A former teacher in Albany's Catholic school system has published his view on the problems shared by many dioceses.
With exquisitely bad timing, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese announced the closing or merger of churches and schools just as we approached Catholic Schools Week. I am certain that parents will rush to enroll their children in schools that may not be around, staffed by people who do not know if they will be out of a job.
And yet, the actions are typical of dioceses all over the country. In the late 1960s, bishops began closing Catholic schools, faced with dwindling numbers of religious to staff them. It was a catastrophic decision betraying a lack of foresight.
Now we have reached 2009: Many churches are closed; there are few young people attending services in the ones that are open; priests, nuns and religious brothers are species approaching extinction — and the bishops have not yet figured out what is wrong.
Nothing in the church is more important than the maintaining and expansion of Catholic schools. That is why generations of Catholics of very modest means sacrificed and why many dedicated laypeople continued to teach for substandard salaries.
Catholics have a way in the upcoming Bishop's Appeal to make this diocese realize that change and creative thinking are needed now.
There is at least one diocese where the Holy Spirit seems to be showing the rest of the American Church not only how to stabilize a Catholic school system but also how to grow it.
That diocese, of course, is Wichita, and the key to its success is a true, diocesan-wide stewardship program.
The success of a stewardship program, however, seems predicated on something else: orthodoxy; i.e., true fidelity to Rome and all that she teaches.
Orthodoxy seems to pay other dividends, not least of which is a flourishing of vocations to the priesthood. The Diocese of Wichita, with but 120,000 Catholics, currently has 46 men studying for the priesthood.
These is an answer to the malaise gripping many of our dioceses. The only question is whether our bishops have ears to hear.