Friday, January 6, 2012

Do You Want to Save Your Catholic School? Make It CATHOLIC

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia today announced the shuttering or merging of 44 of its Catholic schools.

Dioceses, and big ones at that, are heading towards the same types of moves, with (soon to be Cardinal) Dolan apparently honing in on a massive "restructuring" of New York's Catholic school system as well.

Despite the fact that I run this blog, I know that I don't know much about much, but one thing I believe I do know is the direction that a Catholic school will need to go in if it wants to remain viable.

People bemoan massive school closings as if they signal the death of the Church in this or that (arch)diocese, but its not! Look at every corporation or industry that has been around for more than 20 years - the businesses in that industry that don't shutter their doors remain open because THEY ADAPT!

I firmly and passionately believe, as I've said here before, that if schools don't integrate Catholicism into their entire curriculum, they ought to start prepping retirement plans for their employees.

You have to look a little down the train tracks in order to be an organization that adapts, and I believe wholeheartedly that the curve that a school needs to jump out in front of if it wants to be successful and remain open and viable a few years from now is the Catholic identity curve.

I guarantee that as Archbishop Chaput looked over the list of schools in his Archdiocese and had to make hard calls on closings, while some of it was clearly based on economics, I also know that a big part of it also came down to which schools are passing on the Faith in all that they do, and which ones simply give Catholicism a head nod. Especially in tough-call situations, where most everything else was equal, surely the schools that emerged from today are the schools with strong Catholic identity throughout their curriculum.

Having strong Catholic identity doesn't really translate to dollars - YET. Not a lot of parents are out there saying, "I've got to find an authentically Catholic school" for my kid. I know a lot of people who simply look for the word "Catholic" in the title of the school, and their investigation stops there.

That being said, I think in ten years we are going to see two things
a) a lot more parents doing their homework on the Catholic identity of a school
b) bishops who really make Catholic identity priority number 1 (we're already seeing this one pan out on the East Coast and elsewhere in the U.S. in the first tremors of a nationwide shake-up).

Some schools may look around and assure themselves of their economic viability and sleep well at night not having to worry about such issues. Well, most schools receive lots of aid from their dioceses and parishes, and those sources can vanish in a flash (i.e. 25 priests suddenly accused of abusing children) and even the once-economically-stalwart schools may find their heads on the chopping block.

We have got to start encouraging and helping teachers incorporate the Catholic faith into their classes. Most don't right now for one simple reason: they don't get paid anymore to put in the extra effort. If I'm running a Catholic school, I would start offering VERY lucrative prizes to teachers who do incorporate the faith in their "non-theological" classes. If I were still teaching math at Chatard, and the principal came out and said "we are going to give 5 1,000 dollar bonuses to the five best lesson plans this semester that incorporate Catholic identity into their classes" you can bet I'd suddenly be motivated.

It is this kind of encouragement that schools will need to start providing their teachers if "Catholicism across the curriculum" is going to take hold (just as "technology across the curriculum" and "writing across the curriculum" programs have taken hold in the past 5-10 years as well).

The question here is which schools will get out in front of the curve, and which schools will stick with the status quo?

Let's all pray for the thousands of teachers who today learned of their job loss, and let's pray that, through the forward thinking of our many many school leaders and teachers, other dioceses may be spared this pain.


  1. Teaching orders of nuns and brothers is one solution that may or may not re-assert. It will take years, however. In a lot of places it isn't just that the faith isn't being taught, it is being subtly counteracted. Parents grumble to themselves, "I can send my girl to public school and let her lose her soul for free, or send her to Catholic school and pay for the privilege." Many of the parents who used to send their kids to Catholic schools now home school. It works. There are options for parents, but I'm with you Father, I feel for the flock and the shepherd in Philly today. Hopefully we can sit here in twenty years and marvel at how quickly things turned themselves around!

  2. Amen on the nuns - if I were in charge of a school I'd fight tooth and nail (and pay whatever it took) to get some good solid religious sisters in the school

  3. Father,
    As a parent of children in one of the Catholic schools in the Phila Archdiocese that is closing, I commend your call to "up" the Catholic identity of our schools.
    However I think you're being somewhat naive about whether this was a factor in the school closings. It's pretty clear that demographics, geography, and economics were the only factors considered and that administrators in the Office of Catholic Education, rather than the Archbishop, are calling the shots. They are the same people responsible for the poor quality of the textbooks used in those same schools.
    The problems are caused by refusing to question the dominant paradigm in which our schools aim to follow public school methods of teaching and administration. For instance, when I was a child in those same schools there were far fewer administrators and support staff for far greater numbers of children. Without a bishop pushing aside the "experts" and looking at this issue with common sense, more schools will close in the future.