It’s Catholic Schools’ Week.
With what we’ve just been through, some might think that we’d more appropriately observe it the week of All Souls’ Day, or Memorial Day, both occasions when we remember the dead!
Last week’s sad closings could lead some to conclude that our beloved Catholic Schools are dying, or, to repeat the term I’ve used before, that our excellent schools are in hospice, a terminal patient we’re just trying to keep comfortable until they pass away.
Jesus observed that a vine must be pruned if it is to continue providing good fruit.
Our precious Catholic schools are a vine that produces exquisite fruit: the best academics; a safe, secure, loving, disciplined atmosphere; an emphasis on faith, virtue, and character.
This vine must be pruned. This hurts. To be blunt, if we did not close some of our splendid schools now, pretty soon we’d be close to shutting them all down.
The schools we now have, after the somber decision to close the twenty-four last week, will be fuller, even better, and more financially sound. Thus, please God, we should not have any more long lists of closings in the future.
Thus, our schools are not in hospice, but in the recovery room, with a future filled with health, vitality, confidence, quality, and hope.
This hardly takes away the sting from the children, teachers, parents, priests, and parishioners of the schools that have to close, all of which, by the way, were first rate schools. They didn’t have to close because they were academically inferior — quite the contrary — but because they were at low enrollment, and were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. In fact, last year alone the archdiocese gave these schools $8,323,689 just to stay open. We don’t have that kind of money!
Thanks to all those who now mourn, who struggled so hard to keep their good schools going.
Not that our schools are just a business. Not so! None of them make money! If we only kept schools open which were in the black, we’d have none.
Our parishes, benefactors, and the archdiocese will always have to — and want to — support our schools. It’s just that we have to use the money of God’s people wisely, not on schools that are losing children every year, and show no signs of financial stability, or an increase in enrollment.
And there’s our main challenge: to increase enrollment! Each of the schools that grimly have to close could have remained open if more parents had sent their children there.
And, we must re-double our efforts to make sure we follow through on our pledge to provide a Catholic education to any child who seeks one, particularly those whose schools will close in June. We have placement counselors available in all the regions of the archdiocese, ready and eager to assist parents in learning about the other schools in their area, so that they can make the best choice for their children. What’s important, these counselors will remind the parents, is not that their child attend Catholic school in a particular building, but that their child attend a Catholic school, particularly one that looks forward to welcoming new students (and they all do), that has high academic standards and a record of achievement (and they all do), and provides a solid formation in the faith (and they all better!). Two years ago, when we had our first round of school closings, nearly two-thirds of the children were re-enrolled in other nearby Catholic schools. Not bad, especially when you consider that in the past we were happy if we got 50% to move to another Catholic school. With experience, we’re hoping to do even better this time around.
Why would Catholic parents not send their children to a Catholic school? Beats me. But, we better find out.
Remember the days of waiting lists and jammed classrooms? What happened?
One hears an abundance of replies: Catholic schools cost too much; the public schools in my area aren’t that bad; the school in my parish is hardly Catholic at all. Add to that our society’s de-emphasis of religion, and the decimation of the intact Catholic culture of five decades ago, and I guess we have a buffet of reasons.
Yet, the fact remains: in academic excellence, preparation for life, and formation in the faith, for all their worries, nobody does it better than Catholic schools.
Pardon the cliché, but that’s why we want to change the mourning into morning.
Our strategy is clear:
. . . Catholic schools are our “pearl of great price”;
. . . we will struggle and sacrifice not only to see that they survive but that they flourish;
. . . to do so, we can’t do “business as usual”;
. . . our system of Catholic schools may be a bit leaner than before, but it is stonger;
. . . every Catholic, every parish, must support a school;
. . . our schools will remain A+, accessible, and, affordable.
Happy Catholic Schools’ Week!