St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson spoke to a full house at Manchester's Thursday afternoon about increasing enrollment at all the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. His first point, and the one he said was most important, was to strengthen Catholic identity, and hand-in-hand with that is cooperation and collaboration among all Catholic schools.
"Gone are the days when schools see themselves as competing with one another on and off the athletic field," he said. "We must all work together to ensure that Catholic schools are alive in Christ and that our Catholic faith is transmitted to future generations."
Carlson said the following points are key in the plan to grow student enrollment by 2018.
- Strengthen Catholic identity. This is the most important item in the list, according to Archbishop Carlson. It includes ensuring that students begin their day with prayer, that every teacher has read the Catechism, and training each principal in her role as a faith leader.
- Establish benchmarks of excellence and then make sure they are implemented and measured by testing.
- Provide opportunities for adult faith formation through classes on the sacraments their children are receiving and implementing a new lay ministry formation program.
- Strengthen evangelization efforts in parishes and schools that are effective and ongoing by offering follow-up programs, such as the Catholics Come Home effort. Provide outreach programs for parents after a child is baptized into the parish community.
- All elementary school are expected to have a current creative and proactive marketing and enrollment plan that will show how they will increase enrollment.
- A strong commitment to help the poor and any that are marginalized, including immigrants and any minorities, including special-needs students.
- Facilitate planning among schools so if any schools are deemed to be needed to be cut, it comes from planning and not outside pressure.
- Education and training at the parish and school levels in planning and leadership skills.
- New funding to increase financial resources for tuition assistance. This assistance would go to families for the elementary level. Parishes will contribute 2 percent of all parish external revenue, excluding endowment contributions, towards scholarship assistance. This would be phased in over a two-year period with parishes contributing 1 percent of such revenue for the 2012-13 school year and 2 percent of parish revenue for the 2013-14 school year. The contribution will remain as a permanent annual contribution.
- Work with the Missouri Catholic Conference to see government assistance where appropriate and achievable.
Carlson wrapped up his address Thursday with what he said were three important points to keep in mind for the success of the program:
- Trust God, with a deep and abiding prayer
- Provide leadership in Catholic identity and education
- Sacrifice–there’s a history of sacrifice in the Catholic church, and it’s needed here
JFK principal Mary Hey tells Patch she's pleased his priority is Catholic education, and is happy for the financial assistance for tuition.
"I know that our enrollment would be much larger if we were able to give more financial assistance. That’s what's needed with so many Catholic families," she said. "If we can get them to see how wonderful Catholic school is at the elementary level we will have such a greater chance of continuing their education at the secondary level."
Parent, Amie Koenen, said her children are enrolled at St. Michaels in Shrewsbury. She supports Carlson's plan.
"We’re involved in Holy Cross Academy, which is exactly what’s he telling us to do. We need to work together and stop competing with each other, so I’m thrilled to hear him say that. We need to be strategic in our planning, strategic in are marketing that we work together instead of competing," Koenen said.