The challenges facing Catholic schools Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Mar. 26, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

These days one does not need to look very far to know that our society is facing many challenges. Every day, even every hour, it seems we hear more news of the deepening economic crisis, corporate excess, massive layoffs, failing businesses, and increasing home foreclosures.

The current crisis seems to have affected nearly every facet of life. In one way or another, it touches every person and every organization, including our diocese, our parishes, and our schools.

Challenges and opportunities

Indeed, these are challenging times. As difficult as they may seem, challenging times are not all bad, for they provide an opportunity for reflection. Challenging times give us pause to reflect, to think, to pray, and to plan.

Through thoughtful reflection about such basic questions as, "Who are we?" "What is our mission?" "What are we attempting to accomplish?" "What is God calling us to do?" "How can we best answer His call?" we can reformulate our plan of action, refocus our efforts, revitalize our energy, rededicate ourselves to the difficult tasks placed before us, and renew our commitment to building the Kingdom.

Over the course of the past three months, over 80 people from all corners of the diocese have been engaging in precisely this process as we continue to reflect, think, pray, and plan for the future of our Catholic schools.

Each month this year, the Core Teams have gathered together to analyze data, ask difficult questions, and identify the many challenges faced by our Catholic schools in the areas of Academic Curriculum, Catholic Leadership, Enrollment Management, and Fiscal Stewardship.

Emerging themes

Although the Core Teams all met separately, many similar themes emerged from their discussions. Some of these themes and challenges are:

  • Increasing Catholic identity
  • Improving collaboration between schools, parishes, and the diocese
  • Recruiting, developing, and maintaining faithful Catholic leaders
  • Increasing enrollment
  • Engaging the entire/wider community
  • Providing quality catechesis to students, parents, and the community
  • Defining and promoting the true value of Catholic schools
  • Upholding excellence in academics and faith formation
  • Providing more stable funding for schools
  • Being cost efficient and affordable while providing just salaries and maintaining staff
  • Attracting quality, Catholic teachers
  • Providing high schools to all people in the diocese, especially outside Madison
  • Serving un-served and diverse populations (special needs, English language learners, etc.)
  • How to thrive in an increasingly secular society
An opportunity

These are just some of the many issues facing Catholic schools. Next month, the Core Teams will work to pare down the long lists and identify the most significant challenges faced by our Catholic schools. Certainly, after looking at just this list, it would be easy to despair. Yet for every challenge there is an opportunity, an opportunity to grow, to learn, to change, to improve, to become, to move closer to the vision that God has for us.

Nowhere is this example more visible, or more significant, than in Christ's own death and resurrection. What appeared to be utter defeat, death on a cross, became the ultimate victory over sin and death. What appeared as complete weakness became our very source of strength, and what seemed as cause for great despair, became our greatest cause for hope.

As Catholics, we have much reason to hope. Even though our schools face great challenges, so too do they give us much reason to hope.

During the months of May, June, and July, we will be traveling around the diocese, introducing the work of the Core Teams, and inviting all people to consider the challenges facing Catholic schools and offer their thoughts as we explore the great opportunities for strengthening and improving our Catholic schools.

As always, thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting all of those involved in this work with your many prayers.

Michael Lancaster is the superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Madison.