MADISON -- The Diocese of Madison Office of Catholic Schools recently held a diocesan-wide Congress to gain greater input on its yearlong planning process.
The Congress, held October 17 at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison, gathered principals, pastors, and concerned parents from around the diocese to learn and discuss the planning process and vote on the issues of greatest concern as the process continues.
The purpose of the Comprehensive Schools Study has been to ensure that Catholic schools are “available, affordable, and accessible” for any who desire a Catholic education, in line with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ directives for schools.
The process hinges on the definition of development — the meaningful involvement of people in the mission and vision for the future, said Bernard DuMond of the Institute of School and Parish Development. DuMond and Michael Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison, spoke at the opening of the schools Congress.
“We need to hear from you,” DuMond said. “This is a process about inviting; this is about listening; this is a process about together addressing these challenges and listening every step of the way.”
Process began in 2008
The Comprehensive Schools Study got underway in late 2008, beginning with a steering committee formed by pastors, principals, and parishioners from throughout the diocese. Regional meetings and core team and task force meetings followed, leading up to the Congress.
The study stemmed from a directive from the U.S. Catholic bishops to study the schools to promote and increase the commitment to Catholic education, as outlined in the bishops’ document, Renewing our Commitment to Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium.
The Congress was a good opportunity to involve as many people in the process as possible, said Sr. Kathleen Loughrin, the principal at St. James School in Madison and a member of the steering committee for the planning process.
“I think we’ll get a few more ideas from people who haven’t been involved before, and to learn more about all of the questions,” she said.
From here, she said, the steering committee will take the suggestions and the issues as prioritized by the voting at the Congress October 17 and refine them. The next steps in this planning process are the refinement, approval, and implementation of the final plan for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison.
Statistics show bleak picture
Catholic schools have, nationwide, seen a large decrease in enrollment and number of schools over the past 50 years. According to statistics from the National Catholic Educational Association, about 45 percent of the Catholic schools in America have closed since their peak in 1965, and schools have lost more than 40 percent of students — a 3.33 million difference in student enrollment between 1965 and 2008.
In the Diocese of Madison, the statistics are not quite as dramatic for the number of schools closed — only 36 percent of the schools have closed since the diocese’s school peak in 1962. But the loss of students has been great: in the 1962-1963 school year, enrollment was at 20,390 students; in 2009-2010, the number was 7,869, a more than 61 percent drop.
Going forward with faith
During his homily at the noon Mass, however, celebrant Bishop Robert C. Morlino reminded those gathered at the Congress that, even if things look bleak, victory can come out of defeat.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, he said, was brutally murdered — and yet what did the opening prayer say that day? “Through his victory may we come to holy life.”
“Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a very bloody death can be the place of victory,” the bishop said. “When we look or we feel most defeated, it could be that through all of that, victory is about to be born . . . And that is how we have to plan as we go forward into the future.”
Bishop Morlino spoke of a church in his hometown that was subsequently closed and how sometimes people feel defeated when that happens. And yet, he said, we must believe that through defeat there is meant to be a victory — or we don’t truly believe in the resurrection.
“We can never make the survival of a particular parish or school or building or community a measure of our faith,” he said.
The Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison exist so that all young people can have an opportunity to meet Christ every day. Seeking academic excellence and a life of discipline can create an atmosphere that is right for young people to seek Christ and for us to reach out to them.
In the public schools, the religion of secularism and the absence of God is being taught, the bishop said. “But if we teach about Jesus Christ in as strong and organized a way as the public schools (teach secularism), we’d really be cooking with gas.
“We, in our divided Church, do not put it together enough to be organized and do it well,” he said. “As we plan for the future, that’s got to be part of the plan — not the buildings, but how we’re gonna do the job.”
According to Superintendent Lancaster, the next step in the planning process will be to meet with all the priests on Thursday, Nov. 12, to gain input and insight. From there, the Steering Committee will draft the final recommendations and solutions that should be pursued.
Recommendations will then be presented to Bishop Morlino for his approval, and, once approved, implementation is expected to begin at the cluster level in the spring of 2010.