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Today’s Catholic, the paper for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, reported on a new effort under-way by the four diocesan high schools to engage the Latino population.  A number of leaders from the high schools in the diocese recently attended a workshop hosted by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and their Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign that seeks to expand the participation of Latino families in Catholic schools.  The workshop, held at Notre Dame’s campus from July 9 to 11, welcomed over 150 Catholic educators from around the country to discuss the critical need for Catholic schools to reach out to Latino children and families.  I’ve discussed the CSA campaign in earlier blog posts, here and here.

It’s great to see the Catholic high schools in the dioceses of Fort Wayne-South Bend really responding to the need to welcome and educate our newest generation of Catholic immigrants through our Catholic schools.  Here are a few highlights from the Today’s Catholic article.

All four diocesan high schools have recognized the importance of welcoming Hispanic students in their communities. Bishop Luers High School, on Fort Wayne’s south side, already boasts diversity as a school strength. Of the 546 students at the school, about 25 to 30 are Hispanic, according to Principal Mary Keefer.

Keefer feels it is important to get the word out to the Hispanic community. Those driving down Paulding Road in front of the main entrance to the school may notice signage in Spanish. “We must do more,” Keefer says. “Often our students must translate for their parents. We are working on putting more of our information in the Spanish language.”

“Our world is not made up of people who look the same, act the same, celebrate the same. Our school must teach our young people to embrace all, to see God in all.

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A CNS article discusses a new effort of the Western Catholic Educational Association to include Catholic identity standards in the accreditation process for Catholic schools.  The Association accredits Catholic schools in 26 dioceses in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Guam, encompassing about 308,000 students in 1,000 grade schools and high schools. Bishops of these dioceses developed the standards in 2008 in response to a concern that some Catholic schools might be failing to embody their Catholic mission and identity.

The new norms for accreditation include a “Catholic Identity Factor” stating that the school is Catholic and approved by the local bishop. The school also must provide authentic Catholic teaching, opportunities for community worship and participation in the sacraments, and promote evangelization and service to the community. Teachers’ own formation for catechetical and instructional competence must be ongoing.

I think this is is a great step in the right direction.  Clearly articulated standards are a helpful tool and serve to raise the bar and at least set the minimum.  They help identify core areas of focus, providing a framework within which to work.  Standards do not equate to a robust Catholic identity, and I would suspect that even some schools that “pass” the standards might have a weak-ish Catholic identity.   I say this because though it is important to provide religious education classes and regular masses, it is difficult to assess the quality of these things and their real life and vitality.  At the end of the day, Catholic identity in Catholic schools is much more about who you are than what you do.  In other words, you can check of all the standards, but it depends upon the people in the community and what is in their hearts and souls as they seek to be disciples and live the Gospel as Catholic educators.  If you have a vibrant community of Catholics serving as educators in the school, you will almost certainly have a vibrant Catholic identity.  Finding the right people to serve as teachers, staff and school leaders, and offering them an effective formation as Catholic educators, is the key.  Then creating a vibrant and Catholic school culture, which is a leadership question in large part, is the second major factor.  This, of course, is likely to include hitting all of the standards, but a lot depends on HOW you meet the standards, not just that you are meeting them.

Take Liturgy, for example.  Are the liturgies vibrant and full of life?  Do the students participate and feel a part of the liturgies?  How often do they occur, monthly or once a week?  Do the students understand what is happening during the liturgies?  Are they well prepared to participate as readers etc.?  Are the priests that celebrate the Eucharist part of the life of the school community?  Do the teachers sit with their students?  Are they engaged and providing a compelling witness?

Standards likely cannot get as deep as the types of questions mentioned above, but they can serve as indicators and basic benchmarks, and most importantly, they provide accountability.

When Catholic schools were at their zenith in the 1950s, they were staffed by 95% vowed religious men and women.  At that time, there was little question of their Catholic identity.  It was visible in the habits of the sisters that ran the schools, and informed by the years of religious formation that the priests, brothers and sisters brought with them into the classrooms.  Today Catholic schools are staffed by 97% lay men and women.  This is an unbelievable transformation and a miracle that Catholic schools have survived the incredible transition.  But as a result, Catholic identity cannot and should not be taken for granted.  Lay staff tend to lack anything that approximates the theological and spiritual formation of vowed religious.  As a result, the current lay leadership of our Catholic schools have needed to step-up in a big way.  I think this is a wonderful thing, a wonderful opportunity for lay ministry in the Church through Catholic education!  However, it is not always easy and it is something that many lay leaders and teachers need to grow into and be given support and appropriate formative experiences that can help facilitate their ministerial role as Catholic educators.  At the end of the day, careful selection of staff and formation and guidance in areas related to the Catholicity of the school and education program are some of the major solutions to the Catholic identity question.  But clear standards and accountability through accreditation is a critical and helpful step.

I would welcome your thoughts.

Here is a quick news round-up about some notable efforts to help financially support Catholic schools.  Its nice to see some good news from around the country!

New York atheist benefactor gives over 5 million to Catholic schools.

Retired hedge fund titan Robert W. Wilson lost his faith in God years ago, yet he believes in Catholic schools and gave $5.6 million to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York this summer.

“With a Catholic education, I can take the poorest kid in the most negative family situation and send him to college,” Edward Cardinal Egan, New York’s archbishop from 2000 to 2009, said in an interview. “For me, there is no greater charity. What Robert Wilson is giving us is hope for what can happen.”

Jewish donors in Boston help support Catholic schools

they said they are passionate about Catholic schools because they provide an excellent education to the neediest children.

“We like to get a good return on our investment,’’ Kraft said of his family’s approach to philanthropy. “The backbone of this country has been made by first-generation [immigrants] coming here, educating their children, and living the American dream.’’

A new program, the Catholic Alumni Partnership, extends to the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Catholic Alumni Partnership (CAP) is a groundbreaking initiative that is currently helping to create sustainable fundraising programs in 303 Catholic elementary schools in New York and Connecticut. While there is a strong tradition of alumni support at the college and high school levels, resource constraints have prevented many Catholic elementary schools from conducting effective alumni outreach…CAP will reconnect the tens of thousands of students who benefited from these superb schools in years past with the students today and in doing so secure the future of Catholic elementary education for generations to come.

Great things happening in St. Louis in support of Catholic Schools with Archbishop Robert Carlson at the helm.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has proclaimed Catholic schools as his first priority, one that is reflected in the long, strong tradition of Catholic education here. Few dioceses have as many Catholic schools — St. Louis is the 38th largest diocese by population in the country, but the seventh largest in Catholic school enrollment.

To help that tradition continue and grow, the archbishop has established a new Mission Advancement Initiative for Catholic education here. The multi-year initiative, which is being planned with the help of a team of educators and fundraising professionals, will focus on helping parishes and schools implement the archbishop’s vision for Catholic schools.

“I believe in Catholic education,” Archbishop Carlson told the members of the Mission Advancement Initiative earlier this summer. “I also believe that as archbishop of St. Louis I have a God-given responsibility to do everything I can to help our schools be ‘Alive in Christ’ — vibrant centers of faith and learning committed to excellence and to holiness, to make them available— and affordable — for every Catholic family that desires a Catholic school education for their children, and, wherever possible, to offer this ministry to other (nonCatholic) families who share our values and who want a Catholic school education for their children.”

More than 1,700 students from 1,300 families were helped by the Catholic Family Tuition Assistance Endowment Fund, according to David Shelton, director of administrative services for the Catholic Education Office.

This government continues  policies of feeding the blob and starving lean and effective faith-based schools.

Yesterday’s NY Times reported that the Senate approved a $26 billion dollar bill to close the gap for state budgets and prevent teacher layoffs.  $10 billion of federal tax dollars will be used to prevent teacher lay-offs for public school districts.  This is on top of the $100 billion bailout for the nation’s public schools in last year’s stimulus bill, the $4 billion dollar Race to the Top program, $650 Million in i3 grants (Investing in Innovation).  With the exception of a minuscule portion of the first bail-out, none of this money was made available to Catholic and faith-based schools.

174 Catholic schools closed during the 2009-2010 school year, causing thousands of teachers and staff to lose jobs and tens of thousands of students to be displaced and lose access to quality Catholic schools.

Despite an initial half-hearted attempt by the Obama Administration to continue the focus that the Bush Administration placed on preserving urban faith-based schools (the DOE convened faith-based school leaders a few times and basically said, “why don’t you guys get your stuff together and save your schools?”) it is fair to say that the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership have completely neglected to offer any meaningful support to faith-based schools.

Though some of these programs, especially Race to the Top and i3 grants, have supported interesting public school reforms and challenged teachers union’s stranglehold on public education, this administration’s education policy is ultimately dramatically expanding charters and other public school options while quickening the extinction of faith-based schools in America.