A new approach to running Catholic schools in New York

Well, the Archdiocese of NY is finally preparing to take a big step to improve the financial health of its school system.

No, I’m not talking about closing more schools — which is also going to happen.

I’m talking about breaking the traditional link between parishes and parish schools, which puts tremendous financial pressure on many parishes to support money-losing schools. Many pastors have told me over the years about the tensions created by having to prop up schools.

The archdiocese is moving toward a new regional system that will allow groups of parishes — led by new regional boards of education — to oversee groups of Catholic schools.

The church outlined what’s coming in a new report released today, which describes a three-year period of planning and reconfiguring things. Archbishop Dolan has been talking about this for months, but now the process, it appears, is underway.

What is certain to get the most attention, at least for a while, will be point 1.iii on page 18: “Recommend schools to close or merge for the 2011-12 school year and provide suitable alternative Catholic school options to affected families.”

The archdiocese has closed dozens of schools in recent years. Are we talking about 5 more? 10? 20? Who knows.

But the real plan, the report makes clear, is to provide a LONG-TERM foundation for Catholic education in the 10 counties of the archdiocese. This means not only coming up with a new regional system for operating remaining schools, but also improving and modernizing academic standards and facing the bedrock question of how to best give Catholic students a firm Catholic identity.

It’s all in the report, Pathways to Excellence. You can read it HERE.

Dolan: Catholics must ‘recover nerve’ to support Catholic schools

While it’s appeared in recent years as if Catholic schools were heading toward irrelevance — or semi-extinction — because of financial woes, Archbishop Dolan is pledging to refocus on Catholic education.

In a strongly worded article in the Jesuits’ America magazine, Dolan makes the case that Catholic life is largely dependent on the existence of healthy Catholic schools. As a result, he writes, all Catholics — not only those with children of school-age — must take responsibility for Catholic education.

He writes: “Nowadays, Catholics often see a Catholic education as a consumer product, reserved to those who can afford it. The result is predictable: Catholics as a whole in the United States have for some time disowned their school system, excusing themselves as individuals, parishes or dioceses from any further involvement with a Catholic school simply because their own children are not enrolled there, or their parish does not have its own school.”

Dolan says that while Catholic schools were once needed to protect students from anti-Catholicism, they are now needed to protect them from secularization.

He writes:

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Today’s anti-Catholicism hardly derives from that narrow 19th-century Protestantism, intent on preserving its own cultural and political hold. Those battles are long settled. Instead, the Catholic Church is now confronted by a new secularization asserting that a person of faith can hardly be expected to be a tolerant and enlightened American. Religion, in this view, is only a personal hobby, with no implications for public life. Under this new scheme, to take one’s faith seriously and bring it to the public square somehow implies being un-American. To combat this notion, an equally energetic evangelization—with Catholic schools at its center—is all the more necessary.

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Dolan challenges Catholics to get on board without mincing words.

How about this: “It is time to recover our nerve and promote our schools for the 21st century. The current hospice mentality—watching our schools slowly die—must give way to a renewed confidence.”

Or this: “Have we Catholics lost our nerve, the dare and dream that drove our ancestors in the faith, who built a Catholic school system that is the envy of the world?”

Dolan is gradually unveiling a new approach to the schools that he calls “Pathways to Excellence.” He hasn’t released much info yet, but he wrote in a May column in the NY Post that, mostly likely, some schools would be closed, some would be merged and some new schools would be opened.

I wrote a couple of years ago that the Archdiocese of NY was planning to put groups of parishes in charge of single schools, moving away from the traditional one-parish, one-school approach. We’ll see if this new strategy is part of Dolan’s plans.