January 14, 2014 // Local

Feasibility study considers Catholic middle/high school in center of diocese

NOTRE DAME — Would a Catholic middle and high school be feasible for the center of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend? A consulting group at the request of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades is studying that question.

The diocese currently has four Catholic high schools: two in Fort Wayne and two in South Bend. There is no Catholic high school in the center of the diocese, and only one of the Catholic grade schools in that area offers grades seven and eight.

Bishop Rhoades told Today’s Catholic that he has been approached at various times and places by people asking about having a Catholic junior high and high school in the central part of the diocese

“People who have mentioned it to me speak about the benefits and value of a Catholic education for teenagers, especially the need for good moral formation during those years,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Some have also mentioned the academic excellence of Catholic schools.”

In a September, 2013, letter to pastors and Catholic school principals, Bishop Rhoades explained that he is open to the possibility of such a new school, but good stewardship requires a decision to be based on “sound reason and judgment.” Thus, Bishop Rhoades asked that a feasibility study be conducted by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Consulting group, which is based at the University of Notre Dame.

That study is ongoing and will conclude in March, according to Holy Cross Father Thomas Doyle, the senior financial analyst for ACE Consulting and a leadership development specialist in Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives. The consultants then will write a report for the bishop that details their findings, and Bishop Rhoades will make the decision.

Father Doyle explained that ACE Consulting identified 12 parishes in the center of the diocese (see box) to survey about interest in such a school. Only four of those parishes have grade schools, but the 12 parishes combined have over 15,000 registered parishioners.

The ACE Consulting study will analyze several issues, Father Doyle said, including: whether there is an adequate number of students and families that have a desire to be served by such a Catholic school; distances that would have to be traveled; what the number of students looks like in future years; and financial resources such as gifts, tuition, vouchers and other sources of revenue. The group has not been surveying existing buildings that could be used, though Father Doyle said people in the area have made suggestions.

Two of the components of the study are focus groups that have been conducted in those central parishes and a survey instrument that invites input about the school possibility.

To date, the survey has garnered “a few hundred” responses, according to Brandy Ellison, ACE Consulting associate director of research and a faculty member in Notre Dame’s English as a New Language Program. This is an “impressive” response rate she said, but she is hopeful even more people will participate by the Jan. 26 deadline.

Ellison said ACE Consulting will not analyze the data until the survey closes, but she and Father Doyle can predict from their national work what characteristics of Catholic education lead people to Catholic schools.

“Right at the top would be Catholic identity of the school, academic quality, a sense of community,” Ellison said.

Father Doyle also is talking to civic and community leaders for their input. He explained that Catholic schools could be a “gift” to an entire community, not just to Catholics.

“Whether they are community leaders or educational leaders, their input, insight and investment in the community in many ways mirrors the Catholic population as well,” he said, adding that many schools in the diocese already educate large numbers of non-Catholics.

Father Doyle said they would expect that the parish grade schools in the center of the diocese would be feeder schools to a Catholic middle and high school, but would not be the only source of students.

“We’re also very much aware that there are large numbers of Catholic students and even non-Catholics students for whom Catholic education would be the optimal educational choice for them as well,” he said, noting that the seven-through-twelve grade group is not being served right now.

Father Doyle praised Bishop Rhoades for his openness and willingness to listen to the people, as well as his efforts to obtain good information on which to base his decision.

“One of the things to be grateful for is that the bishop really wants to know the answer. There is not a pre-determined outcome, and those are really exciting projects to be a part of,” Father Doyle said.

Bishop Rhoades told Today’s Catholic that success of the project depends on enrollment projections and evidence of affordability. If the study shows the feasibility of this project, he said he would have to proceed “prudently” and would probably form a committee to begin planning. He said he has no specific timeline in mind.

Catholics in the center part of the diocese who have not yet completed the feasibility survey are encouraged to do so by Jan. 26. The survey can be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fortwaynesouthbend


Parishes surveyed

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Warsaw

Sacred Heart, Warsaw

St. Bernard, Wabash

St. Dominic, Bremen

St. Francis Xavier, Pierceton

St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

St. Martin de Porres, Syracuse

St. Mary of the Lake, Culver

St. Michael, Plymouth

St. Patrick, Ligonier

St. Paul of the Cross, Columbia City

St. Robert Bellarmine, North Manchester

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