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Educators, Fundraisers Help Archdiocese With School Initiative
Barbara Watkins
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, August 17, 2010
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ST. LOUIS (CNS)—Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis said Catholic schools are his first priority in an archdiocese with a long, strong tradition of Catholic education.

Few dioceses have as many Catholic schools: By population, St. Louis is the 38th largest diocese in the country, but the seventh largest in Catholic school enrollment.

To help that tradition continue and grow, Archbishop Carlson has established a new Mission Advancement Initiative for Catholic education. The multiyear initiative, which is being planned with the help of a team of educators and fundraising professionals, will focus on helping parishes and schools implement the archbishop's vision for Catholic schools.

"I believe in Catholic education," Archbishop Carlson told the members of the initiative earlier this summer. "I also believe as archbishop of St. Louis I have a God-given responsibility to do everything I can to help our schools be 'Alive in Christ,'" which was the theme of this year's leadership conference for educators.

He said the schools need to be "vibrant centers of faith and learning committed to excellence and to holiness." They must be "available, and affordable, for every Catholic family that desires a Catholic school education for their children," he said, and wherever possible, the archdiocese must offer "this ministry to other (non-Catholic) families who share our values and who want a Catholic school education for their children."

The professional advisory team, with members drawn from dioceses around the country, is divided into three task forces; the first will focus on increasing awareness of the value of Catholic schools, the second on increasing enrollment and the third on increasing financial support.

The advisory team met in June, and each task force is currently working on its separate focus.

Listening sessions with local Catholics concerned about the future of Catholic schools will be held this fall around the archdiocese. The task forces will receive the input from these sessions, as well as input from archdiocesan leaders, consultative bodies and members of the Catholic Education Office and Office of Stewardship and Development.

A final advisory meeting will be held next January, and the results, if approved, will be announced by Archbishop Carlson during Catholic Schools Week 2011, celebrated next February.

"This initiative is tailored to the uniqueness of the St. Louis Archdiocese," explained Dan Conway, archdiocesan consultant for mission advancement. "It's designed to implement the archbishop's vision for Catholic schools. St. Louis has such a strong Catholic school system and such a rich history. There is no better place than this to carry out this initiative."

"Our charge is to communicate the extraordinary, phenomenal value of a Catholic education," said Mark Conzemius, president of the Catholic Foundation of Eastern South Dakota in Sioux Falls. He is a member of the task force on increasing awareness.

"The archbishop has set up a great vision for this, and the phrase he's used is 'Alive in Christ.' To have Christ alive in our homes, parishes, communities and our hearts. To move us out of hopelessness, despair and poverty. To have more active Catholics, more people attending Mass, more young people active in their faith," he said.

"I believe Catholic education is a big part of the answer to these issues," Conzemius added.

The Catholic school's mission is "to help parents help their children get to heaven," he said. "If that isn't our mission ... then we are just a private school."

Dennis Golden, president of Catholic-run Fontbonne University in St. Louis, sits on the task force charged with increasing enrollment.

"We want to fill every seat in our Catholic schools," he said. "The formative years, particularly in elementary school, are vital and compelling in laying the foundation for intellectual growth, spiritual growth and acculturation."

One proposed strategy of the task force is increased outreach and evangelization to Catholic newlyweds and young parents of newly baptized and preschool children.

"I've worked a number of places and St. Louis has one of the strongest traditions of Catholic elementary and high school education in the country, both in terms of quality and the number of institutions," he said. "That's one reason the archbishop wants us to take a good look at it and see how we can sustain and enhance it."

Marilyn Blanchette, president of the Catholic Foundation of Central Florida in Orlando, is a member of the task force focused on increasing financial help.

The old funding model—the "one-size-fits-all tuition approach"—is not working, she said.

"We need a model that provides a different tuition structure to different families depending on their circumstances," she said. "Meanwhile we have to recognize how we will value Catholic education. In our complex world, we are forced to make more choices. There is an element of asking how much we are prepared to sacrifice."

Blanchette said, "This is an opportunity for us to awaken our families today and tell them what we are doing very, very well."

"Catholic education can benefit from those who are grateful for their own Catholic education," she said, "and we can create a sustainable funding stream to keep Catholic education sustainable for families and their children."

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