May 19, 2012 – Celebrate the Past, Plan the Future

Those that know me well will tell you that generally I’m not really much of a “planner”.  I’m more of a take things as they come kind of a guy, partly because it seems like even our best laid plans go off kilter much of the time.  Yesterday I had a plan – get off work, run a couple of errands, get home, get on the internet, write the blog, be done by the time the Cardinal game starts.  Beautiful!  Alas, when I get home I get a call from my niece, who is on the same internet server that I am, who asks “Is your internet working because ours isn’t.”  I check, of course mine is not working either.  So, my plan to have the blog up on time for a change is foiled again.  But the good news is that later in the evening it was back up and running again, so at least we are not too far behind this time.

This time of the year we of course focus on graduations.  Actually in monitoring some of the Facebook conversations, it appears more and more schools, particularly large ones, no longer hold ceremonies for 8th grade graduation, be it due to budget cuts, the sheer large number of students, or because of the way some schools are now setup, it’s not considered that much of leap to go from 8th to 9th grade.  We of course still honor our 8th grade graduates here at St. Mary’s because it is an important milestone.  Many will be moving on to a non-Catholic school for the first time in their life.  Those that do continue on to a Catholic high school will be doing so in a different city, so this is certainly a turning point for them as well.  It is also a time of celebration for the whole parish as we thank God, those involved in the operation of our school, and those who donate to our school that for another year we were able to provide a quality Catholic education to our kids.

Marking these milestones also gives us an opportunity to look toward the future, particularly in our parish as next year we will be celebrating the 150th year of having a Catholic school.  What an accomplishment – providing Catholic education for 150 years without interruption!  I’m sure those folks in the 1860’s faced some of the same challenges we do now such as maintaining a quality curriculum with limited resources and space (we have more than one teacher in a church basement, but you get the idea).  I’m sure there were times in those early years when they wondered if they could continue to operate the school, especially in times of economic hardship.  But through the grace of God and the hard work and generosity of many people, the school endured and thrived.  We of course have had times in our recent history when the future of our school seemed in doubt due to factors such as declining enrollment and skyrocketing costs.  But again, through the grace of God and the hard work and generosity of many people, the school continues its mission of providing a quality Catholic education and also teaching the morals and life skills that will stay with the students throughout their adult life.

So as we stop today to laud the accomplishments of our 8th grade graduates and our school as a whole, we continue to keep an eye to what the future holds, particularly as our diocese continues the Parish Renewal and Restructuring process that will likely result in the closure and re-organization of not only some churches, but perhaps some schools as well.  We as a parish have reasons to be optimistic about keeping our school open.  We have made great strides over the last 5-7 years to increase our enrollment.  We have made progress in lowering the percentage of our church income that is used to subsidize the school.  We are the only parish in our cluster to have a parish school.  And of course we have a dedicated group of teachers, staff, parents, alumni, parishioners and benefactors that are dedicated to keeping our school viable.  However, we still must ask the inevitable questions. Will we be able to keep up with continuing increases in costs?  Will we be able to maintain and increase our enrollment as the size of families continues to decrease?  How long can we continue to practically maintain a building that is over 100 years old?  Will parents continue to see the value of a Catholic education and make the sacrifices necessary to obtain it for their children?

I came across an article this past week written by Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia titled “Why Catholic Schools are Worth Saving.”  They are currently making an effort to convince their legislature to increase tax credits for tuition to private schools, and also to increase funding for school choice vouchers.  Here is a link to the article:

http://catholicphilly.com/2012/05/archbishop-chaput/why-catholic-schools-are-worth-saving/

One paragraph in the article I think made the case as to why Catholic schools should be preserved.  Archbishop Chaput says: “The genius of Catholic schools, when they’re led with passion and adequate resources, is that they create a lifelong love of learning; they teach the academic skills to achieve real excellence, not just in the classroom but in adult life; and they shape the kind of moral character that makes for worthy citizenship and an honorable life. This is the dignity God intends for His people. This is why Catholic schools succeed where others often fail. This is why they’re worth fighting to save.”

Bottom line: Catholic schools can provide a base for not only the academic skills needed to succeed, but also the traits of morality and solid character that help our students become virtuous citizens.  We can provide an education based on Christian principles that will ensure that the faith is passed on to future generations.  So today we congratulate our 4 graduates – Elizabeth Heffernan, Rhett Holley, Jade Keel, and Olivia Moore, and pray that they continue to succeed in their future endeavors.  We thank our teachers and staff for  their dedication  and care of our children and school.  We thank our parents, grandparents, volunteers, alumni, parishioners, benefactors, and all who contributed in any way to the success of the past year.  And finally, we pray for the future of our school, that our 150th celebration is not a final salute to a rich history, but is an opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments while making strides toward the future.

Have a great week.  Pray also for needed rain for our farmers and gardeners.  Peace.

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