Making Catholic Education a Centerpiece Mission

I attended St. Mary’s School during the sixties. Although circumstances were beginning to bring about change, one could say that Catholic Education was a “Centerpiece Mission” of the Diocese of Amarillo. All five parishes in the City of Amarillo had schools and there were parish schools in Hereford, Dalhart, Pampa, Borger, Groom and Dumas. Our diocese had separate secondary schools for boys and girls and even opened St. Lucian’s Seminary in the fall of 1962 with 27 freshmen!

As we enter the decade in which our diocese celebrates it’s centennial in 2026 there are four parish schools and 1 secondary school, and the circumstances that began in the sixties have have left us with little hope of Catholic Education ever being a “Centerpiece Mission” again. Nevertheless, I believe it is a mission worth fighting for, and with that belief I offer these thoughts.

I think our current paradigm of Catholic Education can be called Business/ Traditional/ Local. In order to restore Catholic Education to it’s place as a “Centerpiece Mission”, my belief is that we need to allow The Holy Spirit to guide us in shifting this paradigm to Ministry/ Atrium/ Virtual.

Business to Ministry

In the nineties when our children were attending St. Mary’s school I served on the school board. Serving alongside with me was a prominent businessman. As a board we began to adopt his mantra,

“We have got to start operating this school like a business!”

More and more the bottom line factored into our decision making. We became more concerned with saving money than saving souls. Instead of spreading Truth we found ourselves setting tuition. Evangelization made way for fund-raising!

“How can it be called ministry when those being ministered to are required to pay for it?”

Over the years I have witnessed downfalls to the Business paradigm because those of us who enroll and pay tuition for a Catholic school start to make decisions along the bottom line as well.

  • Can I get more bang for my buck academically in another school?
  • I have the money, can’t I just buy out my required service hours?
  • We are paying you hard earned money, why can’t you accommodate our needs more?
  • Why am I expected to tithe to the parish/ diocese when I already sacrifice to send my kids to a Catholic school?
  • This is our money that we are paying you and we don’t like the way it is being spent!
  • Our parish does not have a school, so why should we have to support Catholic Education?
  • Why does our parish have to be burdened with a Catholic School that is struggling?

This type of thinking removed Catholic Education as a “Centerpiece Mission”, led to the closure of several schools and eventually brought about a major division which our diocese still suffers from: Ascension Academy.

I propose that a vision for Shifting from “Business” to “Ministry” could be that by our Centennial all active parish families are paying no tuition for their children. Parents would pay only a nominal fee to cover the costs with textbooks and supplies. Rather, their parishes would provide direct support to the Catholic grade schools and Holy Cross for their parish families. The support that these parishes provide would be deducted from their UCA assessments.

Traditional to Atrium

I was told that Bishop Zurek has stated,

“Unless a parish can maintain an enrollment of 100 students it cannot be considered a viable school.”

Based on the “Traditional” school paradigm he is correct. A K-5 school requires 6 classrooms, each with a certified teacher. In order for the “Traditional” paradigm to educate every child efficiently administrators have to work within budget constraints to fill each grade-level classroom with a certified teacher, as well as a minimum of six support staff and the infrastructure to support those classrooms. Each grade would require between 15-18 tuition paying students to meet a meager bottom line. That is how Bishop Zurek would come up with the magic number of 100; a number that is unattainable for the vast majority of parishes.

Atrium” is the space used for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) which is a common religious experience involving children and adults in which the religious values of childhood, primarily those values of contemplation and enjoyment of God, are predominant. CGS is already in place in the Diocese of Amarillo 

Atrium” is based on the Montessori Method, a method of education that focuses on people, not infrastructure. By its nature the Montessori method is student-centered and catholic. Smaller, non-graded, multi-age groups and individual-driven learning allow for more student-centered focus upon learning as well as the opportunity for discovery and experiential learning. The lack of time restrictions, coupled with a self-paced plan of instruction and open-ended activities result in children finding their own answers. Explorations often lead to deeper and more engaging questions. Such methods nourish curiosity and foster learning outcomes whose results continue throughout students’ entire lives. The Montessori method certainly provides an alternative to those dissatisfied with the “Teaching to the Test” methods often used in public schools.

By planting the seed of an “Atrium” in every parish and utilizing existing staff and infrastructure, our diocese could conceivably grow into a Montessori School Network that ministered to the total educational needs of every grade school child by lowering the magic number of 100 to 8!

  • 2 Support Staff trained in CGS/ Montessori Methods creates 1 Atrium with 8 students.
  • 1 Certified Teacher trained in CGS/ Montessori Methods could serve up to 3 Atriums.
  • 1 Certified Administrator trained in CGS/ Montessori Methods could serve all the Atriums in the Diocese.

I propose that a vision for shifting from “Traditional” to “Atrium” could be that by our Centennial the Diocese has established a Level I, II & III Atrium in every parish.

Local to Virtual

Under the “Local” paradigm, by which we currently operate, Catholic Education is limited to Hereford, Dalhart and Amarillo. Although the “Atrium” paradigm can address the grade school needs of the other parishes, in order for us to reach secondary students we need to consider adopting a “Virtual” paradigm.

Virtual” education refers to instruction in a learning environment where teacher and student are separated by time or space, or both, and the teacher provides course content through course management applications, multimedia resources, the Internet, videoconferencing, etc. Students receive the content and communicate with the teacher via the same technologies. 

In times past parishes such as Nazareth and Umbarger, although not having Catholic schools per-say, did work with the local public schools in such a way that they exerted a major influence in how their children were educated. This cooperation and supplementing of local public education would be part of the “Virtual” paradigm as well.

I propose that a vision for shifting from “Local” to “Virtual” could be that by our Centennial the Diocese has added a “Virtual” Education component to Holy Cross Catholic Academy and that all those asking for the Sacrament of Confirmation are required to enroll in our Catholic secondary school to complete their preparation.

 “A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum.” 

Pope Francis, Christus vivit

About four years ago I started speaking out to Bishop Zurek about the state of Catholic Education in our diocese. I’ll admit that in my passion there have been times the respect his position deserves was not shown. I have and continue to deal with these sins of mine through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My hope and prayer is that our Shepherd and all those who read these words can evaluate them based on the Eternal Word and not the fragile vessel through which they pass.

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