23 December 2010

The Most Necessary Thing is to Make Them Catholic

STLToday has a story about Archbishop Carlson's efforts to revitalize Catholic schools in the Archdiocese. It is a generally positive piece, and His Grace does cite to the importance of imparting the Catholic faith for Catholic schools to succeed.

But like most secular outlets, the Post simply doesn't get that there is only one reason for Catholic schools to exist, and that is to teach the Catholic faith. Any other function can be approximated in other places, but only a Catholic school can be Catholic. Talking with "national experts" is good, but I wonder if these are finance people or other "experts". I just hope these aren't the same national experts who have SpiritofVaticanII-ed us out of business.

What the Archdiocesan officials can do is to ensure a vibrantly Orthodox Catholic faith curriculum. Then work to ensure that faithful Catholics are the ones teaching it. And then ensure that this program has the active support of school principals.

In the end, if the Catholicity of the school doesn't "sell" the school to parents, then what is the point? From the full story at STLToday:

Carlson aims to fulfill vow to improve schools in archdiocese

By Elisa Crouch
Thursday, December 23, 2010

As soon as Archbishop Robert Carlson arrived in St. Louis last year, he made clear that improving Catholic schools was his top priority.

Enrollment throughout the 11-county archdiocese had been steadily declining for four decades. Concern that schools were losing their Catholic identity was growing. In the city's core, where white Catholics have left some neighborhoods, demographic shifts had some parish schools struggling financially.

Carlson vowed to tackle the problems even if it meant taking on potentially contentious issues, such as moving resources from wealthier parishes to struggling ones, and restructuring tuition.

So for the last year, he has been meeting with national experts as well as parents, teachers and pastors to develop strategies to improve Catholic schools. In doing so, Carlson is positioning the St. Louis Archdiocese to follow the lead of other large city Catholic school systems that have restructured to stem the loss of students.

"We don't have to sit by and let this happen," Carlson said in an interview this week at his Central West End residence. "Let's grow this system again."

Carlson said he doesn't expect drastic change. But he isn't ruling out spreading the cost of educating more than 34,000 students among all 189 parishes, including those that don't have schools. Nor is he ruling out closing or consolidating schools.
"It's always possible that schools are going to close," Carlson said. "At least at this point it's too early to say this school or that school."

He's considering ways to change the way parochial schools are financed.

One idea being explored is a full-cost tuition model with significant financial aid, similar to colleges and universities, said Daniel Conway, consultant for missionary advancement for the archdiocese.

The parents who could afford to pay full tuition would, and those who couldn't could apply for significant financial assistance.

Another is developing a foundation in the archdiocese so parishes wouldn't have to depend on their own resources.

In the Catholic system, most parish schools must survive through tuition, Sunday collections and fundraising. In addition, the archdiocese uses interest from a $10 million endowment to help parents with tuition. The Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation is helping 1,800 low-income children who live in the city and cannot afford parochial or private education.

"We want to make sure everyone has access to our schools," Carlson said.

While many schools in the suburbs are flourishing, others in the city are struggling.

"It's really a very significant justice issue to have good schools that move people out of poverty," Carlson said.


"You can see something building," Carlson said. "Where people begin to see Catholic schools not so much in terms of their cost, but here we can provide a pathway out of poverty, here we can share the principles of our faith clearly, and here we can help our young people come in contact with Jesus Christ."


Overall, Catholic school enrollment in the 11 counties under the Archdiocese of St. Louis has dropped by 14,000 in the last 10 years, according to the archdiocese. However, the school system continues to be the seventh-largest Catholic school system in the country.

Carlson said he doesn't plan to mimic the approach that Archbishop Timothy Dolan is taking in New York. There, Dolan is restructuring the way schools are funded so they're not reliant on a home parish to stay afloat but rather would depend on clusters of parishes, or the archdiocese at large.

"Every diocese has its own personality," Carlson said.

"While regional funding is good, if you get the school too far away from the parish, in my experience the parish community can lose interest," he said. "It's a delicate balancing act where you keep the parish involved but you have regional sharing."

In early spring, Carlson plans to announce strategies that he hopes won't become contentious.

"With any huge effort, people will like this part and that part, but they may not like everything," he said. "Hopefully we've listened well and we can craft something which can be successful here in St. Louis."


Anonymous said...


This is a news story from the Philly area regarding declining Catholic school enrollment.

Here's the quote that struck me:

" 'Our primary concern is, of course, the teachers and their jobs', Schwartz added."

(according to the article Rita Schwartz is the President of the local chapter of the Association of Catholic Teachers)

Granted, it's her job to be concerned about teachers and their jobs, and of course no one wants people to lose their jobs. But should it be the primary concern? Isn't educating children the primary concern?

This has been an issue in our parish school and I believe in our Archdiocesan education office. We had a principal at one point who's actions were completely outrageous, but things were kept quiet and she went on to another school. We have subpar teachers that are kept year after year because, we've been told by one pastor, they "can't" be let go. Parents complaints are ignored, day after day, year after year. Eventually they get tired of it and leave.

I don't think this system can ever be what it should be until hiring and firing practices are cleaned up.

Until the primary concern is educating children, not protecting jobs.

Anonymous said...

While in theory, it is noble to try and increase Archdiocesan school enrollment, fact is the issue should have been addressed a decade ago. In the next five years, a number of well-known, Catholic schools, particularly in the southwest corridor of both the City and County will be forced to close their doors because of diminished enrollment.

Sorry to say, but it's too little, too late. The toothpaste is now out of the tube.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. . . Timman, I wholeheartedly agree with your point. The Catholic schools are always going to be poorer in financial resources than their public counterparts. If neither support your faith, however, it is easier for parents to explain to their kids why their school is wrong if it is a public school, rather than a Catholic school.

How many Catholic schools had kids singing Kwanzaa or Chanukkah songs at their "winter" performance?

How wrong is it that the most "Christian" school Christmas show in a very Catholic city like St. Louis is at John Burroughs? Seriously.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know how many respondents to the archbishop's survey included mention of the ened for 1) teaching Sisters in habit and veil; 2) authentic, orthodox catechesis; 3) avoiding the inclusion of Meitler Consultants in these dealings.

Anonymous said...

I heard a nice radio ad promoting STL Archdiocesan schools in anticipation of Catholic schools week in late January. It's never to late to do the right thing. One has to start, even if one might fail.

We can't throw up our hands and give up completely.

God bless Abp. Carlson. He has his job cut out for him on this.

Anonymous said...

One way to improve the schools would be to lengthen the skirts of the young girls shown in the picture.
If they start so young, imagine when they get older.