Monday, April 14, 2008

A Model Catholic School System


A brand new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has just been released. Entitled Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools, it combines several case histories with national polling data to arrive at a series of recommendations aimed at securing the future of urban Catholic schools.

Of particular interest is the story of the Wichita, Kansas Catholic School System. With but 120,000 Catholics in the diocese Wichita maintains 39 Catholic schools. 36 of these are parish schools (including 34 elementary schools), one is a free-standing preschool, and four are Catholic high schools. According to the report, "What makes the Wichita system truly unusual in this day and age is the fact that all Wichita Catholic schools have eliminated tuition for Catholic students."

This has been accomplished by pastors and the bishop calling on all "parishioners to live a 'stewardship way of life' that involved a greater commitment to their parish and Catholic ideals."

The response has been nothing short of amazing. Learning from the example of one parish that had been modeling a stewardship program throughout the 1960s an 1970s, the bishop encouraged all his people to do the same starting in 1984. Support has grown so much since then that the last Catholic school to be charging any tuition to Catholic students stopped doing so in 2002.

Parishioners have bought into the concept of stewardship in a big way, and not just with their checkbooks. According to one pastor, "“I find that most parishioners want to support their parish. And the missions of the parishes are Catholic schools. If everyone in my parish did not pool their money together, our school would be closed. Tuition just would not work.”

Leadership is critical. Superintendent of Schools Bob Voboril says matter-of-factly, "It’s simple. If you close one of my schools, you can find yourself a new superintendent.” The report adds, "But Voboril has little to worry about in the way of job security. That’s because unlike some bishops that have closed Catholic schools or converted them to public charter schools, Wichita Bishop Michael O. Jackels enthusiastically supports Catholic education and Voboril’s mission."

The complete Wichita story begins on page 22 of the report. It's the story of what could have been happening right here in Rochester, but for a continuing lack of vision and leadership.


Mike said...

During the previous round of school closings and tuition hikes in DOR the pastor we had at the time suggested that other pastors wanted to suggest that the Diocese adopt the Wichita model. I guess nothing came of it or more likely it was dismissed out of hand. BTW, that pastor was Fr. Murphy now at St. Louis.

Mike said...

I remember hearing or reading something about a "Wichita Model" a few years ago, but I don't think I ever really understood exactly what it meant.

Now I wish I had, as I would have been advocating its adoption here every chance I had.

Rich Leonardi said...

The Wichita model is heavily dependent on the health and orthodoxy of the diocese. It's difficult to go to parishioners with a big stewardship campaign if what they see day in and day out suggests it may be good money after bad.

Anonymous said...

The Bishop would never release the schools, nor would the Parish leadership as currently composed would be able to do it. There is not enough orthodoxy, nor leadership fortitude necessary to make it work.
Actually leadership is a quality discouraged in parishes in this diocese. Makes it harder to hold down an iron fist when there are real leaders both lay and religious.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike said...

You're something of an optimist, aren't you, Dr. K.? Our Good Bishop has exactly 3 years and 3 months left in his term (unless the Lord decides otherwise, of course). That's more than enough time to close them all!

If DOR's financial model really does require 28 to 30 kids per classroom and enough parents revolt at that level of overcrowding, why all 11 of those schools could be history come June 2009.

Peggy Warren said...

The success of Wichita Catholic Schools has nothing to due with Bishop Jackels but everything to due with Msgr. Thomas McGreed. Jackels just came to the diocese 3 yrs ago this school system has been in place for decades.

Mike said...

Peggy, I'm sorry if I wasn't clear about that. Msgr. McGread was, of course, the pastor at Wichita's St. Francis of Assisi Parish who challenged his parishioners to adopt Stewardship as a way of life in 1968. And it was certainly his encouragement that led "this stewardship-inspired parish to grow and prosper. There was a sense of unity, harmony and spirituality as never before within the parish." (

And it was then newly-arrived Bishop Eugene Gerber who, after studying St. Francis' model of stewardship for two years, in 1984 encouraged all of his parishes to adopt Msgr. McGread's call for stewardship.

Bishop Jackels, as you correctly point out, has only recently arrived on the scene. He is also a firm supporter of stewardship and Catholic schools.

As the report says, "In a back-to-school letter in 2007, Jackels was clear that Catholic schools would remain a diocesan priority: 'The Catholic school ministry concerns all the baptized. Moreover, we should make this ministry a priority and give it our best resources in people and energy, without sparing effort, toil or material means.'"

If only we could hear Matthew Clark utter those same words.