What a month it’s been since I’ve last published a newsletter! I’m two weeks in to my new position as Superintendent in the Diocese of Buffalo. I’m here for a couple of months while the family finishes out the school year, crashing in an old convent working long hours and exploring a new city that I had never visited until I arrived April 18th.
One thing has become very clear during this past COVID year–we all need each other. We’ve seen Catholic school enrollments increasing due to the community feel and individualized attention in our Catholic schools. Our schools were/are nimble enough to respond to the ever-changing challenges.
Our parishes need Catholic schools. Here in Buffalo that’s a thing because we’re in the middle of Chapter 11 and resources have dried up. Some view Catholic schools as a drain on parish resources and there’s been a painful history of school closures over the past 50 years. In the published “Road to Renewal” program, the Diocese argues that the status quo must change and fears it is on the path to irrelevancy. Strong words, of course, but it makes us in the school world worry that OUR status quo might worsen! From my cell in the old convent, I can look across the parking lot to a closed Catholic school converted into apartments. I drive by at least four closed Catholic schools and a few towering old churches, too, on my way into work.
But Catholic schools are not simply private schools which need parish/Diocesan subsidies. They are central to the mission of the diocese and parish and thus deserve attention and resources. We need to make that argument out of sincere participation in the life of our parishes. Where else can you find young people alive and encountering God’s love?
Are we committing to supporting and participating in our Catholic parishes? I’ve yet to hear a Catholic school principal or teacher complaining about lack of support from parishes who is deeply involved with their own parish. Stop waiting for help and get involved! They need you.
We need to recognize the problem is not the schools cost so much money, it’s that Mass attendance and sacramental participation has plummeted. To paraphrase Going, Going, Gone, we have a church problem! Certainly my hope is that a vibrant Catholic school will help support Catholic parishes.
Before it seems that I’m implicating parish leaders in our church problem, we need to look at ourselves. Catholic schools need other Catholic schools. Our high schools need grammar schools. Our grammar schools need high schools. Our principals need each other; our teachers—especially those in single-classroom grades—need to participate in collaborative networks.
How many times have you seen teachers who want to close their doors and left alone? Principals who want to be left alone to run their buildings? It’s subsidiarity run amok. Before we complain about lack of support and common vision, take a look at how you’re connecting and supporting fellow educators. Are you building a vision of collaboration and community?
Certainly we can understand how poor leadership and broken trust has led those teachers and principals to become insulated and absurdly independent. We need to break down these walls in our professional practice, reach out to fellow educators, and build up our common work.
These are large and systemic problems. However, we should start by recognizing how much we need each other. Then take a step or two to connect with your parish, your fellow educators, or anyone in your Catholic school to build community. We need each other.