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.