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I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is a Parish School Good for the Parish?

There is an interesting discussion about Catholic schools going on at The Cafeteria is Closed. I joined in the discussion by referencing this post I wrote last year. What seems to be coming out of the comment box is that Catholic Schools are:
  1. Not Catholic enough. There is a distinct impression that the schools are watering down the Catholicism so they are palatable to non-Catholics who are needed to keep the enrollment numbers up. The schools are not much more than generic private schools with crucifixes on the walls
  2. Too expensive
  3. A drain on parish resources without giving anything back to the parish.

The third item is one of my biggest complaints. I have often mentioned that the parish school makes the CCD program feel like unwanted tenants when we use the classrooms after school hours. In fact, this year the school had “smart boards” installed in two classrooms and would not allow the CCD program to use those classrooms.

Our parish is in the middle of a big capital improvement campaign. When the additions to the school building were explained I was told all about the new auditorium with state-of-the-art multimedia capabilities. I specifically asked if this facility would be available for the whole parish to use or just for school events. I was assured that the improvements to the school were for the whole parish. The next week CCD classrooms were shuffled to keep the program out of the schoolrooms with smart boards. That does not give me a warm fuzzy feeling about the whole parish benefiting from the multimedia auditorium. I have not yet opened my pocketbook for this building campaign.

I wrote yesterday about my efforts to bring a culture of adult education to my current parish. There is a parish nearby that does not have an attached school. It seems to have a growing continuing faith formation program complete with a parish library and several adult program offerings. I am wondering if the lack of a parish school allows greater emphasis on catechesis for the general parish population. I would be interested in hearing from you if you think having a parish school affects the parish catechetical program, either positively or negatively.

UPDATE: see more reflections on this in the above post.

13 comments:

suzannemg said...

I can understand why there is friction between the Catholic school and the parish. We have a regional Catholic school that our children attend. The bishop had to set the subsidy level that the 3 supporting Churches would pay the school, because the debate was so contentious. It hasn't been changed for 13 years and now represents about 6% of the school's budget where it used to represent 30%...as a result tuition has become very expensive. It is a tremendous sacrifice for our family to send the kids to school there. Is Catholicism watered down--yes, it is to some extent, but I went to public school and the lack of any acknowledgement that there is a God is far more harmful. Faithful Catholics need to reclaim their schools and be an influence in the Catholic school. The children still get to pray each day, go to Mass and reconciliation...the grace they receive is working in their lives. I can see the benefits in my children and I can see how our family's participation in the school benefits the school. We need to support eachother and faithful Catholics need to seriously consider sending their children to Catholic schools even though it may require tremendous sacrifice. I don't believe abandoning the schools is the answer, I think a renewed committment is the answer.

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Well our Primary School is wonderful & close to the Parish...

CPT Tom said...

If Parish Schools were more like the ones before Vatican II...Mostly Religious (Sisters, Brothers)for teachers and orthodox in content and teaching method, I would say they would be an asset. That said, after having two go through Catholic High Schools...leaving it to nominally Religious Directed (not taught) or completely to poorly catechized laity or mildly to out and out dissident lay or Religious who are more interested in pushing the a watered down theology and a watered down curriculum in general is actually counter productive.

I think we need to rethink what we expect from our...and I mean our Catholic schools. We are losing control of them just like we lost control of supposedly "Catholic" univeristy and Colleges.

Catholic Mom said...

I want to emphasize that I am not advocating a wholesale abolition of Catholic schools. I am saying that if a parish chooses to have a school it has to be unquestionably Catholic and it has to add to the life of the entire parish. Too many parish schools wall themselves off from the parish unless they are putting their hand out for financial support. There should be no difference in the catechetical quality and support of the parish school children and the CCD program. I think a parish has to ask the question, "If we build up a quality Catholic school that is going to educate only 50% of the parish children, is it being done at the expense of the faith formation of the adults and the rest of the parish children?" If the answer to this question is "yes", then I think the parish needs to rethink the wisdom of supporting a parish school.

David Jackson said...

There is a real disconnect between the parish and the parish school. Last year, the school actually removed the crucifixes from the classrooms to be in compliance with some kind of Federal program. Eventually the powers that be were shamed into putting them back up. Our pastor has virtually no say in what goes on at the school.

Rebecca said...

Wow - we have a Catholic school that is very Catholic and very close to and integrated with the parish. We have some (4 this year) Carmelite sisters who teach at the school, although the school already had a strong Catholic identity before we convinced them to come 5 years ago. If the crucifixes, statues, rosaries, posters of Pope JPII, etc. were removed the classrooms would be bare! I have also not noticed any students who have not received sacraments with their classes, unless it is because they have already received that sacrament. Our school is very heavily subsidized by the parish and has one of the lower tuitions in town. We have tried to encourage connections between the parish and school by having donuts and coffee after one school mass each month, not attended by the students, but attended by many parents and parishioners. We also started an annual event this fall for students (and parents) to do service projects in the neighborhood, i.e. yard work, painting. I do not know whether our CCD program feels like a step-child. A friend of mine, who was a school mom, used to run the program, but has since moved. We do not have much in the way of fancy equipment, certainly nothing the CCD classes couldn't use. Finally, adult education. We have some available, not alot. The best one I have done was through Familia. We used church facilities, but the program was pretty independent of both parish and school. Just some thoughts (and perhaps a bit of an ad for our school - Sts. Peter and Paul in Wheat Ridge, Colo.).

frival said...

Our parish school has a very interesting setup where it is not directly financially supported by the parish but has actually been set up to be self-supporting. It is also, to my knowledge, the only one in the Diocese that is not dependent on direct funding from the Diocese.

The downside is that it's pretty expensive, but that's been offset in many small ways by parents and parishioners. Those small things, however, have been an interesting study in doing things "the Catholic way" with people taking care of each other and donating time and money to those who need and deserve it. Last year the school couldn't provide a pay raise to the teachers so the parents got together and gave them significant Christmas gifts. Each teacher, as far as I know, has some sort of jar in their room for the kids to drop part of their allowance or what have you for various charities.

As far as sharing with the parish, all of the catechetical classes take place in the school. From what I've been able to piece together almost all of the parish meetings take place in the school meeting room as well. I have not as yet seen a single request put to the school that has been turned down.

And to top it off, they start and end every class day with prayers and include Mary and the patron saint of the parish as well. By the end of Kindergarten all the kids know the Rosary too. Do I wish their Religious Ed program was more strenuous? You'd better believe it. They do, however, teach the Catholic truth and encourage the parents to do the same.

Catholic Mom said...

It sounds like there are ways for a parish and school to be partners in catechetics. Unfortunately, my experience teaching CCD all over the US makes me think this is the exception rather than the rule.

Frival, your parish sounds like it has an outstanding school. Here are some questions I have about it: Is there room in the school for every parish child who wants to attend the school? What percentage of the parish children are being given their religious education by the school and what percentage by the CCD program? In most situations I have been in, the school provides religious education to less than half of the parish children, either by necessity because there is not room in the school for all the parish children, or by choice because the school is not attracting the parish children. Yet the program which is providing the bulk of the parish religious education is treated like the step child.

In my current situation, I walk in to a classroom every week where the blackboard is covered with writing from the school class. There is no space for me to illustrate my lesson on the board. The teacher's desk and the podium are piled high with papers and books so there is no place for me to put my own lesson outline. I use one of the front student desks as my podium.

In a previous setting, the CCD classes were admonished not to use the classroom waste baskets. The CCD classes met after the janitorial crew had done their daily clean-up and the school teachers did not like coming in to a classroom with our trash in the wastebaskets. We had to carry any paper scraps, etc out of the classroom to a trash bag in the office.

My children have attended Catholic schools at various times, depending on our military assignment. At those times, I now realize, I was usually volunteering at the school not the CCD program so I had no clue how the school and CCD program were interacting.

CPT Tom said...

Catholic Mom,

I am not advocating getting rid of the schools...if we can fix the relationship between parish and school. Out here in the Northeast I have yet to experience a school that was even close to the magisterium of the Church. Most seem off course.

Rebecca,
Wow, is all I can say...what you have there is light years away from the situation in my current diocese (Rochester) or any I've been in so far. You say you're in Colorado, is your bishop Archbishop Chaput? Either way, your situation sounds truly wonderful. God Bless you and your parish.

Eileen said...

The answer to your question is "no," at least in our parish. When our kids were in public school, we taught CCD, and encountered the same unwelcoming attitudes you describe. Even though more than half the parish children are not in the parish school, the CCD programs gets only a tiny fraction of the resources devoted to the school. Can you imagine a Catholic school in which the religion classes were taught by untrained and unpaid volunteers just once a week? Yet that is the situation in the vast majority of CCD programs, and no one seems concerned. Our parish school, which struggles to attract and retain students, is a tremendous drain on parish resources, and it's not obvious to me that its graduates are any more likely to live the faith as adults than the children of families with similarly committed parents who attend either public school or one of the excellent independent Catholic schools in the area. Quite honestly, I resent having to pay taxes for public schools that I do not use, having a third of my parish contributions siphoned off for the parish school that I do not use, and then having to pay unsubidized tuition to the independent Catholic school that my children attend.

Barb, sfo said...

I am a die-hard Catholic schooler. I do not view the schools as a drain on the parish but as an investment. In the parishes in my neighborhood, CCD is huge, but treated as an afterthought. Many parents I know let their kids "cut" CCD if they have sports practice. CCD is 1 hour a week for 20 weeks, and fifth-graders still spend a good amount of that time on arts and crafts.
My children have daily religion class and regularly attend Mass and even Rosary devotions at school.
The CCD around here is not enough. If that's all they get, I'm keeping my kids in Catholic school. And yes, that's a big financial sacrifice for our family. But we think they payoff will come later. We are investing in an environment that fosters their growing faith.

Allison said...

Have you been to a Catholic church that doesn't have a parish school when the surrounding ones do? What are the numbers in that congregation? What is the average age? What happens to the young adults in that parish when their youngsters finally reach school age?

For most places, the answer will be that the congregation is aging, that the young adults leave as soon as their kids reach school age, and they move somewhere more appropriate (or where they get the tuition break), and that the parish therefore is on the decline. It can't grow unless it attracts young Catholics, and that means family friendly church. For many locations, that means Catholic school.

But parishes are going to have to admit that parish schools will need to close. That's just demographics. The Baby Boomers have grown up, and so have their children. The populations of children are falling naturally, and both public and parochial schools will feel the contraction. You won't be able to support the same infrastructure as your population falls.

So, what should happen? Parishes shouldn't try to hold onto a school that is a drain on the parish. Instead, they should recognize who they are trying to serve, and choose to what extent they wish to choose young Catholics with school age children. Then, they can meet the needs of their own parishioners. If their parish doesn't have that need, let the school go, or consolidate. But a school that can't fill its doors with Catholics is probably a signal that the demographic decline is not fixable, whether general or local.

Catholic Mom said...

Allison,
I must disagree with your assessment of what happens to parishes without schools. Your assessment assumes most parents want to send their child to a Catholic school. At our current parish (as with most of the area parishes), there is an attached school with plenty of openings for enrollment. Yet most of the parish children do not attend this school. The CCD program enrolls more students than the school. The parish down the road has no school. It is vibrant and growing with lots of adult ed and lots of family oriented activities. When we lived in Montgomery, AL, most of the parishes had an attached school but ours did not. Our parish was stuffed to the gills with families with children.