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Our Priests and Our Schools

by Joseph D. Hollowell, President of Roncalli

Nearly half the priests in America would just as soon see our Catholic schools close up and relieve their parishes of the financial burden the schools cause them.  So says a study conducted in 2008 by the University of Notre Dame as a part of the University’s extended effort to support Catholic schools.  According to the survey, this attitude is more common among younger priests (those under 55) than it is older ones.  It gives me pause to consider what this might mean for the future of the greatest and most extensive private school system in the history of the world.  While it is obvious that many of our priests are staunch supporters of our Catholic schools, there is clearly work to do.  

The good news is that the bishops of this country have repeatedly and steadfastly supported our Catholic schools in both word and deed.  One need only look to the example of Archbishop Buechlein’s tenure in Indianapolis to see a witness of this extraordinary support from our bishops.  Through his leadership tens of millions of dollars have been raised to provide tuition support for families in need, renovate decaying school facilities, and to open brand new schools.  Additional good news can be found in the fact that since Vatican II was convened over forty years ago the Church has repeatedly issued statements strongly encouraging its churches around the world to offer and support Catholic education through every means possible. 

The tensions the priests identify in this study come from the competing financial pressures of needing to pay a more just salary to the teachers who work for much less than their public school counterparts, versus the need to keep tuition lower so Catholic families are not priced out of the schools, versus all of the other ministries the parishes could spend the money on with which they subsidize the schools.   I personally relate to these pressures identified by so many of these priests because I deal with the exact same tensions in my role as president of Roncalli.  The pressures are real because many families are profoundly affected by these decisions.       

I confess my extreme bias for the powerful ways in which Catholic schools have impacted our Church in this country.  I can only hope that some day those priests that would like to be rid of Catholic schools come to understand the reason behind the many sacrifices we all make to keep these schools available to our children.  Those parishioners who know the powerful role these schools play in the lives of our children and our families must continue to recognize, support, and affirm our priests for balancing these tensions and making possible this most powerful ministry to our families.  These pastors deserve our heartfelt thanks, and I hope you will take the time to offer it.

Speaking of our priests and why some of them might question the worth of Catholic schools, I am stunned by the number of them who report never seeing the families of many of their school children at Mass on Sunday.  Some of our South Deanery priests put the estimate of families that never show up for Mass at well over half.  This makes no sense to me or to our priests.  Why make all of the sacrifices required to send children to a Catholic school and then not follow up on the most fundamental practice Jesus gave us in gathering weekly to celebrate His life, death, and resurrection in the Eucharist?  In discussing this with our students I will frequently hear the familiar refrain, “I don’t get anything out of Mass.”  To which I cannot help but offer the reply of my high school principal, Mr. Bill Kuntz, “You’re not going to get.  You’re going to give!”  At Mass, among many other things, we can go to give our time, our gifts, our prayers for family and friends, our attempts to understand what God is calling us to do, and our support to our fellow parishioners. Once we “go to give” we will quickly find God fulfilling His promise to return our gifts a hundredfold.  If it has been a while since you have gone to Mass to give, I ask you to consider it.  You will not be disappointed!

Pray for Roncalli and our students when you get the chance.  God bless you all!

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