929 in a document called Divini illius magistri (The Divine Teacher) acknowledged the  important role of teachers: “Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.” (88)

Angela Carney is very much aware of herself as a model for the young women at Bishop Gorman: “I dress well so the girls have a good model. I speak professionally. I strive for virtue.”  In class she tells the students “the purpose of studying science should be to participate in the knowledge of God’s creation. If we lose sight of God, we lose sight of the purpose of his creation.” 

But she is always encouraging her students to put some effort into their science studies. “If you hate class, put a little effort into it — maybe you’ll like it. It’s easy to be lazy,” she tells them. “But we are people called to action. To take charge of your life, you have to be a part of it, the same applies to your classes. “

Materialism is not taught in her classroom. She is always conscious of man’s final end, which is God. “I always saw a unity between faith and reason. God’s glory is seen in nature. The study of nature should reveal his glory,” Angela said.

In Divini illius magistri, Pope Pius XI said the same thing: “Since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end.” 

For Cathy Carney, John Carney played a pivotal role in her marriage to his son, Donald Carney. She was trained in math and kinesiology, so she naturally gravitated toward coaching and John Carney. When she moved to Tyler, “I started playing ball for John,” Cathy said.

“Mr. Carney became a mentor for me,” Cathay said. He helped her research religious orders because Cathy was discerning a vocation to religious life. “Mr. Carney used to say, ‘You’d make a good nun, but you’d also make a good mother. You should meet my son Donald,’” Cathy remembered. Donald was in medical school in Galveston. They began dating and corresponding. After eleven months, they were married.

Cathy teaches geometry, algebra and pre-calculus at Bishop Gorman. “I just can’t see myself teaching anywhere else. I need to talk to kids about the Faith. Everything I talk to them about must be anchored in Jesus Christ. I could never do that in public school.”  

Pope Pius XI agreed in Divini illius magistri that Catholic education must permeate all subjects and grades of schooling, “It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety,” because “if this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence.” (80) 

Cathy tells her students, “Whatever vocation you do is for God. You may not choose Math, but you’ll know how to do it. Math is a way to teach reason. You have to learn to follow and think within the ‘rules.’ Math keeps you from thinking you can do whatever you want however you want.” 

John Carney taught Cathy to prepare to become great. “Whether it was eternal life or winning a softball game. He wouldn’t let us practice like it was any other day. He expected us to perform as if we were playing a championship game,” Cathy said. 

When Mr. Carney brought students to a tournament everything was planned around the Mass on Sunday. “He’d scope out the Church. Sometimes we went (to Mass) in our dirty uniforms, but we always made Mass. I was so blessed to fall into the arms of this (Carney)  family,” she concluded. 

Softball field at Bishop Gorman High School.

Judy Carney always wanted to be a teacher. “I always wanted to teach here because of the education I got,” she said, explaining that she graduated from Gorman High School in 1981.

But she had no intimate connection to the Carneys until she returned to teach at the school in 1990. Then tragedy struck her family. Her marriage ended and she was left to raise six children alone. Judy and her husband went through the annulment process, which was a very difficult time for their children. “It was devastating,” Judy concluded. But for Judy, God brought good out of evil.

A friend encouraged her to write a letter to God, telling him the type of person she wished to marry. She did it, telling God this future spouse needed to love God first, then her, and then love her Catholic faith. Then she put it away and forgot about it.

Dale Carney had also been raising his daughter alone for 13 years.  He was a retired firefighter and drove the school bus. “I knew him. I was teaching his daughter,” Judy said.  One day they had a meeting, and he stayed to talk that night. Then he texted her all weekend.

They were married in the Catholic Church and became a blended family. They were raising two of her sons, one of her daughters, and Dale’s daughter. “He was the answer to that letter,” Judy concluded. He helped me to become a stronger and better person. I can’t wait to go home to be with him.” 

John Carney was still alive before they married, and he warned Judy that Dale wasn’t going to change. “He’s a clean freak,” John said. “You do know what you are getting into?” Judy explained, “He didn’t want us to make a mistake.” But Judy loves the fact that her husband likes to clean and cook. 

The experience of her first marriage also prepared her to work with children of divorced parents in the classroom. “I can talk to kids about divorce and how evil it is,” Judy said. She also talks about the healing available through the annulment process. 

As a theology teacher she is able to bring Jesus into everything. “He is always there. He is their biggest fan. He should be the love of their life,” Judy said.

Feature Image: Bishop Gorman High School, Tyler, TX

By Susan Fox

Susan Fox is a former investigative reporter, who worked for several daily newspapers and a newswire in the 1980s and 90s, including the San Francisco Examiner and the San Diego Union, under her maiden name Susan Burkhardt. She won many awards for her work then, which was in the area of finance, economics and business reporting. In 2019, she received a Master’s in Marriage and Family from the pontifical school ITI Catholic University in Trumau, Austria. Her Catholic blog, https://christsfaithfulwitness.blogspot.com, has over 4.7 million page views since 2012.