Diocese of Joliet

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Principles and Strategies for Catholic Education in the Diocese of Joliet

Featured in July 2019 Christ is our Hope
July 1, 2019 (Español)

During the last half of the 19th century and throughout the 20th, one of the great achievements of the Catholic Church in the United States was the establishment and operation of thousands of elementary schools. Almost every parish, except the smaller rural ones, had a school. They flourished for four primary reasons: a strong birthrate among Catholics, the desire of parents, the selfless sacrifice of religious sisters and the commitment of pastors.

These primary reasons have changed dramatically in the last 40 years, resulting in the closing of many schools and enrollment decline in others. The waning birthrate has resulted in smaller class sizes and other operational inefficiencies. The precipitous drop in the number of women religious has raised the cost of operating parochial schools and has made tuition unaffordable or undesirable for many families. Many parents and pastors are willing to accept brief, weekly religious education sessions as an adequate substitute for daily schooling.

Yet, like so many natural resources, I believe Catholic schools are worth advocating because they are so valuable for the health of our faith.

With this in mind, I established a Schools Task Force well over a year ago and charged its members with recommending a plan that would move our elementary schools forward. The task force chose to focus on the governance and financial issues facing our schools, without ignoring Catholic identity, academic quality, marketing/enrollment, and facilities. The heart of their report consisted of “Basic Principles to Guide Decisions for the Future of Catholic Education” and “Specific Strategies.” This past spring, I consulted with a number of groups in the diocese to get their reaction to the task force’s plan and, as a result, made a number of modifications.

As of July 1, the principles and strategies will become policy for the diocese. (They, as well as the decree establishing them as policy, are printed elsewhere in this publication.)

I am very grateful to the members of the Schools Task Force. They took their charge seriously, did a lot of background work and had a free exchange of ideas. At the end, there was not unanimous agreement on the outcome. All the members, though, were passionate about doing the best we can to strengthen our schools and provide an opportunity for as many Catholic children as possible to attend them.

This will require enormous cooperation and commitment. As with the task force, I do not expect that everyone in the diocese will agree with the principles and strategies or even with the desire to strengthen our schools.

Members of the Church are divided on so many issues these days. Even Jesus experienced people walking away from Him because they did not accept what He had to say. But faith and membership in the Church can never be a matter of picking and choosing, if for no other reason than our obligation to pursue a common mission. If we do not cooperate with one another, we will never succeed in proclaiming a single Gospel and drawing people to a united community that is guided by one Holy Spirit.

Catholic schools are an important element of the mission of the Church in the Diocese of Joliet, whether an individual parish operates a school or not. Increasingly, we find that parishes need to work together, precisely because every parish on its own is not able to provide all of the important elements of our mission and ministry.

This admonition is especially pertinent for the leaders of our parishes, beginning with our parish priests. Not having his own school does not give a pastor license to be indifferent or even opposed to Catholic schooling. Recruiting students, supporting parents and providing financial assistance to schools is the responsibility of every parish and its leadership, anywhere in the diocese where Catholic schools exists.

There is no question that we are at a crossroads regarding Catholic elementary schools in our diocese. Many parishes have lost their schools in recent years. Other schools are right now under pressure. I am grateful to everyone — parents, pastors, administrators and teachers, parishioners — who work hard to make the schools in the Diocese of Joliet so great. The results of the Schools Task Force’s efforts give us a wonderful opportunity to move positively into the future.

Most Reverend R. Daniel Conlon
Bishop of Joliet

  • Basic Principles to Guide Decisions for the Future of Catholic Education
  • Decree Establishing the Basic Principles and Specific Strategies