Friday, May 25, 2007

Can Catholic schools endure?


The Rev. Kevin McDonough recalls that in the 1960s, four other Roman Catholic schools could be seen from the second floor of St. Agnes High in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood.

In those days, the chief of staff for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said, some parishes paid nuns $50 a year to teach. Today, only two of those five St. Paul Catholic schools remain.

In 1965, nearby St. Thomas Academy abandoned its St. Paul campus in search of more space and a new identity in Mendota Heights. The move coincided with the growing number of families of European heritage flocking to the suburbs.

This month, St. Agnes nearly shut its doors until two anonymous donors contributed $2.6 million and the school raised $750,000 more at the last minute. Meanwhile, St. Thomas Academy alumni continue donating millions to the thriving all-boys school, and enrollment remains at capacity.

Urban and suburban Catholic schools in Minnesota and across the country are in similar circumstances as they figure out how to stay afloat. And while suburban Catholic schools tend to do better financially, both face the same pressures of fundraising, paying the salaries of lay staff, upgrading technology and adjusting to diverse student demographics.
...There are 7,498 elementary and secondary Catholic schools in the United States. As parents have more choices with charter, magnet and private schools, only 36 Catholic schools opened and 212 consolidated or closed.

These schools once could rely on nuns and priests, who voluntarily worked for little pay, but now the schools primarily employ lay staff.

The NCEA also reports that in the past decade, the number of students enrolled in Catholic schools in the Midwest dropped 10 percent, from about 251,000 to 230,194. Suburban Catholic schools, however, showed steady enrollment when compared to urban ones.
...Most Catholic schools must make tuition affordable to attract families.

St. Thomas awarded slightly more than $1.5 million in financial aid last year to about 685 boys who attended the school, said Headmaster Tom Mich.

The increasing number of minority children - especially Hispanic immigrants and those coming from strong Roman Catholic backgrounds - is one reason financial aid is important, Ristau said.

Catholic schools remain committed to urban and rural communities, added Father Kevin McDonough, the archdiocese chief operating officer who also leads St. Peter Claver School in St. Paul.

A majority of students attending St. Peter Claver are of color and non-Catholic, McDonough said, and about 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

According to McDonough, the parish's income from weekend services totals $350,000 a year, but running the school is a nearly $1 million endeavor.

Church members and donors from around the St. Paul area help pay the costs, McDonough said, because they value Catholic education. . . . Read it all in the Pioneer Press HERE.

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