26 December

A Reporter Looks Back At Zinnia Coming to Bishop Maginn School

by Jon Katz

By  Franchesca Caputo, Staff Writer, The Evangelist, Albany, N.Y.

“I was first introduced to author Jon Katz last year upon learning how he put his 11-week-old golden Labrador, Zinnia, to work. Students of Katz’s writing workshop at Bishop Maginn High School trained her to become a therapy dog on a weekly basis. 

Zinnia would eventually go on to visit the elderly at various hospice centers. This kind of work was not foreign to Katz. This year I would learn about his Army of Good — a group stemming from Katz’s three million readers who visit his blog annually, bedlamfarm.com. Katz established the army with only one goal in mind: to do good rather than argue about what good means. 

When he put the call out to help Bishop Maginn students during the pandemic, his personnel responded rapidly. Within four days, the army raised enough money for 27 laptops for children who didn’t have a home computer.

Educational needs weren’t the only shortage met. Within a few weeks, nearly $16,000 in Price Chopper gift cards were mailed to students and their families, many of whom are first-generation immigrants. While this news in itself was inspiring, hearing Katz speak about his love for the school and all who inhabit it felt refreshing, and with no previous ties to the school, somewhat of a rarity.

The determined, soft-spoken Katz cast a ripple effect on the lives who needed help the most, simply by replacing politics with practicality. “

I want to thank Francesa Caputo for including Zinnia and I in her year-end review for the Evangelist, the Catholic Diocese weekly published in Albany, N.Y.

Zinnia was a pup then, but she took to Bishop Maginn as a second home. She is certainly loved there. In fact, the students in my writing class helped me to train her in dog therapy work.

Actually, by now, the Army of Good has sent $20,000 more in gift cards to Bishop Maginn students and families and $6,000 in medical and safety supplies to help keep the school safe during the pandemic.

No BMHS family has gone hungry this year or will go hungry next year. We’ve also bought school supplies and more than $1,000 worth of Christmas gifts and disinfectant foggers.

Thanks for these good words Francesca, this was the day Zinnia made her debut at Bishop Maginn – it feels like eons ago. As the vaccines come out, Zinnia and I will be returning to our regular Bishop Maginn visits.

What a gift it has been for me to spend time at the high school, get to teach there, get to know the students and staff. And to meet Francesca, I appreciate her writing very much.

I can’t thank the Army Of Good enough for their support for this work. You have all made an enormous difference in the lives of the needy and the vulnerable. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And I will remind Maria that I am “soft-spoken,” she might disagree.

You can see the rest of Francesca’s year-end piece right here.


5 July

The Bishop Maginn School Supplies Project

by Jon Katz

I am especially proud of the statement being made this weekend on behalf of patriots – they call themselves The Army Of Good- who are affirming America’s proudest values by purchasing Fall school supplies for the students at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany, N.Y..

These are the students who wear sandals in the winter and whose families are unable to purchase, backpacks, pencils, notebooks and other essential items. They are the children of refugees, they have suffered greatly and want nothing more than to live safely and contribute to life in America.

These children are not rapists, gang members or murders, they do us no harm, and offer us much good.

The Army of Good Has purchased 148 items over the last 10 days on the new Bishop Maginn High School Amazon Wish List. I can’t think of a more patriotic gesture than helping this struggling urban Catholic High School help the needy, poor and vulnerable students of their city.

I can’t thank you enough.

The supplies, a short and inexpensive list – pens,  pencils, markers, paper, folders –  range in price from  $5 to $14.99. At this rate, I believe we will buy enough school supplies for every student who needs one by August, if not sooner.

Only 13 items  remain on this Wish List, including just three Acer Chrome laptops, they cost roughly $200 apiece. When we began the Wish List, the school had no computers for the students.

We have done a stunningly effective job in just a month or two to support the strong religious and ethical foundation of Bishop Maginn…to  help the poor and needy and vulnerable first, ahead of profit or dogma.

They not only worship the principals of Christ, they practice them and the vast majority of new refugee students are not even Christian. The school is not reviving its art, music and science departments thanks to the support we are providing.

We kickstarted a new choir (keyboard to come), got chairs and stands for the new music room, are purchasing laptops for the school’s first Computer Lab (one more to go on the wish list), we bought enough microscopes – more than 20 – for the science department, and we just bought enough backpacks for every refugee child who needs one.

We have also sold more than 15 paintings by the Bishop Maginn Art Class. I put another one up for sale this afternoon, a remarkable work by Blue, a refugee from Asia.

We have also bought shoes, sneakers, caps, shirts and pants for a number of students with no resources to by these things or even personal items relating to hygiene, plus art supplies (the teachers were buying art supplies out of their own pockets), and we bought enough books for the summer reading program.

A wonderful donor is sending a $1,000 check to Bishop Maginn to buy more laptops, this should bring is very close to the total number we need.

Wish Lists are my favorite way to donate to a school like Bishop Maginn. People can privately choose the gift and amount they choose, and know where it is going and to whom. If you need the address to ship  via Amazon (address list), it is Bishop Maginn  High School, 75 Park Avenue, Albany, N.Y. 12816.

Donations to Bishop Maginn are tax deductible, you can contribute directly to the school: Bishop Maginn High School, c/o Principal Mike Tolan, 75 Park Avenue, Albany, N.Y., 12202. The number if you need it, is 518 463-2247.

I also purchase clothes and personal items like books and art supplies and toiletries – sometimes  groceries –  for the refugees and Mansion residents directly. If you wish to contribute to my Refugee/Mansion Fund,  you can do so via Paypal, [email protected] or by check to Jon Katz., Mansion/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Small donations are very welcome, those $5 checks make me cry with joy. Everyone is welcome to help the work of the Army Of Good, and thank you.

4 July

Patriotism: The Bishop Maginn School Supplies Campaign

by Jon Katz

I honestly can’t think of a more suitable thing to do on July 4th than to honor our country and ourselves by announcing the Bishop Maginn High School School Supplies Campaign.

“Independence is my happiness,” wrote Thomas Paine, “and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

That is my faith as well, and it is the spirit and ethos spirit of Joseph Maginn, guided by it’s compassionate and courageous principal, Mike Tolan. The generosity of faith, of Christianity, does survive, it shines every day at Bishop Maginn.

We put up 13 different items on the Bishop Maginn School Supplies Wish List yesterday, they range in price from $5 to $18. This morning, I kicked off the campaign by buying a box of pencils for $13.49.

There are many beautiful and not-so-beautiful things about America and its history, perhaps the best known phrase associated with liberty is the one on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to be free…”

It was written then about refugees, and it is just as apt now, it permeates the Bishop Maginn High School. For me, nothing could be more patriotic than helping these poor children get school supplies. Mike Tolan says half the new students in September will have no money to buy any school supplies.

I hope we can fix that, this campaign begins today and right here. I know this is a holiday and there are not a lot of people online right now. Speaking for myself, I’d rather buy some pencils or a backpack that watch some tanks roll by the Lincoln Memorial.

It’s basic stuff – pens and pencils, erasers and rulers, glue sticks highlighters and backpacks. In fact, the most expensive items on the list are backpacks, for $18.99 apiece. (They need 20)

Bishop Maginn is an urban Catholic High School in Albany, N.Y., Like many Catholic institutions, this has been a hard time for the school, and for its faculty and  students. In recent years, the school has opened its hearts and classrooms to refugee children, newly arrived in America, and often struggling. Most of these families have many jobs but no money.

The school doesn’t have much either, in part because they accept the poorest and the neediest children. I am very proud to be helping them.

The school has become a cherished refuge with a dedicated, hard-working and  underpaid  faculty.

They had no computers, no microscopes, no art program, no music program. We have raised funds so far for a new and revived choir, we’ve purchased art supplies for the resurgent art program, we are buying the school’s first laptops (26 of them for a computer room), we have inspired the school to put up an Amazon Wish List, already successful.

We’ve got them the microscopes they need, and I’m determined to get them the 10 remaining laptops they need for their computer room.

I’m thinking a lot about these kids when they come to school in September. My wish and plan is for there to be enough school supplies so every child who needs a pen or pencil or eraser or backpack will have one.

I’m launching the campaign over the summer. I’m going to buy one thing a day, I hope you all will consider buying what you can afford when you can afford it.

You can buy the supplies directly off of the Wish List. If you need it, the school address is Bishop Maginn High School, 75 Park Avenue, Albany, N.Y., 12202.

You can also send a contribution directly to the school, c/0 Mike Tolan,  Bishop Maginn High School, 75 Park Avenue, Albany, N.Y.  12202. All contributions to the school are tax-deductible.

If you prefer, you can also send your donations – large or small – to me directly and I will use the money to make purchases from the Wish List every day. Nothing would make me happier than to have some moneyt to spend on that list. My summer pleasure will be to watch the number of items on the list disappear.

I can’t think of a better way to start the day. (Thanks Sally, for sending money for hats for Asher and Issachar.)

You can send money to me via Paypal, [email protected], or by check Jon Katz, Mansion/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Larger contributions get things moving. Small ones really matter.

We are not about soldiers and tanks, we are about opening our hearts and souls to the dreamers and innocent victims and pilgrims who come her to share in the American Dream. It takes strong and enterprising people to survive what these children have survived and get themselves to America.

To me, this is very much in the true spirit of America. I am proud to live in a country that has always helped refugees and I know will help these children – they have suffered enough to get here – the most basic school supplies, so they can learn.

Thanks, Army Of Good, and Happy July 4th.

You can check out the Bishop Maginn School Supplies Wish List here.

21 June

“Aries,” By Blue Of The Bishop Maginn School: $25

by Jon Katz

This painting by the artist Blue, is for sale for $25. If you are interested, e-mail me at [email protected]. First come, first served.


I feel a call to collect the stories of the refugee children that I have heard over the past few years. Someday they should be published, so they will not be forgotten. I am not the person to write that book, but the stories I have heard will always remain in my heart and my imagination.

And I mention them on the blog when I have permission and it is safe.

The stories are not stories that ought to come out of the lives of children. I think hearts break when children are treated in these days, it is the worst of humanity.

I hear of murder, the slaughter of villages, starvation and disease, of parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors, aunts and uncles,  many of them lost or murdered or left behind. I hear stories of a devastated culture, of genocide and terror, rituals and celebrations, festivals and feasts. Stories of loss and fear.

There are stories of overcrowded, filthy and dangerous refugee camps, riddled with disease and thieves and despair.

Ten year old girls talk of being assaulted, of not daring to look men in the eye, of mothers raped in front of their small children, of babies being tossed into the air by soldiers and caught on bayonets while their mothers watch.

Yet out of this horror comes hope and beauty and  generosity of spirit, I’ve never seen so much empathy and warmth in children. There is little bitterness or complaint.  Many are damaged and carry the scars, many move forward with their lives, full of hope. And they are so often creative, I suppose this kind of suffering opens up the soul.

Blue has had some  hard days and nights in her life, but her art is filled with life and hope. It touches people in a way art sometimes dies, it is emotional and full of spirit. She has been painting and sketching for nearly a year, and is blessed to have a caring and skilled art teacher – Sue Silverstein – and natural talent. The best brushes and paints don’t hurt either.

Blue is a junior at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany, N.Y. and she has asked me to offer some of her art for sale. We gave her bags of art supplies for her watercolors and she is making good use of them this summer.

Sue Silverstein is opening up her classroom so Blue can work. Her mother wants her to be a nurse, and that of course, is up tot he family not me. She is certainly a gifted artist. She says Blue is thrilled to see that people are validating her art work by buying it. Her confidence in her work grows by the day, Sue reports.

So I’m very happy to offer these paintings from the Silverstein Art Gang at Bishop Maginn for sale, Asher’s and Blue’s and Paw Lway Shee. This one above is from Blue, it is inspired by the constellation Aries, she is a star watcher.

I’m asking $25 for this painting. I’m setting the prices of these smaller paintings low so that everyone has a chance to buy one. If you are interested, please e-mail me: [email protected]. Please don’t send any money until I have confirmed that the painting is available.

Blue has sold four paintings so far. She already has a lot of followers.

Please check out the new and inexpensive items on the updated Bishop Maginn High School Amazon Wish List. Some are as low as $10. These lists make it very easy.

30 September

A Day In Bishop Maginn High School’s New Magical Art Wonderland. Lighting The Creative Spark. Where Creativity Is Endless

by Jon Katz

I spent most of Thursday at Bishop Gibbons High School, a proud and bustling Catholic School in Schenectady, New York, where most of the refugee kids from Bishon Maginn have joined a diverse high school with all kinds of students, rich and poor, white and black, brown and yellow.

Sue Silverstein is the school’s new art and community service director. She has transformed the basement art room into an eight-part creativity center full of choices and ideas for students who want to learn how to make their things during class time and beyond.

Sue is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, spreading that joyous infection throughout her classes.

The students are immensely proud of what they are making, and that, I think, is the point.

I love Sue, she is a friend of mine, and I know her to be a human angel who loves her students and worries about their day and night.

Here, she has been allowed to flower and experiment with her sense of empowerment, encouragement, and the creative tools that help children to think, grow and learn.

It is a fantastic thing she is doing; the students and other teachers love it.

I’ve met several other equally dedicated staffers. I am working with Tricia White, the head of the English Department, to mentor students who want personal help with their writing and to give some talks and classes next semester.



(Amanda, making art with beads, marbles, and ceramics.)

Like Sue, Trish is an amazingly dedicated teacher; she’s put me together with my first student to mentor, Killian McGee, who is writing a blood-curdling horror story set in a bowling alley.

We are having a blast working together; he has plenty of drive and imagination.

I hope to put his piece on my blog, and he will then be an officially published author. At first, I made him nervous, but he is figuring me out and know I’m a sap.

I’m pushing him to start a blog, and he wants to write in the horror genre like his literary hero, Stephen King. We’re having a blast.

But yesterday belonged to Sue and her art program, a radical effort to make student art personal, practical, affordable, interactive, and intensely creative.

The Catholic Church has taken a well-deserved beating lately, but I am impressed with the support they give their teachers and the commitment they show to the welfare of the students, at least the ones I’ve seen.

I wouldn’t be there otherwise, and neither would Maria.

Any student in the school can use their new tools (thank you, Army Of Good, for making this happen) and come after school closes to put in the extra effort.

Sue has opened up her very radical experiment in teaching and inspiring art to everyone in the school, her classes or not. Her classes are immensely popular; supplies are flying out of there.

She is running out of discarded jewelry materials (please send some – Sue Silverstein, Bishop Gibbons High School, 2600 Albany Street, Schenectady, N.Y., 12304) but is grateful for the flood of no longer used metals, jewelry, fabric, tools, silverware, broken ceramics, canvas, sheets,  wood, and even toy parts she is using to help the students make things like jewelry, beds for animal shelters, ceramic designs, beautiful Colonial style floor cloths, wind chimes and baskets made out of sheets and canvases.

One person’s musty attic and basement are another’s creative tools.

Students can come and work on their creations at any time.

Also, I’m allowed to take pictures of the young artists now; I’m glad I’ll be able to connect the faces with the art.

They deserve it.



The art students made their presence known by making a series of gorgeous floor cloths out of prints and stamps to decorate the welcome school statue in the front of the building.

I can’t think of a better way for them to announce themselves and make their presence felt.



One of Sue’s first and instantly popular projects has been making dog and cat beds for local animal shelters, so the animals won’t have to sleep on cold concrete floors.

All the kids want to make one, and all the covers are thrilled to get them. Sue wants there are to benefit the community, and the students are looking for ways to bring art into the homes of people who can’t afford them.



Fran from New Jersey sent Sue this lovely wind chime which Sue loves very much. She’s going to hang it up in the art room. She says she loves connecting with the people from the Army Of Good who send her things; she says they write some of the most beautiful letters she ever receives.

She says she is in touch with almost everyone who sends her things.

The Army of Good is…well, good.

Fran also sent this beautiful letter to Sue, who wrote back to her,  the two have become friends.


I especially love the last paragraph, the P.S., which reads, “I am a Peace Messenger for the United Nations and a member of the Army Of Good.”

It made me tear up a bit. Sue also. Thanks, Fran, you are always there.


Lorenzo wanted me to see one of the baskets he is weaving from some of the sheets sent to Sue.


Maria spent most of the morning cleaning, re-setting,  fixing, and oiling the six Singer machines we bought for the students at Bishop Maginn and that Sue brought to Bishop Gibbons.

Maria has been teaching sewing in the art room. Sue says that sewing has become so popular that the machines are constantly in use and need maintenance.

Yesterday, Maria took one of the best machines to a sewing machine repair place, and the owner donated two used Singers in good shape that their owners no longer want or need. We’ll get the machine back shortly.

We’ll bring them to Bishop Gibbons when we return, which will be soon.



Hser Nay is drawing on one of the sewing machines. Maria says she is one of the best sewers in the class. You might remember Hser Nay; we helped with her tuition.

She is delighted with her new school.


Cia is using ceramic bits and scraps that people have been sending her. She asked me several times to remind people that none of this work could have been done or could be done without the support of the people sending her lost and abandoned fabrics, metals, jewelry (they need old jewelry), sheets, and other discarded tools.

(Hser Nay and Folasade working on their ceramic art.)

Everything these students are making comes from recycled objects people can’t use anymore or throw away.

If you can and wish, you can send your lost and found objects to Sue Silverstein, Bishop Maginn High School, 2600 Albany Street, Schenectady, N.Y., 12304.

And thank you, thank you, thank you.

You are helping to bring joy, confidence, community, and creativity to children who love what they are learning to do and always are eager to take it home and show it to their families.

Sue is a hero of mine and a close friend. She has the heart of an angel and the generosity of a saint, and she works day and night, often exhausted, to do right by the children who are fortunate enough to come her way.

It is a joy and honor to know her and to see the extraordinary, even revolutionary, work coming out of her art rooms. She could not do it without you.



Sue’s following projects on the list include wall hangings and reliefs and totem poles made out of squared wood. She’s already storing the wood in the basement and sawing it herself.


Bedlam Farm