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Brother Robert Wickman, FSC, principal of De La Salle High School in Concord, talks with Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ.
All: Albert C. Pacciorini/The Catholic Voice
Diocese considers alternatives for future
of Catholic schools
Edmund Siderewicz, co-founder and vice president for Mission and External Relations, Catalyst Schools of Chicago.
The Diocese of Oakland is exploring options to sustain and grow Catholic schools, many of which are buffeted by financial and secular challenges.
At a meeting Sept. 18, about 50 priests of the diocese heard a presentation on an alternative type of Catholic school that uses a public charter school as a core with a wrap-around Catholic school component.
"We have to make decisions going forward that Catholic schools are important to us," said Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ. Some of our schools are struggling to survive on their own, he said.
In the early 1960s, there were almost 13,000 Catholic schools with more than 5.2 million students, according to the National Catholic Education Association. Last year's Catholic-school enrollment was just under 2 million students at 6,569 schools.
Nationally about 20 percent of self-identified Catholics attend Mass regularly. Of those who attend Mass, 95 percent went to a Catholic school, said Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM, diocesan superintendent of schools.
Diocesan schools in aggregate are in the black, she said, but some are in financial trouble and need to be subsidized. Schools are judged on 17 metrics for health, and are color coded green, yellow and red.
There are eight "red" schools receiving subsidy; more than 70 percent of the families are at poverty line.
"Our schools that serve the most vulnerable are most at risk," said Sister Bray.
The bishop has sought the consultation of all the priests of the diocese.
"I think we need to be Catholic and consider all the options," the bishop said, in order that the "nature of our faith is communicated to the next generation."
Since 2011, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana has operated its Alliance for Catholic Education program in the diocese, providing 4-5 teachers each year.
The Sept. 18 meeting considered Catalyst Schools, a new model public charter school with a wrap-around Catholic school. Charter schools are independent public schools established via a charter with the local school district.
The Oakland diocese is not alone. In the Diocese of San Jose, Drexel University is behind a network of Drexel Schools, and the Cristo Rey school model of the Society of Jesus operates in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
The Catalyst Schools, which operate in Chicago and are the concept of the La Salle Christian Brothers, are inspired by the principles of the Brothers' founder, St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle. The schools are "a way, but not the only way," to revive Catholic education, said Edmund Siderewicz, co-founder and vice president for Mission and External Relations, Catalyst Schools of Chicago.
The schools have grown, are financially viable and have a 90 percent high school graduation rate, Siderewicz said. Income from the rent of the school buildings to the public school district helps fund the Catholic education part of the program.
There's a line between Church and state, he cautioned, "We make it as Catholic as we can make it." Because they are state schools, they can't have a Catholic school name, and there is no Catholic instruction during the state-financed instruction periods.
That separation can cause friction, especially at a time when religious freedom is under assault on many fronts.
"We have a law in this country that needs to be tested," said Brother Robert Wickman FSC, principal of De La Salle High School. "How can we stand up for ourselves as citizens. Our people in this country under the First Amendment have a right to exercise our religion."
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