Thursday, May 29, 2008

St. John Bosco Schools Informational Meeting

This just posted on the SaveSJR blog ...

St. John Bosco Schools, a new Private Independent school teaching in the Catholic tradition, has received a number of requests to explain their model and what will set them apart from other local schools.

If you are interested or just curious, there will be an informational meeting at 7:00 pm, Wednesday, June 11.

See the SaveSJR site for full details and contact information.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

12 Questions

Eugene Michael has posted a group of questions that have been on his mind from time to time.

Some of them have occurred to me too.  For instance,

Why do we never hear an explanation from a member of the clergy as to why women can’t be priests?

If anyone out there is tired of holding his/her breath waiting for this to be addressed from the pulpit or in the Catholic Courier, Boston College Philosophy Professor Peter Kreeft has a tour-de-force explanation on his website.

It runs just over an hour and is a bit triumphalistic to some  ears, but it does cover all the bases.

And if you should have other questions or interests Dr. Kreeft has about three dozen other audio files available for free here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Catholic Faith Is More Than Feelings

Today's D&C features a story on various Rochester-area mainline Protestant churches and some of their members. A part of the story profiles a young couple who were raised Catholic but are now members of the United Church of Christ, "drawn not by doctrine but by the sense of community." The story goes on to say that the wife "found it more and more difficult to recapture the feeling and experience of faith she had as a teenager," so she and her husband, "began to search for something that worked."

This brought me back to two days before Christmas 2004 when I opened up the D&C to find a photo of two fellow parishioners - a married couple that I'll call Dick and Jane - prominently displayed on the front page. The photo accompanied a story about folks searching for a church home and I quickly learned that Dick and Jane not only were no longer fellow parishioners, but they were also no longer fellow Catholics.

"Shocked" would probably have been the best description of my reaction. These were just about the last folks I would have expected to leave the Church. Both had been very active in our parish. They were at Mass every Sunday and during the week had both served on several committees and he on the parish council. Dick had also been a Eucharistic minister and Jane a religious ed catechist and the entire family had been active members of our parish's Families In Religious Education (F.I.R.E.) program. They were the stereotypical pillars of the parish. Or they had been.

What happened? Well, according to Jane, "the leadership changed and took the church in a different direction." Now she said she found herself making a grocery list in her head during the sermon while Dick fought sleep and the children twiddled their thumbs. “We knew there was more,” said Jane.

It is true that our parish had recently undergone a change in pastors and that the new guy, while a good and holy priest, was certainly less dynamic than his predecessor. Two well-liked staff members had also recently left, one to take up new responsibilities with her religious order and the other to travel the country with her husband in retirement. Their replacements were well-qualified people, but again perhaps a bit less dynamic than their predecessors.

In short, some of the non-essential, external trappings had changed, but it was still a Catholic parish. The Sunday homilies might have become a bit drier to some ears, but they were still the product of many hours of prayer and preparation and they still offered solid catechesis. The essential part, however, was still the same: The Eucharist was still the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So in looking for "more," Dick, Jane and their children have actually settled for less. In becoming members of the Lutheran church a couple of miles away they may have found something more exciting, more entertaining, but they have left the Real Presence behind. They traded Jesus in the Eucharist for warm, fuzzy feelings.

I haven't talked with Dick and Jane since they left the Church but it seems obvious that their Catholic faith had been a mile wide and an inch deep. It was a faith more predicated on feelings than religious convictions, a faith that needed interesting homilies more than it needed Jesus in the Eucharist. As Jane said in the article, "After a while you get a feeling of where you belong."

Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for catechesis these days is pretty empty stuff, heavy on emotional and/or "experiential" content, sprinkled with dubious "truths" and devoid of what really matters. And why shouldn't it be? People like Professor Richard Gaillardetz, who recently made his third trip to DOR in the last four years to address our "ministerium," have a disdain for "propositional" catechesis and most certainly pass that on to their audiences. People like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who routinely sow the seeds of doubt if not those of dissent, make regular, well-attended appearances here. And the priests, pastoral staff and educators who comprise their audiences then go back to their parishes and schools to instruct the faithful.

As Eugene Michael says, "No wonder there are so many confused and non-practicing Catholics in the DOR." To which I can add: No wonder there are so many Catholics deserting the Church for other denominations.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Catholic Call-In Gets No School Calls?

An article appearing today on the Catholic Courier website is headlined "Pastoral ministers answer dozens of questions during 'Catholic Call-In'."

According to the article more than 80 questions were fielded on topics such as church doctrine, mortal sin, heaven, hell, the Sunday obligation to attend Mass, marriage, divorce and annulments.

No mention is made of any calls with questions relating to the closure of 13 Monroe County Catholic schools, although I know of 4 people who intended to make such calls.

Perhaps they and others of which I am unaware are covered by the line,

Some questions were not answered immediately, but instead were forwarded to experts in the appropriate diocesan departments.

If so, I'm sure the "experts" will get back to the callers post haste.

Catholic schools advertise with lawn signs

Just a few miles down I-90 the Diocese of Syracuse is showing DOR how to actually promote its Catholic Schools.

Part of the Syracuse Catholic Schools ad campaign relies on that old political stand-by, the lawn sign.  The diocese has the signs made up and distribution couldn't be simpler: Parents simply pick them up at school, take them home and plant them in their front yards.




The result:  Syracuse Catholic Schools are getting calls from parents interested in registering their kids.

Of course, we really couldn't do anything like that here.  We just might get too many kids signing up and then the Bishop's experts would no longer look like experts.

Catholic Schools Worth Saving

Carol A. Kostyniak, Secretary for Catholic Education in the Diocese of Buffalo, had an interesting op-ed piece in last Sunday's Buffalo News.

She had recently attended the White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools hosted by the president. The event brought together 250 educators, policymakers, philanthropists and business and community leaders to develop local strategies to keep the doors of inner-city faith-based schools open to America’s disadvantaged students.

One paragraph that caught my eye says,

Margaret Spellings, U. S. secretary of education, has referred to inner-city faith-based schools as “national treasures.” Spellings hosted a panel that included Acting Secretary of HUD Roy Bernardi, on “Educational Options and America’s Cities.” The panel indicated that faith-based schools are often the stabilizing force in their neighborhoods. In addition to providing safe and academically rigorous environments, these schools have a positive influence on community stability, employment and reduction in crime. The panel concluded that protecting such schools is in the interest of the citizens and leaders of neighborhoods, cities, states and the nation. (emphasis added)

The article concludes with,

As the summit indicated, our children cannot wait until we turn around our nation’s failing public schools or build new ones. Parents and neighborhoods need the opportunities provided by their faith-based schools. It is up to our entire community to work to ensure the future of these national treasures and to ensure that future generations of children and their communities continue to reap the benefits of our faith-based schools. They are a legacy worth saving.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This Too Shall Pass

I've been going through my draft posts, things I started but somehow just never got around to finishing.  Some just weren't worth any more work and have been consigned to the round file.  Others need some more thought and/or research and will remain drafts for now.

This one, however, while speaking of the wider Church also has a message of hope for us in DOR.  It is an excerpt from an April post at Purify Your Bride and really doesn't need any further comment from me .

We have creative liturgy. We have liberal theology. They are appealing to those who are unsatisfied with the original. But what about those who simply don’t know about the original? Well, they just won’t get it. It cannot last. It trades off the notion that you already respect the gospel but are not quite ready to accept it fully and unconditionally.

Chesterton talks about liberalism lasting only one generation. After that people will move on to atheism or back to orthodoxy. You can have a lot of fun pulling down the sacred but once it is down it is down. That is when the church by logic should die but it never does. That is because there is something deep inside our souls that longs for fairy tales. There is something even deeper that tells us the gospel of Jesus is the one true fairy tale.

Chesterton points out the Catholic church is the only institution that can survive this sort of crash. It has done it again and again. Of course, this happens because Jesus said it would.

Archbishop Burke to Ordain Nine

In terms of Catholic population the Archdiocese of St. Louis is only about 60% larger than DOR and yet this year Archbishop Raymond Burke will be ordaining nine men to the priesthood while Bishop Matthew Clark will be ordaining just one.

A May 20 article in says that part of the reason is the Archbishop's active involvement in recruiting seminarians and his support for them during their studies.

And there is a third factor:

At Kenrick [Seminary], it's not just Burke's involvement that is cited for the turnaround in enrollment. The archbishop's conservatism, too, is an appealing aspect to young seminarians.

"The people who are attracted to the priesthood today tend to be much more conservative than their peers," said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington. "Even in the 1950s, the people attracted to seminaries were more conservative than their peers, but not to the degree they are today."

Seminarians say Burke's conservatism helps him connect with them. The seminarians openly discuss how they see Burke as a spiritual father and embrace the traditional atmosphere Burke has championed in the archdiocese and the seminary.

Burke, for example, is considered one of the most devoted supporters of the old Latin Mass among U.S. bishops, and last year, Kenrick began celebrating the traditional liturgy on Fridays. More formal vestments are now required at morning and evening prayers. Burke said such "little things" help him "encourage a strong identity among the seminarians, especially with the celebration of the sacred liturgy."

This reminded me of many of the points made be Mary Jo Anderson in her nearly 3 year-old article, Eight Habits of Highly Effective Bishops. In summary form they are

  1. A bishop must be personally holy.

  2. A bishop must promote and defend the authentic Catholic Faith.

  3. A bishop must be committed to Catholic education.

  4. A bishop must work to strengthen the Catholic family.

  5. A bishop must foster vocations.

  6. A bishop must love the Mass.

  7. A bishop must be willing and able to start from scratch.

  8. A bishop must be vocal in the public square.

Archbishop Burke could have written that article. Bishop Clark has some work to do.

New Independent Catholic School?

With very little fanfare an organization called St. John Bosco Schools has been set up. According to its website,

St. John Bosco Schools is a private, independent co-educational school with curriculum consistent with the Magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church. SJBS operates independently of the Diocesan parochial system and is not affiliated with any parish. Yet we intend to maintain open and collegial relations with the Diocese of Rochester, and recognize and respect the proper jurisdiction of the local Bishop in matters relevant to instruction in the doctrines and beliefs of the Catholic Faith.

The website also is announcing a meeting for this evening:

Please join us for our Informational Meeting on Tuesday, May 20th at 7 PM in the Conference Room on the 3rd Floor in building # 350 in Linden Oaks Office Park. Dinner will be provided.

The objective of the meeting will be for us to discuss the plans for St. John Bosco Schools, and to identify potential members of the Board of Trustees. A representative from NAPC*IS (the National Association of Private Catholic* Independent Schools) will be on hand to offer insight as well, and we will have plenty of time for question and answer.

Dr. Dan Guernsey, Headmaster of the Ave Maria Grammar and Preparatory School (in Ave Maria, Florida) and Board Member of the National Association of Private Catholic* Independent Schools (NAPC*IS) has accepted our invitation to join us at the meeting and discuss his perspective on what it will take to get a new, independent school off the ground.

Tip: Eugene Michael

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Collateral Damage, Part 2 - DOR Data & Conclusions

Until now the diocese has been successful in limiting the discussion around the closing of 13 Monroe County schools to the schools themselves. While this is, of course, the primary issue for the children, parents and building staff involved, it has had the effect of lulling many parishioners without Catholic school children into the belief that they are not directly affected. Believing they didn't have a dog in this fight, many of these folks have been content to sit on the sidelines and watch developments unfold.

Well, the sad truth is that those parishioners did have a dog in this fight - and their dog just lost.


In the first part of this series I showed that a Catholic school is frequently important – and quite often critical – to the vitality of both its parish and its wider community and that the closure of a Catholic school results in serious harm to both these groups. Since no formal studies have been done on this topic, my data consisted of dozens of articles and newspaper reports available on the Internet. While this evidence is anecdotal, it is important to note that all of it, without exception, points to these conclusions.

Here in Part 2 I am presenting some hard data that, while limited in scope, is nevertheless in agreement with the above conclusions and provides the 13 parishes whose schools will close next month an idea of what the future may hold for them.

The data

From 2000 through 2007 I was involved in Pastoral Planning for the New Millennium, serving as one of my parishes representatives on the Steering Committee of the Eastern Greece/Charlotte Planning Group. Part of our work involved tracking Mass attendance trends in each of our six parishes and comparing this data with Mass attendance trends for the diocese as a whole. (That diocesan-wide data is the basis for DOR Mass Attendance in Free Fall, my first post on this blog.)

For the purposes of this analysis I would prefer to be working with weekend collection data. That information, however, is hard to come by and so I will have to use the Mass attendance data I do have. I suspect that both types of data will show very similar trends however, since the people coming to Mass are the same people putting money in the collection basket.

In EG/C we had 10 years of individual parish Mass attendance available to us, starting in 1998 and ending in 2007. Three parishes (Our Mother of Sorrows, St. Charles Borromeo and Holy Cross – collectively called the “Schools” group) had schools in operation during that entire period, two (Our Lady of Mercy and Holy Name of Jesus – collectively called the “No Schools” group) did not have schools, and one (St. John the Evangelist) had a school which closed in June 2005.

The graph below shows the percent change in Mass attendance for each of these three groups of parishes and also includes diocesan-wide data for reference.

This is a fairly “busy” graph and a bit of explanation might be of help: Individual data points are plotted for each of the three groups and for the diocese. Also, least squares (or linear regression) lines are shown for the “Schools,” “No Schools” and "DOR" sets of points. Finally, in the case of the parish whose school closed in 2005, two least squares lines are shown, one for the years prior to their school's closure and the second for the years after.

What the data says

The data shows that the “Schools” group saw its Mass attendance drop by about 1.9% per year over the 10 year period, while the “No Schools” group encountered a 6.4% annual decline over the same period. (For reference, DOR as a whole saw a 3.5% annual decline over the last 8 years of the period.) Interestingly, the parish whose school closed part way through the period had an annual decline in Mass attendance of 4.3% prior to the closure of its school and twice this rate, or 8.7%, after.

Implications for the 13 parishes about to lose their schools

While this is a small data set these results are consistent with what is seen at most parishes in the county: Those with schools are generally pretty stable in terms of Mass attendance, collections and other factors, while those without schools seem to have a more difficult time in these areas. There are at least a couple of explanations for this behavior.

First, once a parish loses a school it is almost inevitable that it will also lose some of its parishioners. Parents who have been forced to register their children at other parish schools will soon discover that they have become members of two distinct communities – communities which are often in competition with one another.

For instance, a school will tend to synchronize its calendar with that of its parish. But when a school has students from several parishes scheduling conflicts are simply inevitable. The easiest way for a family to minimize these conflicts is to transfer to the other parish.

Second, a parish that has lost its school has also lost a source of new members. Many younger Catholics who do not take their faith very seriously begin to do so once they are married and start a family. As their children approach school age and the family starts to look for a parish, they will most likely be attracted to parishes with schools, especially if they have any interest in Catholic education. Parishes without schools will have little chance of welcoming these families as new members.


It is impossible to believe that Bishop Clark and the members of his task force did not have attendance and collection data available to them and that they were not aware of the implications that closing 13 schools held for the 13 parishes involved. If these people did not know that they were imposing something akin to a death sentence on those 13 parishes then they don't deserve the title of “expert.”

Once one realizes the probable future of these 13 parishes the data in It Isn't About the Money? - Update starts to make some sense. It's no coincidence that, for the most part, schools at financially weaker parishes were selected for closure. After all, one most be careful to minimize the damage to the geese that are laying the golden eggs.

Bishop Clark knows on which side his bread is buttered.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's Over for Holy Cross

Earlier this week Holy Cross Pastor Fr. Tom Wheeland received a letter from Bishop Clark telling him and the parish that all their efforts to save their school - and ultimately their parish - have been for nothing.

I'll be dealing with the inconsistencies and outright lies in a subsequent post.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Vacuum of Leadership

About 10 days ago the Diocese of Wilmington, DE announced that it's St. Thomas the Apostle elementary school would close next month. This prompted a letter to the editor from a former student. Some of Zina Walsh's comments could just as easily have been written in response to the school closings in DOR.

Parishioners sitting in the pews and the children sitting in the desks are left with a vacuum of leadership. True leadership ... includes collaboration and communication with all concerned to ensure acceptance of the necessary results. (emphasis added)

Sadly, we sit and watch as nationwide school enrollments diminish, parishes close and baptized Catholics quietly walk away from the Church.

Given the current leadership model, should we really be surprised that the next generation is voting with their feet and looking at other religions and spiritualities? (emphasis added)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Collateral Damage, Part 1 – An Overview

[Note: All use of boldface typeface within quotations cited in this post is my own emphasis.]

GSS over at The Sad Saga alerts us to a story that aired yesterday on Channel 13. A portion of the story involved an interview with Fr. Richard Brickler, the pastor of St. Boniface Parish, and touched on his expectations for his parish in light of the fact that St. Boniface School will be closing next month. Channel 13's Patrice Walsh reports,

With the closing comes the concern that parishioners could also leave the church , but Father Brickler says members of his congregation are faithful and generous. 'Whenever we present the needs that we have, they just seem to come through.'"

Fr. Brickler certainly knows his parishioners better than I and his optimism may be well-founded. St. Boniface Parish may suffer no ill effects from the closing of its school but, if that's the case, it would make it a member of a very small minority.

Googling for Data

Off and on for the last few weeks I've been surfing the Internet, looking for information on the importance of Catholic schools, both to their parishes and to their wider communities. I have also been looking for information on the effects which school closures might have on those parishes and communities.

There are many stories out there touching in one way or another on the relationship between Catholic schools and their parishes. Statisticians call such information anecdotal. While potentially quite interesting in themselves, such stories are not of much use in determining such things as cause and effect and in analyzing trends.

With all the research on Catholic schools available these days I thought it a pretty sure thing that by now someone would have looked at the effects of Catholic school closures in an organized way. But after two weeks of working Google and other search engines every way I knew I was still coming up empty-handed. At that point I contacted Fr. Andrew Greeley, a sociologist and researcher who has been looking at Catholic education for decades. Fr. Greeley replied that he was unaware of any formal studies and that the only data of which he was aware was anecdotal.

Fr. Greeley and every other reputable statistician will all say that anecdotal data doesn't count and in a rigorous sense that's very true. However, when every report that can be found points in one direction and one direction only, I am convinced that some valid general conclusions can be reached, even if we cannot assign exact percentages to the results.

The Catholic school and the community

One of the earliest conclusions to emerge from all of this was that the mere presence of a Catholic school in a community very often promotes strong bonds among members - Catholic or otherwise - of that community.

For instance, Maurice Timothy Reidy, an Associate Editor at Commonweal, wrote in a 2004 article,

“[The Catholic school is] uniquely suited to creating community bonds. ... [T]he lives of all parents, Catholic or not, revolve around their children and the activities they participate in. The church capitalize[s] on that, using the school to bolster the larger parish community.”

Fr. Greeley agrees,

[Neighborhood parishes] actuate what University of Chicago sociologist James S. Coleman calls 'social capital,' the extra resources of energy, commitment, and intelligence that overlapping structures produce. This social capital, this story of urban America, becomes even stronger when the parish contains that brilliant American Catholic innovation - the parochial school.”

Fr. Greeley also says,

[Neighborhood parishes] generate levels of enthusiasm and commitment seldom matched in human community. The neighborhood/parish/school ought to be celebrated rather than be taken for granted, ignored, or worse, deplored.”

If a Catholic school serves as an agent for building community, then the loss of a Catholic school ought to have a detrimental effect on the social fabric of its immediate neighborhood. The evidence backs this hypothesis.

For instance, Gerald Gamm, Associate Professor of Political Science and History at the University of Rochester and author of Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed, writes,

"If you close a church in some town in Long Island, people on Long Island will still be fine. They still have their [public] school system, they still have their town hall ... they have a lot that holds them together as a community.... [But] in many of these urban neighborhoods, these churches and these parish schools are all that they have that define the neighborhoods."

The Catholic School and the Parish

Okay, Catholic schools would seem to be important to their communities, but what about their parishes? What is the value of a Catholic school to its parish? Fr. Wayne Forbes, a pastor in Portland, Oregon answers,

A Catholic school brings life to a parish. We see the school as a force to supporting families and building faith.”

And one parish in Northern Ireland summarizes quite well what many others say and what every American Catholic parish with a parish school already knows,

The parish community is closely associated with the Catholic school. At the heart of the parish is the school. Both co-exist to support the living and genuine witness of the faith. The school serves the educational and spiritual needs of the pupils and works in partnership with the parish to achieve this. In the celebration of the sacraments the parish and school community come together in a very special bond.”

What about parishes without schools? How easy is it to generate a sense of community in a parish that lacks a school? Kenneth Woodward, a Contributing Editor at Newsweek, tells us,

Maybe the reason Catholics talk so much about community is because they experience so little of it, especially when there is no parish school to create ongoing parental interest.”

The effects of Catholic school closures on their parishes

If the wider community pays a price when a Catholic school closes, does the parish also suffer? Fr. Greeley addresses this question in general terms while answering a related question, "Are Catholic schools 'worth it'?":

"Close the Catholic school and the Sunday collections go down. Don't open one and the Sunday collections are not comparable with parishes that have a Catholic school. The pertinent response to this question comes not from research findings but from consumer behavior - the willingness of many parents to pay for Catholic education whenever they can get it. They think the schools are 'worth it.'"

Dr. James Youniss, a Psychology Professor at Catholic University, has spent years studying Catholic schools. He maintains that Catholic parishes will suffer if their schools do not survive. According to Youniss,

"People meet through their kids, at school. Now imagine Catholic parishes without schools -- how are people going to get connected to each other? The typical Catholic goes to church for one hour on Sunday. Without the schools, it's not a community any more."

The closure of a Catholic school frequently results in the loss of parishioners. An article in the Detroit News reports,

“When St. Michael closed its school because there weren't enough students to support it, [parishioners] witnessed some of the parish community disappear. Many parishioners enrolled their children [in another Catholic school] and ... they also joined its church.”

Another observer has noted the loss of practicing Catholics following school closures. Kathleen Merritt, Director of Ethnic Ministries in the Diocese of Charleston, SC, writes,

"The closing of many of our traditional African American Parishes and schools has had a direct effect on the number of Black Catholics in parishes today. When these institutions close in the African American community, these Catholics are less likely to continue practicing their faith in another Catholic Church."

Summing Up

While there is no hard, statistical evidence linking the closure of Catholic schools with detrimental effects on their parishes and their wider communities, there are dozens of references that point in that direction. Furthermore, I have found absolutely none that even hint at a contrary conclusion. The available evidence may all be anecdotal, but it is all in agreement.

Put simply, the closure of a Catholic school is not an event that takes place in a vacuum. There is frequently, if not always, collateral damage to the associated parish and to the wider community.

Coming Next

Part 2 of this series will look at the limited data available for DOR in an attempt to outline the future for the 13 Monroe County parishes that will lose their schools next month.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Name that Bishop

While doing a bit of surfing I came across a 2003 article by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Does anyone care to guess which bishop Fr. Neuhaus is quoting? (No, it's not Bishop Clark.)

'The Church of Tomorrow'

... Here, speaking just last month, is a bishop who belongs to the shrinking liberal caucus that was led by Rembert Weakland before he went down in flames: “As priests in the Church we have a golden opportunity to become involved at the heart of this reawakening, of being forerunners of the Church of tomorrow, of being molders and builders of new theological language and ecclesial structures which speak to our contemporary society and which ensure a fresh hearing for the Christian message.”

Bracing stuff, that. Some apparently still think so. Never mind that a bishop presides over a dispirited diocese of zero vocations, declining Mass attendance, closed schools, and an epidemic of scandals. Never mind that a bishop hasn’t read a serious book of theology for twenty years or that his statement of the Christian message contains no reference to Christ. Never mind all that and much else; he is building “the Church of tomorrow.” Having made a shambles of the Church of past and present, he has no choice but to bet on tomorrow. He is loyal to the Church, meaning the Church of tomorrow. He is obedient to the pope, meaning the next pope or maybe the one after that. So how, in the midst of the ruins of its own making, does the cause of leftist discontinuity maintain its status as the vanguard? In large part, simply by repeating, until reiteration overwhelms powers of reflection, that it is the vanguard.

Give up? See here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Catholic Schools in the Wilderness

In a March 2, 2007 column in the Chicago Sun-Times, Catholic sociologist and researcher Fr. Andrew Greeley writes,
This is a period when the American Catholic Church is as dry and dull as the Sonoran Desert. The hope and joy generated by the Vatican Council is dead. The separation between the leaders and the followers has grown wider. The former speak on many things; the latter barely hear them...
No part of the desert is more barren than Catholic grammar schools and high schools. One rarely hears parish sermons about the benefit of Catholic schools. Diocesan school offices are busy with plans to close more schools. ... Many Catholic laity don't think the schools are necessary anymore (although others stand in waiting lines or fight bishops and priests who want to close them or won't build new ones -- not that the laity matter these days).
While Fr. Greeley is talking in general terms, he could just as easily be describing the situation right here in DOR. Father then adds,

All of this pessimism troubles me because I've spent much of my life doing research on Catholic schools. Catholic schools are among the best things that the church in this country has done, they are resources in social capital that the church should treasure, and they are more important in a time of change in the church than in a time of stability.
Do any of our leaders have ears to hear?

Are There Fewer Catholic Children To Educate?

Found while surfing ...

From a 2006 article in the Buffalo First Business Newspaper:

The Buffalo diocese in the midst of a regional reorganization process that encompasses both parishes and schools. Enrollment in Catholic grammar schools has been dropping for a couple of decades. In 1984, the diocese had 28,080 students enrolled in 125 elementary schools. By 2004, the diocese had 17,218 students enrolled in 76 schools.

The number of baptisms in the diocese has dropped 51 percent during the same period.

Let's see now ... It looks like both the number of schools and the number of students in the Diocese of Buffalo dropped some 39% in 20 years, while the number of baptisms was down by 51% in those same 20 years.

I wonder if there could be a connection?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

More on Wichita

The Diocese of Wichita is known around the country for both the spiritual and material successes it continues to realize since adopting Stewardship as a way of life. Since the mid-1980s the diocese has been actively promoting it in all its parishes. One of the remarkable results is that Catholic education – both elementary and high school – is tuition-free to all Catholic students.

Stewardship as a way of life began in Wichita's St. Francis of Assisi Parish some 40 years ago. A glance at their home page gives an indication of its fruits:

When was the last time you attended Mass where the crowd was standing room only? Here at St. Francis of Assisi, it happens every weekend. Our school receives equally enthusiastic support with parents, faculty and staff working together to serve and strengthen the Body of Christ through the formation of our parish children.

St. Francis' Stewardship page provides a little more detail:

THE VISION Stewardship as a way of life began at St. Francis of Assisi in 1968 when Monsignor Thomas McGread arrived as Pastor. There were approximately 600 families in the Parish at that time. He did not come empty handed, as he brought with him a vision from the words of St. Peter, "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace." ( I Peter 4:10 ) This vision was not to be denied. Father Tom's message was simple: Strive to share our gifts of time, talent and treasure for the service of God and all His people. We do this out of thanksgiving to God for all that He has given to us. Having initiated the Stewardship Way of Life, he encouraged the parish to grow and prosper in unity, harmony and spirituality.

HOW MANY PARISHIONERS PARTICIPATE? The answer is always changing and probably known only by God. St. Francis is a very active parish of over 2600 families, with some 85% of our parishioners attending weekend Masses, more than 500 parishioners participate in Perpetual Adoration, some 750 students attend the Parish grade school, another 500 participate in the Parish School of Religion program and more than 250 attend the area Catholic high school. There are approximately 70 organizations active in the parish, made up of more than 1,900 volunteers. The Stewardship Way of Life has also significantly contributed to helping develop nine priests and six Religious from St. Francis since 1968.

St. Francis of Assisi School is obviously an integral part of the parish. One has to wonder how successful the parish would have been had its parishioners not had a strong sense of ownership in both their parish and their school.

Here in Monroe County that sense of ownership in a school will soon be limited to a mere 11 parishes, most of them relatively wealthy and most of them on the east side. I suspect that promotion of the concept of Stewardship as a way of life will have far easier sailing in those waters than it will on the west side in general and in the city in particular.

As for the five or so parishes that spent hundreds of hours devising plans to save their schools and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove those plans feasible - in other words, those parishes that have clearly shown the diocese what they most want to do with their time, talent and treasure - I suspect Stewardship as a way of life will be an awfully hard sell.

[Note: The last paragraph was added a few hours after the rest of the post. It was a part of the original on my word processor but was missed in the copy-and-past operation that transferred the text. Sorry about that. - Mike]

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

DOR vs. Wichita

About 10 days ago the D&C published Catholic schools' decline here among worst in U.S. Accompanying that story was a link to a spreadsheet containing data for 176 U.S. dioceses. The data, supplied by the National Catholic Education Association, included the number of schools and the total student enrollment for each diocese for both the 1997-98 and 2007-08 school years.

A post a few weeks ago reported on the Diocese of Wichita and its Catholic schools. Several years ago Wichita instituted diocesan-wide stewardship and today no Catholic student pays any tuition in any of its Catholic elementary or high schools. The recently released NCEA data allows us to take a closer look at the Wichita Catholic schools and compare them to what we have here.

Keep in mind that Wichita, with just over 120,000 Catholics, is about one-third the size of DOR. Also, U.S. Census data indicate that the overall population of each diocese is stable, with a net change in each diocese of less than 1% in the past 7 years.

10 years ago Wichita had 36 Catholic schools and today it has 39, while Rochester has gone from 63 to 48 (and is about to lose another 13).

In terms of enrollment, Wichita has grown from 9,976 students to 10,806 in the past 10 years, while DOR has declined from 17,710 students to 10,739 (and is about to lose several hundred more).

The bishops of both Rochester and Wichita say they care about Catholic schools. At least one of them means it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

It Isn't About the Money? - Update

The status of the 2007-08 CMA Fund Drive as of April 25 is available on That data can be used to generate a spreadsheet which allows us to compare the results for the Monroe County parishes whose associated schools are slated to close with those whose schools will be staying open.

About 5 weeks ago we looked at data covering the 2006-07 CMA drive. The current data are quite similar.

In terms of CMA goals, the parishes where schools are staying open have been tasked with raising, on average, 76% more money than those whose schools will be closed. The total dollar difference between the two groups is almost $357,000.

But in terms of actual CMA pledges the differences are even more striking. Parishes where schools are staying open have so far pledged an average of 96% more than those whose schools will be closed. Here the total dollar difference between the two groups is just over $433,000.

As I said before, the diocese almost certainly will say it isn't about the money. The data, however, are saying something else.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Catholic Call-In Rescheduled

Shamelessly copied from The Sad Saga (Way to go, GSS!) ...

Diocese Reschedules Catholic Call-In

The DOR has rescheduled its "Catholic Call-In" to May 19, from 2 - 8 p.m. The toll-free number is 1-888-477-1718.

The Diocese has said that Catholic schools questions may be re-routed to the schools office. However, if you've already taken that route with no or incomplete resolution, or if you'd like to inquire as to how the Diocese values Catholic education as a ministry versus its other commitments, you may want to place a call on the 19th.

Celibacy "Invented" in 1123?

About six months ago the D&C published a letter claiming that

Priests are celibate because of a political and economic decision made by the First Lateran Council of 1123 to halt corrupt practices during feudal times. Church leaders wanted to eliminate the inheritance of Church property by the male children of priests.

The letter was authored by Patricia LaRosa, a person I once knew as Patricia Boyce when she served as Pastoral Associate and then Parish Visitor at Our Lady of Mercy Church. Ms. LaRosa believes herself to be called to the priesthood and at last report is seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church.

I was reminded of Ms. LaRosa's letter by a recent comment posted by CliffM concerning Chava Redonnet's OpEd piece in yesterday's D&C. The comment repeated the allegations made by Ms. LaRosa.

Last October I submitted an answer to Ms. LaRosa's allegation which the D&C chose not to publish. This fable, however, refuses to die so I will self-publish my letter here:

In “Priests’ celibacy has political roots” the writer strongly implies that clerical celibacy was first imposed by the Catholic Church in 1123 for crass, materialistic reasons. The record, however, shows otherwise.

In 385 Pope St. Siricius wrote to another bishop about celibacy, saying “All priests … are bound by the indissoluble law of these sanctions, so that from the day of our ordination, we give up both our hearts and our bodies to continence and chastity.”

Five years later the Council of Carthage declared, “What the Apostles taught [concerning celibacy] and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep.”

It is quite clear from these and other records that by the end of the fourth century clerical celibacy was already a universal and what some bishops even saw as apostolic practice in the Church. It most certainly was not the result of political/economic machinations some 700+ years later.

All of which leaves one to wonder how (why?) a person holding two advanced religious degrees could be so misinformed on the subject.