No Picture
News Briefs

L.A. archdiocese to close, consolidate six elementary schools

April 6, 2021 CNA Daily News 2

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2021 / 07:32 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced this week that six Catholic elementary schools in the area will close and be consolidated with other schools, due to ongoing financial difficulties exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. 


“These six schools had been trying to overcome financial challenges long before the pandemic,” said Paul Escala, superintendent of Catholic Schools, according to NBC Los Angeles. Challenges facing the schools include  low enrollment, financial difficulties, and a shift in demographics.


“After careful discernment with Archdiocesan and school leadership, the decision was reached to consolidate these schools with nearby schools to create a union that would strengthen the school communities in the area so that all students can continue to receive the quality Catholic education that our schools provide,” Escala said.


At the end of the 2020-21 school year, six elementary schools will close – Assumption, Blessed Sacrament, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Ferdinand, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Madeline.


These schools will all be consolidated with other local elementary schools. 


The archdiocese noted that, during the current school year, students in Los Angeles Catholics schools outperformed their peers nationally in math and reading.


“Though there have been many challenges and some setbacks, our Catholic school communities have demonstrated resiliency throughout this crisis,”’ said Escala, according to NBC Los Angeles. 


“As our Catholic schools welcomed students back, our students were able to celebrate the sacrament of their First Holy Communion something they missed early on in the pandemic,” he said. “Our Catholic schools continue to demonstrate academic performance growth in reading and math in both elementary and high schools. This among so many other accomplishments, is something we can all be proud of.”



No Picture
News Briefs

Pittsburgh diocese announces mergers for four Catholic schools

February 15, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Pittsburgh, Pa., Feb 15, 2021 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- Four Catholic elementary schools will merge to form two schools for the school year beginning in fall 2021, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has said, as the local bishop stressed their continued importance.
“Catholic schools are vital to the future of both our Church and our world,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said Feb. 12. “They educate minds, hearts, and spirits, teaching the value of service as they prepare young people to become productive citizens and future leaders.”
“Each day I thank God for all who faithfully support our Catholic schools,” said Zubik. “They serve our students, our diocese, and Jesus himself.”
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary school in Pleasant Hills will merge with Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin in Whitehall. The Saint Gabriel campus will serve as the main site of the merged school.
Saint Phillip school in Crafton will merge with Saint Margaret of Scotland school in Green Tree, whose campus will serve the merged school.
Father David Poecking, president of South Regional Catholic Elementary Schools, said the decision follows “more than a year’s deliberation and many, many hours of study.”
“While change can be difficult, we can bring together the best of the past to support a strong future for the newly merged schools,” Poecking said.
The mergers were recommended after study of financial and demographic data, enrollment trends, and consultation with the parish and school communities.
Zubik approved the merger on the recommendations of the South Regional Catholic Elementary Schools, which became the new regional governing board in July 2020. It had previously served as an advisory board since its creation in 2017.
The Pittsburgh diocese credited the board with stabilizing enrollment and finances. It sees progress in regional organization of some schools.
“With regional governance, all of the parishes in a geographic region support Catholic school education and all have a voice in forwarding the mission of those schools,” the diocese said.
Michelle Peduto, Director of Catholic Schools, said the diocese’s school system will continue to work “to provide families with spiritually vibrant, academically excellent and financially sustainable Catholic schools for generations to come.”
The diocese is continuing a strategic planning initiative begun in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests.
The diocese’s “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative has been working to merge what were 188 parishes into what ultimately will be fewer than 60 parish groupings.
In November 2020, the diocese announced that it would begin a third round of parish mergers. This stage of the parish merging plan aims to reduce 107 parishes to 81.
The diocese faced controversy after the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. In 2020 CBS Pittsburgh reported that since the report’s release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.
Several hundred sexual abuse claims have also posed significant financial difficulties for the diocese.
Even in 2018, regular Sunday Mass attendees numbered only 120,000, a 30% decline from 10 years before. There are about 628,000 Catholics in the diocese’s territory, according to the diocese’s website.


No Picture
News Briefs

Open for learning: How Boston Catholic schools kept their students safe

February 10, 2021 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2021 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston “followed the science” and have kept its students safe amid the pandemic, the archdiocesan superintendent told CNA on Wednesday.


“I think the Catholic schools, overall, have been vindicated,” said Thomas Carroll, superintendent for the Archdiocese of Boston schools. “A lot of uncharitable things were said when we opened our schools across the country, but it turns out we were right and science was on our side.” 


Unlike public schools in the rest of the state, Catholic schools in the archdiocese – the largest district by geographic area and the second-largest school district by population in Massachusetts – opened in the fall for in-person learning. 


“When we reopened, I said, my position was not that we’re going to be reopened ‘hell or high water,’” Carroll told CNA. “My position is we’ll be open as long as it’s safe to be open. And we’re literally watching the health data every single day.”


Carroll said that if COVID case numbers were to “spin out of control” once again, he would have no problem closing the schools. “But it didn’t spin out of control,” he said. 


At the outset of the pandemic, the archdiocese had actually closed its schools to in-person learning before the public schools had shut their doors. 


By the end of the 2020 school year, the archdiocese announced in June that 10% of its schools would close. The closures were due in part to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, with families unable to make tuition payments, according to WBUR.


Projections were grim for the 2020-21 school year. Initially, the archdiocese was looking at a nearly 17% drop in student enrollment. 


That all changed on July 15, when state public school teachers’ unions announced a delayed start to the year followed by remote learning. Parents began moving their children into the area Catholic schools.


“So at that moment from July 15th forward to like the third week in October, we gained more than 4,000 students,” Carroll said – a figure that almost entirely made up for the projected drop in enrollment. About 80% of those new students had been previously enrolled at public schools that were no longer meeting in-person. 


When Carroll first announced that archdiocesan schools would be opening in-person for the school year, he received a barrage of criticism. Carroll said he was repeatedly asked if he would be attending the funerals of the students who would die of COVID-19. 


In fact, he said that out of coronavirus cases in his schools, the vast majority of them have come from the “outside in”—meaning the student was first infected in the community and then brought the illness into the school. The schools themselves were not significant sources of community transmission. 


“We have, at the moment, zero active cases of spread,” he said. “We’ve had very few over since inception. We’ve had hundreds of cases since the beginning, but they all cycle out. To my knowledge, nobody’s been hospitalized.” 


Unlike in other dioceses, archdiocesan schools have not had to cap student populations due to social distancing measures. In Massachusetts, students are only required to distance about three feet apart from each other – which was essentially the pre-pandemic standard distance between desks. 


Carroll credits the strict discipline inherent to Catholic schools for why his district has experienced relatively few cases of COVID. 


“The one thing Catholic schools do really well,” he said, “is we get kids to follow instructions.”


“So this whole exercise from a public health perspective is having a reasonable set of rules and getting everybody to follow them religiously. Well, that’s what we do,” he said. 


Students wear masks, wash their hands frequently, and stay in cohorts, he explained.


Some of the aging school buildings have large windows that can be opened to improve ventilation. “The fact that we don’t have enough money for nice new buildings has turned out to be a huge asset,” he said. 


Despite the district’s large size and student population, Carroll told CNA there have not been differences of spread with regard to the location or demographics of schools. The archdiocese has schools located in both rural and urban communities, as well as in both affluent and disadvantaged areas. 


The archdiocese was recently recognized by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in his State of the Commonwealth address, for safely resuming in-person classes. Carroll said that the low level of infections in his schools helped to sway governmental policy on future school closings. 


Initially, when the state designated geographic areas as “red zones” of community spread, Baker wanted the local schools to shut down automatically. 


The archdiocese did not close its schools in the “red zones,” arguing “that the only safe place for the children in a red zone is a school – a school that’s following the (safety) protocols,” Carroll recalled.


Carroll said that children in other schools who have had to attend school remotely for months are suffering from it.


“It’s going to be catastrophic for these kids, particularly kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, homeless kids, kids with special needs,” he said. 


Despite the low infection level in the current school year, he still acknowledges that new variants of the virus could force schools to close again. 


“I think people should reflect on that and they should reflect on the much larger number of people that are being stranded now and how all of their leaders have completely ignored science and health data,” he said. 


Despite the challenges and new protocols, Carroll said that he was “glad we all got back together,” and that he was “astonished” that things are still going well with in-person learning.


“And we’re grateful because our kids are doing great,” he said.