Reporting from the The St. Louis Beacon's Dale Singer used in this report.
By the time Catholic education in St. Louis celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2018, Archbishop Robert Carlson wants classrooms to be fuller, Catholic identity to be more vibrant and finances in such good shape that everyone who wants to attend should be able to enroll regardless of whether they can pay.
Carlson presented that vision to an audience of religious and lay education leaders at Rosati-Kain High School Thursday afternoon.
The plans include:
- A fund-raising effort, as yet unnamed and with no specific monetary goal set.
- The fund-raising effort is scheduled to begin in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
- Carlson noted that in Orlando, Fla., which he said had similar needs, such a drive raised $100 million.
Charts released by the archdiocese gave a stark picture of the problems that Carlson faces:
- Since 1960, annual tuition at Catholic elementary schools has risen from near zero to close to $4,000.
- During the same period, enrollment, which peaked in 1960 around 90,000, has dropped to near 30,000.
- The number of elementary schools has fallen to about 125 from more than 200.
To reverse those trends, Carlson laid out a plan with three priorities:
- Schools must have a vibrant Catholic identity, with everything about its programs grounded in the teaching of the church. “We must never impose our Catholic faith on anyone,” Carlson said in a pastoral letter released along with his presentation, “but we should be eager to share what we believe with others – inviting them to learn, to pray and to serve with us."
- Schools must be growing through active recruitment and enrollment management. “We cannot be content with the status quo, or, worse, with declining enrollments in our schools,” he said.
- In what he said may be the greatest challenge, schools must be financially healthy and provide tuition help to those who could not otherwise attend. “The cost of a Catholic school education threatens the continued existence of too many schools in our archdiocese,” he said.
Now he has to fill in the details of how to reach his goals.
The program unveiled Thursday is the result of several months of community meetings and listening sessions involving nearly 3,000 people.
Dan Conway, who helped lead the program, said the wide-ranging nature of what Carlson is proposing is needed to make the dramatic changes necessary.
“A Band-Aid or piecemeal solution simply won’t work in the long run,” Conway said. “Whatever solutions we come up with must be comprehensive.”