Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Practical Catholicism

Thus the word of the LORD came to me:

You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself (Ezekiel 33:1, 7-9)

With that by way of introduction, this is for anyone who may have missed it on Cleansing Fire ...

"Why Lutherans Can't Evangelize"

I just came across a somewhat long but well written piece posted by a rather non-traditional Lutheran pastor.  Entitled Why Lutherans Can't Evangelize, the essay presents an interesting theological slant on the problems facing his church.

For instance, Pastor David Housholder contends that Lutherans "more or less have no functioning eschatology (end times teaching)," which makes it "hard to invite people on a journey when we don’t have a compelling destination."

He goes on to add that Lutherans "have no theology of mission. Within the framework of our theology, we have no idea how to get someone saved."

This situation arose, according to the pastor, because

the formative-era Lutherans were concerned with two things:

1) Catechizing already-baptized nominal Christians within their jurisdiction ([Luther's] Small Catechism)

2) Defending the faith against non-Lutheran neighbors (the [Augsburg] Confessions)

Mission was just not on their radar screen. It didn’t get into our family DNA.

But what first caught my eye was Pastor Housholder's brief recapitulation of the history of the Lutheran Church in America.  The parallels with Catholicism as it is practiced in some parts of our country (and we all know where) are striking ...

Lutherans in America have had three major eras:

1) The era of immigration.

2) The era of procreation.

3) The era of decline.

The era of immigration was a period which lasted up to 1920. Millions of nominal Lutherans were coming in sailing and steamships to North America. If we set up ethnic specific ministries which functioned as community centers, and catechized and confirmed the young, then primary relationships would be built around church activity and continuous exposure to Word and Sacrament would get the job done.

It worked. Until the steamships stopped coming.

Then we turned to plan B: Procreation. The average Lutheran woman had 4-5 kids. We built education wings onto our churches (a whole new thing). From VBS to Lutheran Colleges and Seminaries (via Luther and Walther League) we did a full court press on the kids, knowing that keeping over half of them would lead to a growing church. I am a product of that full court press.

It worked. Until the pill came and the average Lutheran woman now has 1.7 kids. Keep half of 1.7 and you get exactly what we now have.

The pill was introduced in 1963. The Lutheran Church has been in freefall since 1964 (despite the rapid growth of the US population during that same time).

Contraction, aging, and entropy have been the norm for our congregations since then. The exception has been Upper Midwest suburban areas where a fresh critical-mass population of young Lutherans moves into new tract housing and has kids (a curious mixture of “retro” immigration and procreation).

Pastor Housholder's entire essay is well worth reading.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The fruits of orthodoxy

In anticipation of a January 19th speech by Bob Voboril, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Wichita, the Serra Club of Wichita published the following backgrounder in its monthly newsletter.

To this denizen of the wasteland known as the Diocese of Rochester these statistics are simply astounding.

Some Interesting Statistics

In the past 25 years the Catholic population in the US is up by 30%, partially due to the Mexican population. Priests are down by 20% in the same time period. Number of seminarians is about the same as 25 years ago but not keeping up with the population.

We now have 17 sisters teaching in our diocese vs 90 twenty-five years ago. We currently have 45 seminarians studying for our diocese. The Wichita Diocese has one seminarian for each 3,000 Catholics, compared to the national average of one seminarian per 20,000 Catholics. [DOR has 1 seminarian for each 56,000 Catholics. -ed.]  Thirty of our 45 seminarians are graduates of our Catholic high schools. Bishop Carroll has had more than 50 religious vocations in 40 years. Kapaun Mount Carmel has produced more than 120 religious vocations in 120 years. We have two of the best Catholic high schools in the world.

From 1985 to 2010, national Catholic school enrollment in the U.S. is down by a third. In our diocese it is up by the same percentage. [Enrollment in Monroe County Catholic schools is down about 80% over the same period. -ed.]

Reasons for Our Diocesan Increase

There is a book entitled "Who Will Save American Urban Catholic Schools?" One chapter and parts of others are devoted to the Diocese of Wichita Catholic Schools. In the forward it states that Wichita is one of the best examples of how Catholic education should be carried out. Catholic education is the responsibility of all Catholics, not just the parents of those currently enrolled. Our diocesan philosophy of stewardship has enabled our diocesan Catholic schools to continue accomplish their mission.

The Wichita Diocese never forgets—in fact gives first priority to—the religious mission of our Catholic schools. It is their religious mission which motivates the support of parishioners. Their first priority is forming disciples of Jesus Christ. Strong parishes are the center of the entire community. Wichita is the home of one of the strongest Catholic schools systems in the nation. We teach kids that everything we have is a gift from God and we need to give back the best that we can. Seventy percent of our parishes incomes are spent on our schools.

All our teachers function as Catholic ministers and must go through Catholic courses. All our students must pass religious tests as well as their academic subjects. Of our 38 schools, there are 24 which are new or remodeled, which reflects the importance given to education in our parishes.

The challenge is to find ways to serve our poorest students and poorest parishes. The Bishop has established the Drexel Fund and endowment to aid in this effort. This fund now stands at $2 million and the goal is to raise it to $12 million.

We appreciate the leadership that Mr. Voboril has brought to our diocese and we pray that his and all teachers’ efforts, will continue to be blessed and supported through our stewardship way of life.

Other interesting statistics

According to the 2009 Official Catholic Directory the Diocese of Wichita has 115,967 Catholics spread over 91 parishes and, while there are 11 nuns and 38 lay people involved in ministry, each of those parishes administered by a priest. At least one parish (St. Francis of Assisi) reports 85% weekend Mass attendance.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"... we're not growing Catholics in Rochester anymore"

HTparent is a frequent commenter on Catholic school-related issues, both here and on other local boards. 

He/she posted the following in response to's story on the merging of Nazareth Academy with Aquinas.

As sad as this is, Nazareth Academy could not survive with such low enrollment ... Aquinas was having it's own problems with enrollment. This is a proactive decision on the part of the administrations of both schools.

More of these announcements will come in the future. Our own Bishop does not believe in Catholic Education, so why would people continue to pay money for it?

The high schools will not be able to survive without a solid feeder system, which the diocese has systematically dismantled over the past decade. None of the people with wallets big enough for Bishop Clark to be bothered listening to have ever stood up to him on this issue.

You reap what you sow, and we're not growing Catholics in Rochester anymore.

Thank Bishop Clark.

I couldn't have said it any better.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Starting your own Catholic schools

From the Wall Street Journal ...

Down but Not Out in Catholic Suburbia

Inner-city parochial schools are not the only ones struggling.

By WILLIAM MCGURN - Wall St. Journal - February 1, 2010.

Tim Busch has an answer to the epidemic of closing Catholic schools. And it has nothing to do with vouchers.

It couldn't come at a more critical moment. Over the next few days, nearly 2.2 million students and their families will celebrate Catholic Schools Week. Though the Catholic school system remains America's largest alternative to public education, the number of both schools and students is roughly half what they were at their peak in the mid-1960s. According to the National Catholic Education Association, the trend continued last year, with 162 Catholic schools consolidating or closing against only 31 new openings.

Amid the gloom Mr. Busch offers a prescription for revival: End the financial dependence on parish or diocese. Build attractive facilities. And compete for students.

St. Monica's school joins about 1,267 Catholic schools that have closed since 2000 as enrollment nationwide has dropped by 382,125 students, or 14 percent, according to the National Catholic Education Association.

If that sounds like a business formula, it is. Mr. Busch is a good friend I came to know through Legatus, an association of Catholic CEOs. Spend any time around him, and you'll find he believes that America needs Catholic schools more than ever, and that they can compete with the best. To prove it, he's helped start up two privately run Catholic schools—St. Anne elementary school and JSerra high school, both in southern California.

Now, there are plenty of upscale Catholic schools with waiting lists—especially those run by religious orders. But here's a fact that gets little mention: a Catholic education is in danger of becoming a luxury for the middle class. It's hard to be optimistic about the future of Catholic schools in our inner cities if Catholics cannot make a go of these schools in the suburbs, where most Catholics live.

Do the math. In my area of New Jersey, for example, a Catholic high school whose tuition clocks in at $15,000 a year is deemed a bargain. For a family with three or four kids, the total tuition can top $3,000 a month. Young middle-class families struggling with a new mortgage and high property taxes can find themselves squeezed: not wealthy enough to pay, not poor enough for aid.

In Mr. Busch's case, he says he got the idea for starting up St. Anne after he and his wife went looking for a Catholic school for their first child—and were depressed by the dilapidated facilities they found at many schools. Ultimately he and his partners settled on a model where parents take responsibility for operating the school, with the diocese ensuring the teachings are authentically Catholic. It's a division of responsibility much in line with Vatican II, freeing up pastors to be pastors while tapping into the financial, legal, and business abilities of lay people.

In some ways, it's liberating for both. Schools replace lay boards that merely advised a pastor or bishop with lay boards that raise money, build facilities, and actually run the place. The appeal to a bishop is this: We'll help you provide an authentic Catholic education to more children—and it won't cost you a dime.

For those who complain that such schools serve only the rich, Mr. Busch says that financially stable schools have more wherewithal to offer those in need (even without endowments—the next step—St. Anne and JSerra have more than 10% of their students on financial assistance). He further points out that need is by no means limited to money. "Some children have wealth," he says. "But having wealth does not insulate you from problems like divorce, substance abuse, loneliness, a culture saturated in sex, and so on. These kids need the Catholic message as much as everyone."

Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., agrees. "Catholic education is such a value both for Catholics and for society that we want it to be accessible and affordable for all who see its intrinsic value . . . . We are fortunate that many lay people are committed to this cause—and are helping us 'think outside the box' so that Catholic schools will thrive in this new decade and beyond."

Mr. Busch's privately run Catholic schools, of course, are not the only new model showing promise. The 24 Jesuit-based Cristo Rey high schools across the country do a terrific job through an innovative work-study program. The bishop and his flock in Wichita, Kan., embraced a stewardship model that calls upon all parishioners to give 8% of their gross income, which allows the diocese to make all its Catholic schools tuition free. And Catholic universities such as Notre Dame and Boston College are reaching out to help run Catholic elementary and high schools.

"We can't wait for vouchers, and we can't look to the old model of relying on our pastors and bishops to come up with the money and answers," says Mr. Busch. "If we want Catholic schools for our children and our society, we have to adopt new models that let us compete."

Nazareth Academy and Aquinas to merge

Talk about a bolt from the blue!  I don't know of anyone who had a clue this was in the works.
From ...
Rochester, N.Y. - Nazareth Academy and Aquinas Institute have announced they will merge. They're calling it a partnership.
The new partners announced Wednesday that they will call their school system Aquinas Institute and Nazareth Schools.
Beginning in September, Pre K-6th Grade will be held at Nazareth, and grades 7-12 will be located at Aquinas. Some parents are unhappy that their children will have to move yet again.

Watch for more on this story and get reaction from local parents on 13WHAM News at 5 and 6 p.m. and at
From the Nazareth Scools website ...

Opening a new chapter for Catholic Education in Rochester: 

The Nazareth Schools and Aquinas Institute are partnering to create a co-educational Catholic school system that seamlessly serves grades Pre-K through 12.  The new school system will be called Aquinas Institute and Nazareth Schools.  Beginning in September 2010, Pre-K through grade 6 will be located at the Nazareth Academy campus on Lake Avenue.  Grades 7 through 12 will be welcomed at the Aquinas Institute campus on Dewey Avenue. 
The Nazareth Schools will continue providing its well-respected elementary school program, including a highly recognized Pre-K and wrap-around school care.  The Nazareth Academy program at Aquinas will continue a strong commitment to women’s leadership and development.  This commitment will be overseen by a position created and staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph.   
Both schools bring several shared values to the new school system including a religious grounding in the Roman Catholic faith tradition as taught and supported by the Congregation of Saint Basil and the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  As private Catholic schools, The Aquinas Institute and The Nazareth Schools, this partnership is an historic juncture. 

H/T: a loyal reader

UPDATE: Not too surprisingly, finances seemed to have played a major role.

From a Naz student's post on the Save NAZ ACADEMY from extinction! page on Facebook ...

"Apparently, Nazareth is in millions of dollars of debt and they have been trying to keep it going, but the diocese hasn't really backed anything. "The diocese is literally running out of the inner city" That's why my religion teacher told me. She is a SSJ nun and she was crying.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A memory from the '80s

1985, to be precise - the year that Nunsense began its off-Broadway run of 3,672 performances.

Sister Robert Ann's childhood recollection, Growing Up Catholic, from early in Act II is still relevant today ...

At Saint Clare's School, religion class
Began with Mass each day.
It was said in Latin then.
That's how I learned to pray.

The nuns appeared in black and white.
And so did every rule.
Things were either wrong and right
At Saint Clare's Catholic School.

But then the rules began to change
And many lost their way.
What was always black and white
Was turning shades of gray.

Though Mass is said in English now,
To make us more aware,
Confusion seems to reign supreme.
Like God, it's everywhere.

The Church is quite progressive now
Though people ridicule,
The fact that so many things are optional,
It's hard to find a rule.

Through it all I've often said
Those ancient Latin prayers
That I first learned when growing up --
Catholic -- at Saint Claire's

Christine Anderson's 1998 rendition of Growing Up Catholic has also been posted to YouTube ...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Anger (and fear?) at St. Thomas

Another article on the IPPG's recommendation to close both St. Salome and St. Thomas the Apostle parishes appears in today's D&C.  There's no new factual information that I could spot, but there is an account of an interview with some St. Thomas parishioners by reporter Gary Craig.

The Diocese of Rochester is feeling the same strains as other dioceses across the country: shrinking enrollment and fewer men entering the priesthood. The strain is exacerbated by a schism within the church: Some think the church remains too adherent to tradition, such as the refusal to allow women as priests, while others see a church slipping from its traditional and historical moorings.

After Sunday's early afternoon Mass, a small group of parishioners remained at St. Thomas, upset with the decision.

"I'm angry," one parishioner said, refusing to give his name.

"I'm angry with the bishop."

He maintained that St. Thomas has long had a more traditionalist stance — an approach he said sometimes runs counter to the sentiments of the bishop. Several men and women surrounding him agreed, but none wanted their names used in public criticism of the closure recommendation.

Schism, at least in its formal sense, is much too strong a word here, although Craig is certainly correct in his assertion that there is a something of a rift between progressive and traditionalist (for want of better terms) Catholics in DOR.

That said, it is interesting to note the fear evidenced by the parishioners with whom Craig spoke. It would seem that Fr. Norm Tanck's efforts at belittling and demeaning the traditionalist Catholics at St. Thomas (see here) are having their desired effect.