Solutions for the future of Catholic schools Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, May. 14, 2009 -- 12:00 AM
Our Catholic Schools by Michael Lancaster

This is the second in a series of articles that answers questions about Catholic schools.

The primary mission of Catholic schools is to teach the faith through proclaiming, living, and witnessing the Gospel message. In this way they participate in the evangelical mission of the Church. A secondary mission of Catholic schools is to help parents fulfill the promise that all parents make when their children are baptized -- to educate and raise their children in the faith.

These are the two main reasons that we have Catholic schools. Catholic schools are important to the life of the Church because they teach children about their faith and assist in the education of the next generation of Catholics.

This critical need, to educate the next generation so they may carry on our work, is not unique to the Catholic Church. Any business, organization, or culture must do this. America's founding fathers recognized this fact and its grave implication that without educated citizens our democracy would surely perish. A national system of public schools eventually emerged, in part, as a response to this need.

'Educated citizenry'

This goal, to create an educated citizenry, while not our primary mission, nonetheless is embraced by Catholic schools. We embrace this goal because we believe in the uncontestable, undeniable dignity of each and every human being. Created in the image and likeness of God, each person is imbued with human dignity. As God created us body and soul, with many different capacities (intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual) we are bound to develop those talents to their fullest potential and then use those talents for the good of others -- to build the Kingdom of God, by living our faith as we participate in democratic society. This is what compels us to educate our children beyond our faith.

Catholic schools not only help students develop a deeper knowledge of the faith, they do this through teaching all the regular academic subjects while preparing students how to live as successful citizens who participate actively in our democracy. The importance of this role is recognized in the Code of Canon Law, "Those who are in charge of Catholic schools are to ensure . . . that the formation given in them is, in its academic standards, at least as outstanding as that in other schools in the area." (Canon 806 §2).

Thus, Catholic schools have a dual purpose -- first to teach faith and evangelize, and second, to educate students to develop their God given talents and use those talents to live as successful, contributing citizens of our society. By doing this, and by knowing and living their faith, they are able to transform our society, make the world a better place, and build the Kingdom of God on earth. Given this dual mission, Catholic schools are vital, not only to the Church, but to our society and nation as well.

Shrinking numbers

While the critical nature of this mission has been affirmed by both the U.S. Conference of Cath-olic Bishops and most recently by Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to the United States, the success of Catholic schools in producing students who excel academically and are disciplined, morally upright, caring, and contributing citizens, has long been recognized at state and national levels. Both our current and former presidents have recognized the importance of Catholic schools and their contributions to our nation.

Although Catholic schools have a critical mission, both for our Church and our nation, and although Catholic schools are recognized widely for their educational excellence, it is no secret that across the nation, the numbers of both Catholic schools and students enrolled in them has been shrinking. It is clear that our schools, even in our own diocese, face a number of mounting pressures that they did not face 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. It is also clear that we must do everything in our power to preserve Catholic schools and strengthen Catholic schools so that anyone who desires a Catholic school education may have one.

Practical implications

Toward this end, last September we began a process of Catholic Schools Planning in the diocese. A Steering Committee of 25 to 30 people from across the diocese was formed and charged with the task of leading the effort. This past January, we convened an additional 80 people to form the Core Teams and analyze the current state of Catholic education in the diocese. In addition, we invited all people living in the diocese to complete a survey regarding their perceptions and opinions about our Catholic schools. When all of the data was analyzed, the four Core Teams identified the most important challenges facing our Catholic schools today.

The next step of the process is to design solutions to meet these challenges. This is where we invite all of you to participate. We recognize that the solutions we create do not simply need to look good on paper; they need to work. And they don't just need to work for me or the diocese, they need to work for you: the parents who so willingly provide us the privilege of working with your children, the parishioners who so generously support Catholic schools with your weekly contributions, the volunteers who so freely give of your time, and the teachers whose dedication and sacrifice go so far above and beyond the call of duty. The solutions we devise now must work not only now, but into the future.

As we work toward these solutions, we do so together. All of you are invited to attend one of the upcoming "Task Force" meetings where we will discuss not only the challenges we confront, but the solutions we must create. Lists of these challenges and meeting dates, times, and locations may be found below or at our Web site: Please take a few moments to read these challenges. Think about them. Pray about them. Finally, please attend one of the upcoming meetings and help us plan for the future of Catholic schools.

As always, thank you for reading. May God bless you and your families.

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

Task Force Meetings

All four teams will meet together from 6 to 8 p.m. on the following dates and locations. Please attend the one meeting that works best for you:

  • Wednesday, May 27: St. John the Baptist Parish Hall, Montello, and St. Mary Parish Hall, Milton
  • Thursday, May 28: St. Bernard School Gym, Watertown, and St. Clement Parish Hall, Lancaster
  • Tuesday, June 2: St. Cecilia Parish, Wisconsin Dells, and St. Joseph School, Ft. Atkinson
  • Wednesday, June 3: Bishop O'Connor Center, Madison, and St. Rose Parish Hall, Cuba City
  • Wednesday, July 22: St. Luke Parish, Plain, and St. Rose of Lima Parish Hall, Brodhead
  • Thursday, July 23: Bishop O'Connor Center, Madison, and St. Joseph School, Dodgeville
School planning areas: Purposes and challenges
Catholic Leadership

The purpose of the Catholic Leadership Planning Area is to create a plan that will recruit, retain, and form leaders in Catholic schools who will provide authentic witness to the Gospel Truth, presence in the community, and emphasize the formation of parents, staff, and parish community, so that they may effectively serve the youth and build the Kingdom of God.


  • How do we ensure faithful catechesis (faith formation) that encourages parents, students, and school staff to serve as authentic witnesses to the Catholic faith in the wider community?
  • How do we recruit, develop, and maintain faithful, competent Catholic teachers, administrators, and staff within our schools?
  • How do we ensure a Catholic environment where all students, family, and staff can meet and know Jesus Christ and respond to His call to holiness?
  • How can we increase access to Catholic schools (especially middle and high schools)?
  • How can we improve collaboration between the Office of Catholic Schools, pastors, leadership within individual schools, and the wider community?
  • How do we advocate for our students with special needs (ELL, Speech, Language, Reading, and Math) for services from public schools?
  • How can we support all pastors in their role as leaders within the Diocesan Catholic school system?
Academic Curriculum

The purpose of the Academic Curriculum Planning Area is to create a plan ensuring that Catholic formation and faith are present throughout the academic curriculum of all Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison. This plan will provide the highest academic quality and prepare students to be successful disciples of Jesus Christ.


  • How can we develop a curriculum framework and instructional model to embrace Catholic formation and faith development?
  • How can our Catholic curriculum attract more parents to choose Catholic schools?
  • How can we ensure the use of research based best instructional practices to maximize student achievement?
  • How can we best collaborate and coordinate all facets of Academic Curriculum throughout the diocese?
  • How can we continue to provide/increase adequate curricular resources?
Enrollment Management

The purpose of the Enrollment Management Planning Area is to create a plan that enables schools to achieve and maintain diverse and optimal enrollments by demonstrating to their parishes and communities the great value of Catholic schools.


  • How do we develop and communicate the unique benefits of a Catholic school education that makes us the best choice?
  • How do we increase the percentage of parish families in the parochial grade school?
  • How do we determine and achieve enrollment goals while maintaining quality, quantity, and diversity?
  • How can we engage and establish partnerships with parents, pastor, parish, and community to promote and market the school and increase enrollment?
  • How do we coordinate best practices and resources among diocesan Catholic schools to achieve and maintain diverse and financially accessible schools?
  • How do we retain students/families that are currently enrolled?
Fiscal Stewardship

The purpose of the Fiscal Stewardship Planning Area is to create a plan that promotes and sustains long-term financial stability for the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Madison.


  • How do we develop diversified fiscal support for Catholic schools?
  • How do we efficiently manage the cost of staffing and operations?
  • How do we make Catholic schools affordable?
  • How do we manage financial resources?
  • How do we implement periodic fiscal review and evaluation?
  • How do we standardize financial reporting and communications?