The future of Catholic high schools?
Late last year, I blogged on the decision of the Priests of Holy Cross, Indiana Province, to close Notre Dame High School for Boys (my alma mater). A few months later, I wrote a piece for the National Catholic Reporter detailing how province came to that difficult decision, and how the school would go on. I had hoped to bump the article here when it was published, but NCR firewalled the piece. Wisely, the paper recently opened its online archive to the masses (for a limited time). So for those of you still interested in following the story, click over to their Web site to read my piece. (It requires a few cumbersome steps: first you have to click a button to gain access to their archives; then you have to look in the back-issues area for the April 6 edition.) Alternatively, you can click here to read a copy of the piece that's archived on LookSmart. A sample:
The collision between high ideals and stark realities is becomingincreasingly common across the shifting landscape of Catholic educationin the United States, yet rarely is the conflict as vividly displayedas in the story of Notre Dame High School and the Holy Cross Indianaprovince. This tangled saga illustrates the crunch of the decliningnumber of priests and religious with the continuing dedication oflaypeople to Catholic education, while questions of ownership andCatholic identity add intrigue to the outcome.
Of the 1,203 Catholic high schools in the United States, 42 percentare sponsored by religious communities. The dwindling numbers ofreligious and their increasing financial burdens have forced manycongregations--such as the Jesuits and the De La Salle Brothers--tomove their schools to a two-tiered governance model. In such a model, apredominantly lay board oversees the daily operations of the school,while some powers are reserved by the sponsoring community, usuallyinvolving property and religious identity. "Congregations are realizingthat this is a way to continue the mission of their schools," accordingto Notre Dame Sr. Mary Frances Taymans, executive director of theSecondary School Department of the National Catholic EducationalAssociation. "Knowing the role they want to sustain over time has to dowith mission and charism," Taymans explained, these congregationsunderstand that "it's time to turn these institutions over."
But sometimes a governance transition is out of the question. Whena sponsoring community decides to close a school, according to Taymans,"usually the lay board and parents say they want to try to keep itopen." In those cases, "congregations tend to agree to maintainsponsorship, but not financial responsibility for the school," Taymanssaid. In the case of Notre Dame High School, however, that was never onthe table. When asked how the Indiana province decision compares tonational trends in Catholic secondary schools, Taymans said, "It tendsto go differently."