Buffalo - (DOB Office of Communications) Bishop Edward U. Kmiec has written a pastoral letter called “Visioning for the Future” for our Catholic schools. It is the second pastoral letter he has written since becoming bishop of Buffalo five years ago. In 2007, the bishop wrote a pastoral letter about the Journey in Faith and Grace, the diocesan spiritual revitalization process.
He wrote, “There is a renewed sense of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of everyone who is engaged in what I consider a mission vital to the future of the Catholic Church: strong Catholic schools.”
The letter has been sent to all Catholic schools in the diocese as well as all parishes and Catholic institutions for distribution to parents and insertion in parish bulletins the weekend of Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
Bishop Kmiec wrote that the academic excellence of Catholic schools in the diocese dates back to the 1800s, and continues to this day. “Our students move on to become leaders in our communities, passing on the Catholic values they learned to their children. It is a beautiful continuum of our Church, as Catholic schools instill our core beliefs and commitment to Gospel values in our students.”
The release of the pastoral letter coincides with the issuance of a report on the initial phase of a strategic planning process that objectively assesses the current experiences and status of elementary schools in the diocese.
Called “Visioning for the Future,” the goal is about securing the future of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Buffalo according to Carol Kostyniak, Secretary for Catholic education for the diocese. “Our schools must continue to be strong models of Catholic Identity and to provide the academic excellence for which they are noted. Their leaders and governing boards must be trained in best practices while budgets must provide for fiscal stability to ensure viability well into the future. Evaluating demographic data, economic trends and constituent input we have the opportunity to prepare a bright future for our schools.”
Included in the report are a series of recommendations that will initiate phase two of the process which will involve the implementation of earlier recommendations that address the structure and organization of Catholic elementary schools, leadership, education programs, governance and finances. It also includes parish investment and support of schools, financial assistance and enrollment potential.
Catholic elementary schools are already working in conjunction with the diocese on a number of programs designed to stabilize and increase enrollment. By examining enrollment and tuition trends throughout the diocese, the schools have a better understanding of the landscape and they share best practice ideas.
There is a tremendous sense of enthusiasm among the participants in the planning process. At St. Joseph School in Batavia, school principal Karen Green said the school has been given the power “to make the changes necessary to ensure a viable school. It has allowed us to plan for the future instead of being restricted by the past.”
School leaders are now better able to make enrollment projections and in turn, adjust budgets accordingly, according to Green. “Our marketing and enrollment strategies remain a part of our discussions throughout the year, not just at the enrollment period. These approaches and more allow us to foster an open dialogue with our parish and have encouraged more proactive responses to challenges.”
DeSales Catholic School in Lockport is a regional school success story. Ellen Roth, director of development, said DeSales has been involved in strategic planning for more than a decade. “We’ve seen this work at DeSales. When we started our school’s strategic planning process, the DeSales community knew the work was going to be hard, but necessary, in order to maintain our academic quality, fiscal soundness, and enrollment strength.”
Roth said that all Catholic elementary schools need to have a “strong plan” in place in order to meet current and future challenges. “This diocesan-wide process has to result in a definitive plan of action that has practical applications in all of the diverse Catholic schools in our area. I know that what works here at DeSales won’t necessarily succeed at another type of school, but if this process can give each of us some tools and the know-how to make them work, then each elementary school can not only survive, but become stronger in our own communities.”
Father Gregory J. Dobson, canonical administrator for Southern Tier Catholic School in Olean, said the planning process is important to the school “at this critical juncture in our history to assure that we hold on to the vision of Catholic education as it is articulated in the diocese in this century. We are no longer what we were, nor can we be, nor do we want to be. We are trying to think ‘outside the box’ in areas of recruitment, programming and funding.
“As we do that, not only are best practices that are tested and effective important, but a sense of direction and solidarity with the larger Church are critical. We cannot become just a private school. We cannot be just parochial in our outlook or outreach.”
“While we focus on our Catholic identity,” Bishop Kmiec wrote, “our schools have a longstanding tradition of welcoming families from diverse backgrounds in terms of religion, race, ethnicity, economic status and ability.”
The bishop is encouraging everyone in the diocese to come together, “to work to ensure that our Catholic schools grow and prosper while remaining available, accessible and affordable.”
In LeRoy, Holy Family School draws students from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Father Michael R. Rock, OdeM, serves as canonical administrator of the school. He sees the planning process “breaking down parochialism that has existed for decades in our schools, parishes, and even among people.
“It sends a clear message that Catholic schools and Catholic education are not only critical to the life and future of the diocese, but that it is everyone’s responsibility to support it through prayer and with financial help,” Father Rock said. “It gives us a strong sense of support and helps us through collaboration to keep improving our school by raising the bar to reach benchmarks given us by the diocese.”
Green, the principal of St. Joseph School, said the challenge is clear. “The central focus within the process must remain on Catholic identity and excellence in academics. As we move forward in this process my hope is that our Catholic schools will become increasingly viable and that they will continue to play an important role in our local communities serving the many children who ultimately benefit from our presence.”