We need to bolster Catholic education - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

We need to bolster Catholic education

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester is very much committed to the future of our Catholic schools. Since our very beginnings in 1868, we have placed great importance and emphasis on the Catholic education of our children. For more than 100 years, children have benefited from Catholic schools offering an education based on academic excellence and infused with our religious values.

But the children who attend are not the only beneficiaries. Our entire community profits as well, as we have witnessed time and again when Catholic-school graduates ascend to leadership positions in government, education, law, medicine, the arts and other professions.

The church especially benefits: National research indicates that graduates of Catholic schools hold key leadership positions in our parishes and other Catholic institutions. Indeed, did you know that the vast majority of pastors and pastoral administrators in the Diocese of Rochester today attended Catholic schools?

Yet, just as we have much to celebrate about our Catholic schools and their ongoing excellence, I must also tell you we face many great challenges now and in the future.

For example, it is no secret that enrollment is declining, not just here but in most parts of the country. Just as in other locales, many factors contribute to this decline, including changes in the community’s population due to economic downsizing, changing demographics, family choices about where to spend increasingly strained financial resources and, yes, school tuition costs. In fact, studies of the decline in Catholic-school enrollment in the Diocese of Rochester — nearly 25 percent over the last five years — have indicated that a family’s decision to withdraw their children from Catholic school is influenced largely by finances.

Some may ask, “Why are costs a factor? Why can’t it be like it was so many years ago?” For one thing, Catholic education always had a cost. But now our dedicated religious sisters no longer bear the majority of expenses of running our schools, nor are they able to fill our classrooms in teaching roles as they did for decades. The great majority of our teachers and administrators today are highly trained women and men who have made a significant commitment to enriching the lives of the children in their schools, albeit at salaries less than they might make in public schools but with salaries and benefits nonetheless.

At the same time, our schools, not unlike their public counterparts or any institution, operate under ever-rising costs for heat, light, security and so on. In addition, our classrooms have been and are being equipped with state-of-the-art technology, quite expensive but well worth it so that Catholic-school students have the right tools to learn well and stay ahead in this 21st century.

I believe it is important that you understand the importance of these issues, for all of us have a vested interest — whether you are a parent of a Catholic-school student or a member of one of our parishes that support the schools financially.

It also is important for us to work together in the months and years to come on ways to bolster our Catholic schools.

One recent example: If you live in Monroe County, you likely have heard recently about specific steps we are taking to deal with the issues I have outlined. A key question is, how can we better help families? One way is by looking at new ways of using our resources and at the way we allocate financial aid.

Most people may not realize that the cost they pay for tuition is not the full cost to educate each child. For example, parishes within Monroe County contribute aid — amounting to $7 million for the current fiscal year — to the school system. That aid has been shared equally among all parish families with children in Catholic schools — regardless of each family’s particular financial circumstances.

Our goal: to find a better way to help families who wish to send their children to Catholic schools but have not been able to afford it.

At the same time, as good stewards, we must ensure that we use the resources we have as efficiently as possible and, just as critical, create the best possible atmosphere of spiritual and academic nurturing and social growth for our pupils. Buildings at less than capacity do not lend themselves to either. Now and in the years ahead, we must carefully look at use of our facilities and, if necessary, make decisions we pray will mean a stronger system and a continuation of our proud tradition. I am sure you will hear more about this as events unfold, and information is available on the Catholic Schools section of our diocesan Web site, www.dor.org.

As we strive to preserve, protect and improve the treasure of Catholic education now and for generations yet to come, I ask for your understanding, your cooperation and your prayers.

Peace to all.

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