Catholic education matters

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - Updated: 10:08 am

By Father Samuel J. Esposito

This is the latest in a series of columns about On Mission for The Church Alive!

Catholic school closings are very emotional occurrences. Having been through one some years ago, I can attest that it felt like someone had torn out my heart and was stomping it to dust. When our children are involved we can become easily upset if we feel that they have been treated poorly.

On the other hand, we know that the parish school is not what it once was. There are no freebies anymore. The sisters who worked without salaries, the book bills that were minimal, and especially the large numbers that resulted in double and triple classes for every grade are gone.

In its place we find the need for salaries that provide a just wage, health care and other benefits, and maintenance of aging buildings while fewer numbers are enrolled. And yet for some people, the expectation is that it should be business as usual. I saw a recent comment regarding a merger that lamented this outcome, but failed to realize that when our schools ignore budget shortfalls or allow debt to accumulate, the bottom will fall out. It is incumbent upon all of us, as stewards of this vital ministry, our Catholic schools, to understand the real picture and work to ensure our schools’ long-term viability.

Anna Torrance, diocesan secretary for external affairs, has high hopes for the regionalization of our elementary schools that has already begun in the North Hills area. Over the last year, the regional governing board, comprised of both pastors and laypeople, the regional administrator, the local school administration and faculties, as well as the parish and school families, have all worked together toward building strong, accessible, affordable Catholic schools in the North Hills region.

While there are still challenges to work out and a learning curve for sure, the fact of the matter is that creating a different structure for governance of the schools will allow for an increased role of the laity and a clearer connection to the ministry that is Catholic education among all the parishes in a region.

The city and eastern communities are already experiencing some ways of coming together, with the assistance of a regional advisory board, to prepare them for becoming the second region, and then attention will be toward the schools south of the city. Finally, those schools in the northwestern part of the diocese will be addressed.

One of our most nostalgic memories is that of identity. If you played sports for a particular school and had some rivalry with another school, that kind of competition brought energy. We know in some rare cases, it also brought poor sportsmanship when the rivalry turned ugly. Our mascots, school colors, the teachers we had, special activities, all these make for our treasured memories.

But what is the purpose of Catholic education? It is surely not to get our students into Yale or Harvard or Notre Dame. While the academics have to be top quality, Catholic education is about formation in the faith. It is to get people to heaven. That’s it. If we are supporting Catholic education for any other reason than that, we have missed the mark. So how things like morality, good sportsmanship, right conduct and manners are incorporated into the curriculum matters. It matters because the goal is to form students who are disciples of Jesus Christ. If they also happen to be brilliant students, creative artists and stellar musicians, that’s a bonus.

Don’t be afraid of the coming regionalization. While the identity of the parish school served a purpose, we no longer have the same reality as we did in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. On Mission is about sharing resources, and providing Catholic education in every region of the diocese is a ministry we want to see continue. While every school will be looked at for how it best serves an area, there may be some merged schools, newly formed schools and, yes, even some that remain part of a parish grouping. The governance, though, will be shared across a region. It takes the burden off of one pastor or administrator and is shared through a board that includes clergy and laity.

Keep looking up!


Father Esposito is episcopal vicar for On Mission for The Church Alive! For more about On Mission, go to www.diopitt.org/onmission.

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