Planning process seeks to strengthen Catholic Schools Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Oct. 02, 2008 -- 12:00 AM

Our Catholic Schools by Michael LancasterOn Wednesday, Sept. 17, the Comprehensive Schools Study formally got underway as 26 people from around the diocese met to convene the first meeting of the steering committee. Pastors, principals, and parishioners from all corners of the diocese met to learn more about the planning process.

As the meeting began, I explained the history and background and goals of the planning process. The project stems from the directive that "All parishes, those with and without schools, will actively participate in a diocesan wide comprehensive schools study to promote and increase our diocesan commitment to Catholic education as outlined in the USCCB publication Renewing our Commitment to Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium."

This document charges all Catholic school leaders to continue to find ways to make Catholic schools "available, affordable, and accessible" for all students and families who desire a Catholic education. Schools planning will work to answer this charge as well as to set a strong foundation for Catholic schools in the diocese to thrive and be "available, affordable, and accessible" both in the near term and for generations to come.

In his address to Catholic educators in Washington, D.C., in April of this year, Pope Benedict XVI urged us to do all that we can to ensure that Catholic schools are sustainable over the long-term. He stated, "Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that (Catholic schools) are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation."

Five key principles

As the study and planning proceed, the process will follow five key principles. The process will:

  • Focus exclusively on ways to strengthen our Catholic schools and our Catholic school system.
  • Assess the current situation in our schools, including, but not limited to: Catholic leadership, curriculum, demographics, enrollment data, financial data, community input, and existing strategic plans.
  • Be a collaborative process that serves to unify schools, parishes, and communities across clusters throughout the diocese.
  • Consider new, imaginative, innovative structures and processes that will increase school enrollment, ensure school viability, and provide an unparalleled education in the faith and academic disciplines.
  • Honor, complement, and coordinate with the work already done by cluster planning commissions through the Guided by the Spirit process.

Given this background, the schools study will focus on how, working together, we can strengthen our current system of Catholic schools and ensure that strong, solid Catholic schools will be available to families throughout the diocese for generations to come. This process is not just about studying our schools, nor is it simply about making periodic improvements. Rather, it is about strengthening our Catholic schools so they can blaze a trail that will burn brightly for all people of our diocese well into the third millennium.

Assistance in the process

Once the background was provided at the steering committee meeting, Frank Donaldson and John Cooper, associates with the Institute of Parish and School Development (ISPD) which will assist the diocese in conducting the planning process, provided the steering committee with more details regarding the length and structure of the planning process. Stressing the critical importance that Catholic schools maintain a strong Catholic identity and remain true to their mission, Frank Donaldson and John Cooper shared their passion for Catholic education, which for the past 20 years has led them to work exclusively to help Catholic schools, parishes, and dioceses plan for their futures.

As Cooper and Donaldson proceeded through their presentation, members of the steering committee asked many insightful questions. By the end of the meeting, there was an unmistakable and palpable energy and passion for moving forward to study and plan for the future of Catholic schools. Catholic schools benefit the entire Catholic community and the greater society. I am grateful that we have such a talented group of people willing to dedicate their time and their passion as we plan for the future of Catholic schools.

Regional meetings planned

While there will be many more opportunities for involvement both on the Core Team and Task Force level in the coming months, we will begin with four regional meetings held throughout the diocese where all people are invited to come and learn more about this process. Regional meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 14, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., St. William Parish, Janesville
  • Tuesday, Nov. 11, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., St. Joseph Parish, Fort Atkinson
  • Tuesday, Nov. 11, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., St. Mary Parish, Platteville
  • Wednesday, Nov. 12, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Bishop O'Connor Center, Madison

As always, thank you for reading and may God continue to bless you and your families.

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