Saturday, January 7, 2012

Catholic schools stunner: The day after

It’s the day after the announcement of the merger of 85 Catholic parochial schools and closure of four high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The scope of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report received Jan. 6 by Archbishop Charles Chaput was, as Lou Baldwin writes on, “stunning.”

This day after has seen candlelight vigils to explain the plans and complain about them, and as always in a Catholic community, to pray about them.

Reactions up to this point have ranged from expressions of love for the schools to be closed, bewilderment of the choices to merge some schools with others, and even wildly mistaken impressions that the parishes themselves, not just the schools, were closing. (They aren’t.)

Today might also be the day when folks are taking time to actually read the report. That would go a long way toward clearing up confusion and begin moving forward into the new day that surely must come.

Because the current situation can’t continue. One school community or another might be sad at the loss of their parish school or high school, but no one can argue that a sweeping reorganization such as this was not long overdue.

Pastors knew it, parish finance councils knew it, principals and home and school associations knew it. Maybe they all hoped the changes would sweep up someone else’s school.

Nevertheless, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report clearly painted the dire financial picture of a system that cannot be sustained as current.

This is the plan going forward. Implementing it will not be easy, yet it must be done quickly. Recommended names of consolidated schools must be submitted in March, along with school tours for prospective students. School administrators and faculties will need to be well in place by summer so the new term can begin smoothly in September.

As the report details, besides the mergers and closures are solid recommendations to solidify and stabilize Catholic education with new structures of governance for the schools and plans to keep them academically excellent. Along with these proposals are calls for a renewed commitment on the parish level for Parish Religious Education Programs (aka CCD, to another generation) and special education schools.

So to anyone who cares about Catholic education (schools, PREP and special education) and that should be everyone, the report should be on the weekend’s reading list. Emotions at this time are natural. But the path forward will be lit with the light of truth. It should not be pounded out by
people stamping their feet in anger but by working together for the common good of education in the Church.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In a new year, a new message from the Archbishop

It’s January 5, and still not too late to wish someone a happy new year. The day also is the Catholic Church’s feast day for St. John Neumann, the saintly eighth bishop of Philadelphia.

The current shepherd of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput (at right he visits a Philadelphia prison Dec. 22; see more photos), marks the occasion to launch a new initiative in the new year: a new weekly message to Catholics and all visitors to

Archbishop Chaput takes the occasion to prepare people for what’s coming tomorrow. Jan. 6 will see the unveiling of the report and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic education. A year in the making, the report is said to envision a seismic shift in how Catholic education – not just Catholic schools but parish religious education and special education too – is delivered in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Much of the media attention will likely go toward stating the number of Catholic parochial grade school and archdiocesan high schools set to close or consolidate. But the report will do more than list the names of buildings. It is expected to lay out a vision of a smaller yet stronger system of schools that is sustainable far into the future.

Archbishop Chaput lays out the challenges ahead for Catholic education and for other issues the Church in Philadelphia is facing, including, he writes, “legal, financial, and above all, pastoral” issues.

These issues spring from a spiritual crisis today today, which the archbishop faces squarely in his message. Spirits must be rejuvenated, and a spiritual fire rekindled.

“The resource and organizational issues always come from some deeper spiritual problem: a lack of zeal, a lukewarm faith, an eagerness to fit in, a hunger for influence and a comfortable life,” he wrote. “These shadows live in all of us to one degree or another, including those of us in ministry.

The more we let them draw us away from loving Jesus Christ and doing the work of discipleship, the weaker and more dishonest our common life as believers becomes. The ‘habit’ of being Catholic is not enough. It’s not even close to enough. There needs to be a fire for being Catholic in our hearts.”

The Archbishop points back to St. John Neumann, who was first a missionary priest before he was the bishop who came to be so strongly identified with Catholic education.

“John Neumann was a missionary first. Everything else was second. You and I are called to exactly the same vocation. Let’s begin that work today. Difficulties can be overcome. Problems can be solved. We can renew our Church and make Catholic education grow and thrive again. But we need two things to do it – the grace of God, and hearts truly on fire for Jesus Christ. The rest will follow.”

Read the message from Archbishop Chaput at