Friday, January 06, 2012

In Philadelphia, "A Challenging Day For All of Us"

Here in Philadelphia, a very sad, dark, painful day... then again, such is the Paschal mystery that life will come of it.

According to reports in the field, at this morning's closed meeting of pastors and administrators, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic education announced its recommendation to close or merge four high schools and 44 elementary schools -- by far, the most sweeping consolidation of a diocesan schools system ever to take place in the American church.

With 68,000 students today -- the same level it had in 1911 -- the Philadelphia system is currently at less than a quarter of its peak enrollment of the 1950s and '60s. As enrollment's fallen by a third over the last decade, costs have spiked at least 25 percent.

The names of the impacted schools and the commission's report will be publicly released at a 4pm news conference, which will be streamed on the archdiocesan website. After years of piecemeal closings, the Blue Ribbon plan -- over a year in the making -- is intended to create a stable, sustainable framework of Catholic education in the 1.2 million-member church for the next decade.

More to come... in the meanwhile, a letter released this morning from Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. to the stakeholders of Catholic education in the Philadelphia church includes the following passages:
Today is a challenging day for all of us with news of the plan to restructure our schools. This plan requires many of our schools throughout the diocese to partner, regionalize or close in order to fortify and renew Catholic education in our Archdiocese. Please be sure of my understanding and support in what may come as difficult news for your family. I'm very grateful for your commitment to Catholic education, especially as we plan for the future.

As you probably know, important trends are impacying Catholic education in the Archdiocese -- declining baptisms, an increase of charter schools, and the rising cost of education. These factors have led to declining enrollment, resulting in higher tuition costs for fewer families and parishes bearing the financial burden of heavy operating deficits. Decreased enrollment has also forced a reduction of full-time personnel in some parish elementary schools to staff programs such as art, music, library, world languages, honors math, physical education, technology and resource rooms....

The Blue Ribbon Commission has provided a blueprint, not only to stabilize Catholic education in our Archdiocese, but to reinvigorate it. To achieve this, the plan makes some hard but necessary decisions. The Commission has recommended an ambitious restructuring plan designed to improve enrollment, while enhancing educational programs to ensure that the Archdiocese continues to deliver a high-quality Catholic education and faith formation for our area youth in the 21st century....

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is committed to the Catholic faithful and the wider community we serve, and the move to reinvigorate our schools plays a vital role in that process. Please support our efforts to implement this plan, which ensures that affordable, high quality Catholic education will continue.
In a significant gesture intended to show that no one side of the church would be made to sacrifice alone, last week word emerged that Chaput will sell the Cardinal's Residence and its nine-acre grounds on City Line Avenue, which has been his predecessors' home for the last 75 years.