July 28, 2010 // Local

Catholic Schools Office focused on opportunities, challenges

Guest editorial by Dr. Mark Myers
As we look forward to a new school year, and a new decade in Catholic schools across the diocese, the Catholic Schools Office is focused on the many opportunities and challenges placed before us.

A recent national study by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) of Notre Dame found pastors throughout the country share concerns about school finances, marketing and long-range planning. Clearly during the next decade, challenges and blessings will be faced by all those who work with our children in our schools.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend serves over 12,000 Catholic children in Catholic schools enrolled in grades pre-k-12. Our schools strive to provide a strong and present Catholic identity where children can grow in their faith, share their faith and practice their faith as children today and as responsible Catholic adults tomorrow. Our schools maintain academic excellence and function efficiently as well. Record amounts of dollars in college scholarships are offered each year to seniors graduating from Marian High School, Saint Joseph’s High School, Bishop Dwenger High School and Bishop Luers High School.

According to Holy Cross Father Joe Corpora, of the ACE at Notre Dame, about 1,500 Catholic schools closed during the last 10 years in the U.S.; while this is quite troubling, over 1,400 schools would have remained open had they reached out to our Catholic Latino children.

Our principals and teachers are involved in discussions about how we might engage our Latino children and families. Catholic educators attending an ACE, Notre Dame conference on Latino children early in July learned that only 35 percent of the reason Latino children do not attend Catholic schools is due to lack of money for tuition. Our greatest challenge may be to learn from the long and distinguished history of the religious who served Catholic immigrant children over 100 years ago. Presently, the faith-filled, practicing Catholic descendants of those early immigrants serve our parishes and throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

This much is clear: Much more is at risk for our diocese and our Church now than simply the future of our urban parish schools. The significant growth of Catholic, Latino families in Indiana and America ensures the Church will continue to reflect these national demographics; our Catholic educators working in our schools today will play a major role in the faith formation of the children who will inherit our diocese and the Church.

Father Corpora reminds us that during the last century, the American parish was a reflection of the immigrant home. The culture, food, language and customs were extended to the Catholic school and parish from the home; ethnic traditions were familiar and expected by children enrolled in the diverse Catholic school communities.

Today, our schools are challenged to accommodate and incorporate the rich culture and customs of our Catholic, Latino homes. We have a long way to go but the blessings for all our children are eternal. Latino children and their families clearly will enrich our schools, revitalize our urban parishes and secure our Catholic faith in America for centuries. However, we must all act boldly now to enroll Latino children in our Catholic schools.

Research from Loyola Marymount University (2008) shows the graduation rate among low-income minorities enrolled in Catholic schools is 98 percent compared to 66 percent graduating in public schools. According to Derek Neal (1997), all students who attend Catholic schools are 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 2.5 times more likely to graduate from college. The future of our Catholic schools remains blessed given God’s work before us presently. Please continue to pray that we can extend the Catholic schools advantage to our Latino children residing within the diocese.

The Catholic Schools Office welcomes Marsha Jordan as the newly appointed associate superintendent. Marsha has served in Catholic education for 31 years at Wawasee Prep, St. Vincent de Paul, Bishop Dwenger and most recently as principal at Queen of Angles.

Finally, our Catholic teachers and principals throughout the diocese have been very busy this summer working to ensure our children are prepared effectively and well academically. ACE of Notre Dame is providing two weeklong workshops for our diocese engaging over 140 teachers and principals in curriculum development programs in South Bend and Fort Wayne during July and August. Each workshop will end with Mass.

ACE has offered our schools a nationally adopted, research-based process to develop our school curriculum that leads to higher student achievement. Our high school principals are working with ACE to organize department chairs and provide professional development. We have been invited to send teachers to ACE to develop skills in teaching English as a New Language (ENL); our goal is to have one trained ENL teacher in each building within three years. ACE has contributed unselfishly this summer to assist our principals to acquire effective special education services for all our schools.

Clearly, we would be remiss if we did not extend our heartfelt appreciation to Holy Cross Father Tim Scully, director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, Notre Dame and his entire ACE staff for their generous commitments to our Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The tireless efforts of the ACE staff and the unselfish commitments of our teachers and principals will contribute greatly to the welfare of our Catholic school children.

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