My staff likes to make sure that I have plenty to do while away for vacation, so this year they presented me with the report and recommendations of the Catholic Schools Commission, which I convened last December as part of our Archdiocesan Strategic Plan.
The document was the size of a small phone directory, full of important data and research. I am grateful to the 17 members who made up the commission for the thoroughness and professionalism of their work as well as their wide ranging consultative process.
Call to holiness
The church’s mission is to communicate the love of God to all men and women, drawing them into a relationship with God and with their fellow believers. The “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church,” from the Second Vatican Council, calls the church a “sacrament — a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men” (par. 1).
The same council states in its “Constitution on the Liturgy” that all the church’s activities are directed toward the sanctification of human beings and the glorification of God. This is our call to holiness, given to us in baptism and developed throughout the rest of our lives.
Holiness means living in, with and through Christ. It is a dynamic relationship that is nurtured and strengthened by the church’s teaching, her sacramental celebration, her apostolic outreach and her ecclesial communion.
One of the means that the church uses to accomplish her mission is her Catholic schools. These have been an effective instrument for doing so in this archdiocese for the past 160 years.
Today, more than 30,000 students attend our 95 Catholic elementary and high schools. This is quite a contrast to the situation here in 1965 when we had nearly 90,000 students in 180 Catholic schools within the archdiocese.
Much has changed in those intervening years: Society has moved from close-knit, urban neighborhoods to spread-out suburban communities, leaving urban areas in a state of decay. Our classrooms, once filled with students of Irish, German, Italian or Polish immigrants, now reflect more mainstream middle- or upper-class backgrounds as well as minorities and new immigrants who are a gift to our church, our schools and our community.
Teaching staffs were then made up of religious sisters in habits, who have now been by and large replaced by lay men and women. Technology has advanced, replacing blackboards with smart boards and computers.
And, of course, the price of Catholic education has also changed. Today the approximate average cost for Catholic elementary school education is $5,237, while the average tuition charged per pupil is $3,377.
Thus, parishes and school administrations are faced collectively with bridging the elementary education gap of more than $30 million through parish subsidies, grants, gifts, endowments, local fundraising and archdiocesan support through the Catholic Services Appeal.
Faced with the challenges offered by this changed reality, the Strategic Plan asked all schools to review their sustainability.
The Catholic Schools Commission complemented this work and has recommended criteria for long-term viability with the goal of making a high quality Catholic school education available to every family that desires it. They did so by focusing on the areas of Catholic identity, governance, educational excellence, advancement and funding models/financial management.
The first recommendation was to establish an Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council, made up of visible and supportive leaders for our Catholic schools. This council’s focus will be primarily to continue the strategic planning in the five areas mentioned above, assisting me and my staff to implement the recommendations made by the Catholic Schools Commission.
I look forward to the work of the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council beginning in September. In time, we also hope to have an advisory council with clear roles and responsibilities in each of our parish schools, engaging lay leadership in the mission of those schools.
It is clear to me that these steps have the potential of giving our Catholic schools the direction and resources that they need and deserve.
It is also clear to me that these schools benefit all of us, whether our home parish has a school or not. Educating the next generation in our Catholic faith, forming them to live holy lives in Christ, and preparing them to be virtuous leaders in the church and society as a whole are fundamental to what we do as church.
We simply must succeed at fulfilling that mission. Catholic Spirit