First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?
Closings Aren’t the Full Catholic School Story
Photo by Maria R. Bastone ©
SCHOOLWIDE MASS—Students at Holy Rosary School in the Bronx gather at a morning Mass Feb. 1 in Holy Rosary Church during National Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 29-Feb. 4. Cardinal Dolan was the principal celebrant. Following Mass, the cardinal toured the school.
Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

Are our schools back in “hospice mode”?

Have we returned to the “slow amputation” strategy where every year we announce the closing of a few more of our beloved schools?

One could be pardoned asking those sober questions after last week’s somber announcement that five of our Catholic grade schools were to close at the end of this academic year, and one was to be converted into a Universal Pre-K.

The past four years have been rather bracing for our schools. After the decision to regionalize, all parishes share in the financial support of our schools, which would—with some exceptions—now no longer depend upon one parish but upon a region of them. We had anticipated that with the new plan, no schools would have to shut down for the near future.

That has indeed been the case. Alleluia!

Remember, though, that we had also forecast that the future would not be without such painful decisions, and that keeping the high caliber of our schools would always require sacrifice, grit, and tough choices. Thus, last week.

What we can do is answer those two questions—Are we back in “hospice mode,” where we grudgingly admit that our cherished schools are slowly dying, and that all we can do is keep them alive painlessly for a while longer? And, have we returned to an “amputation strategy,” where each year we cut off a few more of our schools?—with a resounding no!

Recently, we completed a marketing strategy for ongoing evangelization in the archdiocese. What was clear is that the overwhelming majority of our people praise our schools and do not want any more to close. We can’t let them down.

Why, then, do so many parents choose not to send their children to our schools? That, of course, is the remedy here. Those schools just shuttered were not inferior schools. They were sterling schools with not enough children to keep them robust.

How, then, to increase enrollment? We might list some of the reasons we hear given by those parents and critics who do not support our schools, and see if they’re valid:

“The enrollment is sinking. I don’t want to send my child to a school that will probably close before she graduates.”

Not a good reason: This year, enrollment in our schools did not decline, the first time in twenty years, and went up by 659 children.

“Well, we can’t afford them. That wealthy archdiocese has to put its money where its mouth is!”

We do. This year, the archdiocese will invest $14,373,292 into our schools, and the parishes, $11,143,322 (totaling $25,516,614).

“Well, what about the poor kids? They can’t afford them!”

This year, 7,216 students are receiving scholarships amounting to $13,476,482, 255 (which, by the way, leveraged another $17,825,759 in tuition, since all our children must pay something). 

“But, why sacrifice, when our Catholic schools hardly do any better academically than the free government schools!”

Wait a minute! Last year, our schools outperformed both New York City and State schools in English language arts, and in math.  

“But, what about religion! We hear our schools are weak in Catholic identity and values.”

Check what you’re hearing. Last year, all of our schools but three passed the national religion knowledge exam. And prayer, the Bible, daily religion class, frequent Masses, devotion, and confession are the norm in a school where the flag and the cross dominate each room.

We are not polishing our medals. Our schools are laboratories of creative, innovative learning. I think of our “blended learning program,” the “Engineering Tomorrow” initiative, and the establishment of an executive director of Catholic identity to assure that our schools do not just get our kids into college and solid employment, but into heaven.

So, let’s admit it; last week’s announcement was sad. But it is not a reason to hang up the black crepe. There are abundantly promising developments to keep us confident, and to encourage our people who rave about our schools to send their kids, grandkids and neighbors there.

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